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Quantum dot developers win $1M Nobel Prize in Chemistry

05 Oct 2023

Moungi Bawendi (MIT), Louis Brus (Columbia), and Alexei Ekimov (Nanocrystals Technology) “planted a seed for nanotechnology.”

The The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences yesterday announced it had decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2023 to a trio of US-based scientists whose work led to the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots.

The recipients, who each receive an equal share of 11 million Swedish Krona (around $1 million), are: Moungi G. Bawendi of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; Louis E. Brus of Columbia University, New York; and Alexei I. Ekimov of Nanocrystals Technology Inc., New York. The Nobel Committee stated that the trio had “planted an important seed for nanotechnology”.

The citation continued, “The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2023 rewards the discovery and development of quantum dots, nanoparticles so tiny that their size determines their properties. These smallest components of nanotechnology now spread their light from televisions and LED lamps, and can also guide surgeons when they remove tumour tissue, among many other things.

“Everyone who studies chemistry learns that an element’s properties are governed by how many electrons it has. However, when matter shrinks to nano-dimensions quantum phenomena arise; these are governed by the size of the matter. The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2023 have succeeded in producing particles so small that their properties are determined by quantum phenomena. The particles, which are called quantum dots, are now of great importance in nanotechnology.”

Color follows size

Johan Åqvist, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry explained some of the features and potential benefits of the development: “Quantum dots have many fascinating and unusual properties. Importantly, they have different colours depending on their size.”

Physicists had long known that – in theory – size-dependent quantum effects could arise in nanoparticles, but until the time when the laureates started to make their breakthroughs it was almost impossible to sculpt in nanodimensions. Therefore, few people believed that this knowledge would be put to practical use.

Individual contributions

However, in the early 1980s, Alexei Ekimov succeeded in creating size-dependent quantum effects in colored glass. The colour came from nanoparticles of copper chloride and Ekimov demonstrated that the particle size affected the color of the glass via quantum effects.

A few years later, Louis Brus was the first scientist in the world to prove size-dependent quantum effects in particles floating freely in a fluid.

In 1993, Moungi Bawendi revolutionised the chemical production of quantum dots, resulting in almost perfect particles. This high quality was necessary for them to be utilised in applications.

The Nobel Committee citation added, “Quantum dots now illuminate computer monitors and television screens based on QLED technology. They also add nuance to the light of some LED lamps, and biochemists and doctors use them to map biological tissue.

“Quantum dot researchers believe that in the future they could contribute to flexible electronics, tiny sensors, thinner solar cells and encrypted quantum communication – so we have just started exploring the potential of these tiny particles.”

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