On May 21, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering head and McAfee Professor of Engineering Markus J. Buehler received the 2015 Foresight Institute Feynman Prize in Theoretical Molecular Nanotechnology. Buehler’s award was one of three prizes presented by the Foresight Institute, a leading think tank and public interest organization, at its annual conference in Palo Alto, California. He was acknowledged at the awards ceremony for his influential research enabling new multiscale models in hierarchical systems.
The prizes are named in honor of pioneering physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman '39, who earned his BS in physics from MIT.
“The Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes in nanotechnology recognize progress toward the most visionary objectives in nanotechnology,” said Julia Bossmann, president of Foresight Institute. “These objectives, often described as molecular manufacturing or molecular nanotechnology, are to construct atomically-precise products through the use of molecular machine systems, therefore allowing the fabrication of nearly anything that can be designed.”
“Foresight Institute established these prizes to encourage research in the development of molecular nanotechnology. The Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes are awarded to those making significant advances toward that end,” said Christine Peterson, co-founder of Foresight Institute. “Productive nanosystems will result in the ultimate manufacturing technology, replacing most current methods with clean and inexpensive alternatives. This capability will help us tackle fundamental problems that face humanity and lead to solutions that are good for people and good for the planet.”
The Foresight Institute recognized Buehler for his important contributions to making nanotechnology scalable for large-scale materials applications, enabled by bottom-up multiscale computational methods, and linking new manufacturing and characterization methods.
Focusing on mechanical properties — especially deformation and failure — and translation from biological materials and structures to bio-inspired synthetic materials, his work has led to the development and application of new modeling, design, and manufacturing approaches for advanced materials that offer greater resilience and a wide range of controllable properties from the nano- to the macroscale.
Buehler's signature achievement, according to the Institute, is the application of molecular and chemical principles in the analysis of mechanical systems, with the aim to design devices and materials that provide a defined set of functions.
“It’s an incredible honor to receive such an esteemed award. I owe this to the outstanding students and postdocs whom I had a pleasure to work with over the years, my colleagues, as well my own mentors,” Buehler said. “Richard Feynman was a revolutionary scientist of his generation. It’s a privilege to share his goals of researching molecular technology at very small scale to create new, more efficient, and better lasting materials at much larger scale that will help transform lives and industries.”
The two other award winners are Professor Michelle Y. Simmons of the University of New South Wales, who won the Feynman Prize for Experimental Molecular Nanotechnology, and Northwestern University graduate student Chuyang Cheng, who won the Distinguished Student Award.
Foresight Institute is a think tank focused on transformative future technologies. Founded in 1986, its mission is to discover and promote the upsides, and help avoid the drawbacks, of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and similar life-changing developments.