10-09 carbon nanotube fiber

[Image above] Carbon nanotube fibers being spun to form a yarn. Each fiber is one ten-thousandth the diameter of a typical human hair. Credit: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CC BY 3.0)

Do you know what today is? If you said 22 days until Halloween, you would be technically correct. But today itself is special as well—it’s National Nanotechnology Day!

Since 2016, the science world has celebrated National Nano Day on October 9 in a nod to the fact that the nanometer scale is 10-9 meters. Science societies often host events such as roundtables, image contests, and 100 billion nanometer dashes to celebrate, and a list of all these activities is featured annually on the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) website.

NNI is a research and development initiative by the United States government that coordinates nanotechnology-related activities of 20 departments and independent agencies. Formally established in January 2000, NNI has received nearly $29 billion in federal funding since its first year of funding in 2001.

All that funding has paid off—nanomaterials now are regularly used in numerous commercial applications, including environmental improvement, the food industry, and electronics, among others.

Recognizing all the significant advances in nanomaterials since NNI’s establishment would quickly bloom into an encyclopedia-sized project, and one well beyond what we can cover on CTT. Instead, in honor of National Nanotechnology Day, we highlight just a few of these achievements based on research that was recognized with the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology award.

The Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology is awarded by the California-based Foresight Institute for significant advances in nanotechnology. Two prizes are awarded annually, in the categories of experimental and theoretical work.

Between 2000 and 2019, the Foresight Institute recognized a wide variety of topics, including molecular scale electronics, DNA computing, and data-based material design. But one topic recognized several times throughout the years will be of particular interest to materials scientists—carbon nanostructures.

Carbon nanostructures include various low-dimensional allotropes of carbon such as carbon fiber, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. Some of these allotropes, such as carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes, show great promise in a variety of applications, including biomedicine, thermal management, and electronics.

In 2001, 2010, and 2014, the Foresight Institute awarded the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology to three scientists who played significant roles in advancing knowledge of carbon nanostructures and applications of such materials. Below are short summaries of each scientist.

2001 – Charles M. Lieber, synthesis and characterization of carbon nanotubes

The 2001 Feynman Prize for Experimental work was awarded to Charles M. Lieber, professor of Chemistry at Harvard University.

Leiber is a pioneer in nanoscience and nanotechnology, with more than 400 papers published in peer-reviewed journals and the principal inventor listed on more than 50 patents.

He received the 2001 Feynman Prize in recognition of his work on both the synthesis and characterization of carbon nanotubes and nanowires as well as applications of these materials.

Examples of his work leading up to the 2001 award include:

Synthesis and characterization


2010 – Gustavo E. Scuseria, tools for modeling carbon nanostructures

The 2010 Feynman Prize for Theory was awarded to Gustavo E. Scuseria, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry at Rice University.

Scuseria, who is also a professor of physics and astronomy and of materials science and nanoengineering, focuses on work that straddles the interface of quantum chemistry, condensed matter physics, and materials science.

His development of quantum mechanical methods and computational programs that make it possible to carry out accurate theoretical predictions of molecules and solids, and their application to the chemical and electronic properties of carbon nanostructures, is what ultimately won him the 2010 Feynman Prize.

Examples of his work leading up to the 2010 award include:

2014 – Amanda S. Barnard, carbon nanostructure structure-function relationships

The 2014 Feynman Prize for Theory was awarded to Amanda S. Barnard, senior professor of computational science at Australian National University. (At the time of the award, Barnard was Science Leader of Australia’s Office of the Chief Executive and Chief Research Scientist at The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.)

Barnard is one of Australia’s most highly awarded computational scientists, and she currently leads research at the interface of computational modeling, high performance supercomputing, and applied machine learning and artificial intelligence.

She received the 2014 Feynman Prize for her theoretical and computational work on understanding the structure and stability of carbon nanostructures, and the role that shape plays in establishing properties and interactions under different conditions. Notably, Barnard is the first woman to win this prize.

Examples of her work leading up to the 2014 award include: