Rising nanotechnology star: Berkeley's Matthew Francis

At every meeting of the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, we find at least one new rising star in nanotechnology. At the recent meeting held at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, it was Prof. Matthew Francis of UC Berkeley. Access to these folks is one of the main attractions for organizations participating in the Roadmap process. (One new attendee, asked for a reaction to the meeting, said simply “Awesome.”)

Francis’s work was profiled recently by Foresight Communication Prize winner David Pescovitz, writing for the online publication ScienceMatters. Excerpts:

It’s tough to build things that are 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Biology has had a few billion years to perfect the craft of building from the bottom up. That’s why UC Berkeley nanoscientist Matthew Francis collaborates closely with Mother Nature. Francis and his research group use organic chemistry to assemble nanoscale devices with unprecedented capabilities that could revolutionize cancer treatment or lead to the development of highly efficient solar cells.

“Our goal is to address a big challenge in nanoscience, which is how to position objects with exquisite resolution so that the exciting components people are developing can be combined into functional devices,” Francis says…

“Biology has an enormous number of proteins that self-assemble into structures with feature sizes that are at exactly the right length scales,” Francis says. “So we can use proteins as positioning scaffolds to place these interesting components into functional arrays”…

“For me, the real excitement of nanoscience is that it allows you to build devices with functions that simply don’t exist now and can only occur at the nanoscale,” he adds.

The research group’s website explains their goals in more detail. An excerpt:

Recent advances in materials synthesis have yielded nanoscale building blocks for the construction of devices with unprecedented capabilities. The ability to tailor the size and associated physical properties of these components has already led to advances in solar cell technology, single molecule electronics, drug delivery systems, molecular machines, and many other areas. However, with these exciting materials comes an urgent need for patterning techniques that can position them into functional assemblies. These methods must possess exquisite resolution (<5 nm feature size) and the ability to maintain distance relationships between the components after they are positioned. In addition, it is necessary to establish long range order to interface these components with existing device structures.

To meet this caliber of nanotech researcher, have your organization sponsor the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems. You’ve just missed the last meeting for 2006, but there’s always 2007! —Christine

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