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  • The revolution of nanotechnology has reached the Nobel Prizes

The revolution of nanotechnology has reached the Nobel Prizes


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 Credit: Johan Jarnestad © The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

  • The 2023 Nobel Laureates in Natural Sciences celebrate the advances of Nanoscience to bring applications that improve our lives.
  • The Nobel Prize Winners' Symposium, organized by IMDEA Nanociencia, seeks to explain in an informative way the contributions of the Nobel Prize laureates in Physiology or Medicine, Physics and Chemistry of the year 2023, with three talks given by researchers from IMDEA Nanociencia.
  • At the IMDEA Nanociencia Institute researchers are working in several areas that have been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine, Physics and Chemistry: attochemistry, quantum dots, and active RNA-based molecules.

Madrid, November 14th, 2023. The prefix nano- refers to an extraordinarily small size: a nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter, which is the size of a group of a few atoms. Nanoscience is an interdisciplinary science, dedicated to manipulating atoms to learn more about their nature and how to take advantage of them. Nanotechnology is not simply about making objects smaller and smaller, but about understanding and harnessing the fact that small is different. Below a certain size (on the order of a few nanometers), matter has completely different properties than its macroscopic counterpart. All of its properties change, in fact, drastically. 

This year, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded all Nobel Prizes in natural sciences in areas that celebrate nanotechnology and the ability to study processes on that scale: the Nanoscience.

              Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman "for discoveries on nucleotide base modifications that led to the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19." The laureates' discoveries were pivotal during the 2020 pandemic and have radically changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system.

The "Nucleic Acids and Nanoparticles in Nanomedicine" Group led by Álvaro Somoza at IMDEA Nanociencia, studies the use of oligonucleotides and modified drugs to develop advanced nanostructures for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes, for example, to develop a test for COVID-19, or to be used in cancer treatments

              Nobel Prize in Physics

The Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L'Huilier for "experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the study of the dynamics of electrons in matter." Thanks to their experiments, this year's laureates devised and created pulses of light short enough to take snapshots of the lightning-fast movements of electrons.

A group of Spanish and Italian researchers, led by Fernando Martín (scientific director of IMDEA Nanociencia and professor of the Department of Chemistry of the UAM Faculty of Sciences) and Mauro Nisoli (director of the Attosecond Research Center of the Polytechnic Institute of Milan), laid the foundations of attochemistry in 2017. Attochemistry is a new discipline that studies the movement of electrons during chemical reactions using attosecond pulses of light. Currently, Fernando Martín and Mauro Nisoli are immersed in an ambitious scientific project coordinated by IMDEA Nanoscience, which aims to capture the ultrafast dynamics of electrons with the aim of improving the conversion efficiency of solar energy, together with Nazario Martín, deputy director of IMDEA Nanociencia and professor of the Department of Organic Chemistry at the Faculty of Chemical Sciences UCM.

               Nobel Prize in Chemistry

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry recipients were Moungi G. Bawendi, Louis E. Brus and Alexei I. Ekimov "for the discovery and development of quantum dots." Once the size of matter begins to be measured in millionths of a millimeter, strange phenomena – quantum effects – begin to occur that defy our intuition, and give the periodic table a third dimension. In the early 1980s, Louis Brus and Alexei Ekimov managed to independently create quantum dots, which are nanoparticles so tiny that quantum effects determine their characteristics. In 1993, Moungi Bawendi revolutionized the methods of manufacturing quantum dots, achieving an extremely high quality, an essential requirement for their use in today's nanotechnology.

Quantum dots are already found in commercial products and are used in many scientific disciplines, from physics and chemistry to medicine. At IMDEA Nanociencia, the "Biosensors in Neuroscience" Group led by Dr. Valle Palomo, focuses on the study of nanoparticles and biological chemistry to understand biological mechanisms in pathological conditions, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Among other materials, they use quantum dots as luminescent particles to visualize molecular targets and monitor their enzymatic activity. Quantum dots offer great potential for the study of biological systems, due to their optimal luminescent properties and their versatility to be conjugated with different biomolecules.

               Nobel Prizes are celebrated at IMDEA Nanociencia

 Every year since 2016, IMDEA Nanociencia organizes the Nobel Prize Winners' Symposium, in which researchers from areas close to the research field of the Nobel Prize laureates in Medicine, Physics and Chemistry that year, give their vision of the Prize with a brief historical overview and the scientific foundations behind the discovery. This year, the symposium will be held on December 1 the symposium will be held on December 1 and will feature IMDEA Nanociencia researchers Valle Palomo, Fernando Martín and Álvaro Somoza as speakers. The event is open to the public and will also be broadcast in the form of a teleconference.
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The Nanoscience revolution

Small is different for two reasons. The first is that in nanometer objects, the ratio of surface atoms to volume atoms is much higher than in macroscopic objects. And this is fundamental in nanoscience, since the surface area of interaction is much larger and allows systems to be connected and communicated in a more efficient way. And secondly, very small objects are dominated by an exotic part of physics, which is quantum mechanics.

Rodolfo Miranda, director of IMDEA Nanociencia: "In my opinion, what really changed everything was the ability to 'see' atoms and manipulate them, which the tunneling microscope made possible for us." Since the invention of the tunneling microscope, which caused a revolution by being able to manipulate material at the atomic level, Nanoscience has been eroding the boundaries between traditional disciplines: Physics, Chemistry, Biology... to establish themselves in the technologies that surround us. The most advanced technologies are getting smaller and smaller. Atom by atom, today it is possible to design new materials, devices or medicines that are already changing our lives. The science of the smallest is a universe to be explored, and at IMDEA Nanociencia, the Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence, expert researchers from various disciplines meet to work on the most revolutionary applications of the future.

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Prof. Miranda celebrated the various Nobel Prizes awarded in the fields of Nanoscience: from the discovery of giant magnetoresistance (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007), to the isolation of graphene (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010). "Nanoscience is the discovery that a small enough piece of a matter has totally different properties. Size matters here. Very small things behave very differently and how they work is controlled by quantum mechanics and that is very rare and very different from the macroscopic scale. The goal of nanoscience is to understand the basic properties of such small things, and the goal of nanotechnology is to use them for something useful," says Rodolfo Miranda.

The IMDEA Nanociencia Institute, which houses 44 laboratories, is funded by the regional government of Comunidad de Madrid and the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, and private companies participate financially in the projects. The facilities, which include huge tunnelling microscopes, spaces isolated from vibrations, nano-optics or chemical synthesis laboratories, or purified air rooms that must be accessed with protective suits, can be visited by the general public, schools or institutes upon request. "Our fellow citizens have to perceive, as it is perceived in other countries, that science produces well-being and wealth and that it is important for their future and that of their children," Miranda believes, "so they will ask their politicians to bet on it."

IMDEA Nanociencia works at the frontier of knowledge in cutting-edge research through its six applied research programs: nanotechnology for energy harvesting, quantum materials, nanoparticles for biomedical applications, nanomagnetism for information technologies, ultrafast phenomena at the nanoscale, and nanotechnology for critical and sustainable materials. IMDEA Nanoscience's highly interdisciplinary ecosystem generates discoveries that address society's main challenges: health and well-being, energy and environment, aerospace, security and defense.

Attracting talent, developing science of excellence and addressing the strategic needs of companies and institutions to generate knowledge and wealth from basic science are the missions of IMDEA Nanociencia. We are trying to understand the new rules that govern the behavior of matter at the nanoscale in order to find applications in many different areas. We are convinced that in the next 20-25 years, almost everything around us, from the clothes we wear, to the buildings we build, how we cure diseases, feed ourselves or capture and store energy, will all contain elements of nanotechnology. And we have to be prepared for it.

More information:

“El ‘tsunami’ de la nanociencia está por llegar y va a cambiar el mundo” – Entrevista a Rodolfo Miranda, director de IMDEA Nanociencia, para El Pais. (2019).

Escarbando en lo más pequeño – artículo de EL Pais (2014).

La ciencia de lo más pequeño está revolucionando el mundo. ¿Te quieres asomar? – vídeo institucional.


IMDEA Nanociencia Dissemination and Communication Office
divulgacion.nanociencia [at]imdea.org
Twitter: @imdea_nano
Facebook: @imdeananociencia
Instagram: @imdeananociencia

Source: IMDEA Nanociencia.