Nobel Prize for US scientists who helped create quantum dots

4 Oct 2023

Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov. Image: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Prize

Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov are responsible for the development of quantum tech that could one day help us realise flexible electronics.

Three scientists based in the US have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year for their discovery and development of quantum dots, nanoparticles that are extensively used in electronics today and show promise for further technological advancements.

Moungi G Bawendi of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Louis E Brus of Columbia University and Alexei I Ekimov, former chief scientist at Nanocrystals Technology in New York, were awarded the Nobel Prize at a ceremony in Stockholm today (4 October).

“Quantum dots have many fascinating and unusual properties. Importantly, they have different colours depending on their size,” said Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

While a chemical element’s properties are dictated by the number of electrons it has, these properties change significantly when matter shrinks to nanodimensions, giving rise to what is known as quantum phenomena.

However, before the contributions of Bawendi, Brus and Ekimov, scientists had long thought that these nanoparticles, or quantum dots, were not possible to create or work with practically.

This view was challenged in the 1980s, when Russian-born Ekimov successfully created size-dependent quantum effects in coloured glass, whose colour came from nanoparticles of copper chloride. He proved that particle size affected the colour of glass because of quantum effects.

Brus, from the US, went on to prove the same effect in particles floating freely in a fluid a few years later, gathering attention from the wider chemistry community. In 1993, French-born Bawendi took this a step further by developing the chemical production of quantum dots for practical use.

Today, quantum dots are used in everything from monitors and TVs using QLED technology to LED lamps and medtech that helps doctors map biological tissue.

“Quantum dots are thus bringing the greatest benefit to humankind,” the Nobel Prize committee wrote in its announcement.

“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.”

The three Nobel laureates in chemistry will share a prize of 11m Swedish kronor as part of the award. Last year, the prize went to three scientists from the US and Denmark for their work on click chemistry, which involves molecular building blocks snapping together quickly and efficiently.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic