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Chemistry and materials research discussed

All living systems are built on nanostructures. Scientists' current goal is to manipulate nanostructures to accomplish a variety of goals, including computation, memory storage, motion and synthesis.

"In the 21st century, artificial nanostructures will realize the importance of making things small," said Henry I. Smith, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering, who spoke about nanostructures technology at the chemical and materials technology track of the Research Directors conference.

Professor Smith, who is also director of the Nanostructures Research Laboratory and a member of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, explained that nanoscale entities including macromolecules, nanoparticles nanotubes, and biological entities in rigid and moveable structures that may be used for information processing and storage, optical communication, light sources, medical diagnostics and therapeutics, among other applications.

Klaus F. Jensen, the Lammot du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering, spoke on miniaturization techniques that are revolutionizing the drug discovery process by implementing faster, smaller integrated analytical and synthesis tools. In addition, development of microchemical systems for chemical synthesis offers opportunities for reduced costs, environmentally safer processing and integration of monitoring and control.

George B. Benedek, the Alfred H. Caspary Professor of Physics and Biological Physics, discussed how recent advances in understanding the separation of proteins into coexisting phases has furthered the field of self-assembly of biomolecular materials. This is central to protein structure determination, solution stability, aqueous-phase purification and the amelioration of protein condensation diseases.

Microphotonics will be the next platform for the Information Age, said Lionel C. Kimerling, the Thomas Lord Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Materials Processing Center. Since the time the telephone was invented until the 1970s, the biggest change has been the increased capacity of the lines carrying the information. Even the capacity of single optical fibers has been increased by sending different colors of light through it.

Now, the bottleneck is in the connections where optical switches meet electronic switches. The goal is to go to all-optical networking, even in local area networks. "Our goal is to create new materials, structures and architectures to enable the evolution of photonics from single, discrete devices into integrated photonic systems," Professor Kimerling said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 17, 2000.

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