The 2022 Kavli Prize for Nanoscience has gone to Professor David Allara of Pennsylvania State University and Professor Ralph Nuzzo of University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign. Professor Jacob Sagiv of Weizmann Institute of Science, Professor George Whitesides of Harvard University and Professor Jacob Sagiv of Weizmann Institute of Science for their contributions to the development of self-assembled monolayers over solid substrates. Each winner will receive $1 million USD. Every two years, the Kavli prize recognizes the achievements of researchers in three areas: Astrophysics, Nanoscience, and Neuroscience.
The iceberg on which scientific advancements rest is represented by this year’s winners. Materials interact through their surface chemistry. Chemical composition, molecular arrangement and texture all play a role in the material’s functionality and reactivity. While engineering and materials science have always focused on improving the efficiency and application of materials, nanoscience has captured the imagination of surface scientists. We can design surfaces for specific purposes and use some properties of nanomaterials to improve their interaction with the environment.
This area of research is based on centuries of scientific observation. Anecdotes date back to Benjamin Franklin’s 1773. He was inspired by the oil-on-water fishing communities in Portugal and Bermuda to observe fish in turbulent waters. He poured one teaspoon of oil onto a pond in Clapham Common in London and observed a shift in the water’s waves and transformed the pond’s surface into a mirror. The oil had dissolved across the pond’s surface, creating a thin layer that affected the way light interacts with the surfaces. The rapid dispersion caused Lord Rayleigh to publish a paper with the assistance of Agnes Pockels (German chemist). This paper confirmed that the molecules in these thin films were uniformly distributed across a liquid surface.
This foundational research was the basis for two pioneers of thin-film synthesis: Katherine Blodgett (the first woman to receive a PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge) and Irvine Langmuir (the Nobel Prize winning chemist/physicist who developed the method of creating single-molecule thin water films). Blodgett, Langmuir, and others worked together to create the first “invisible glass” by coating a glass with a thin film. They devised a method to deposit a monomolecular coating onto glass. They were able to control the thickness of the coating by applying a limited number of monolayers through subsequent applications. These thin films, which were in the nanometres range, could be customized to interact with visible light with wavelengths in the nanometre range in unique ways. The 44 layers were deposited onto a piece glass. This resulted in a decrease in reflectivity and 99% transmission. This greatly reduced reflective glare. This had a range of applications, notably in cinematography
The 2022 Kavli Prize for Nanoscience has seen the winners continue to build upon Langmuir’s and Blodgett’s work. Professor Sagiv demonstrated the adsorption on different thin films onto a wider variety of materials, such as metals and glass. This technique was further developed by Professor Nuzzo, Professor Allara, and other researchers. These breakthroughs included stronger adsorption onto bare metallic surfaces and the development of spectroscopic characterisation methods to determine the properties and structure of self-assembled monolayers. Monolayers have been developed with specific functionalities to suit a variety of applications. Professor Whitesides’ research on monolayer-based patterned materials has been a success commercially in everything, from pharmacology and chemical sensors to electronics and medical diagnostics.
The self-assembled monolayers are a key part of solving the world’s most pressing global problems, like climate change. We can combat climate change by using cleaner energy. Cleaner energy must be sustainable and renewable, as well as affordable enough to be widely adopted. We can index scientific publications on self-assembled monolayers over the past decade against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This allows us to see the impact this technology has on SDG 7, Affordable, Clean Energy.
The Kavli Foundation recognizes that cutting-edge science is always based on solid foundational research. The Kavli Foundation celebrates such important contributions to science. It hopes that others will build on the work done by the Kavli Prize winners, and new applications will be created to help humanity face big science challenges.