Nanotechnology expert Peidong Yang will receive the National Science Foundation's (NSF) 2007 Alan T. Waterman Award today in a ceremony at the US State Department. Yang has pioneered research on nanowires, strings of atoms that show promise for a range of high-technology devices, from tiny lasers and computer circuits to inexpensive solar panels and biological sensors.
Presented annually, the Waterman award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by NSF. Candidates may not be more than 35 years old, or 7 years beyond receiving a doctorate, and must stand out for their individual achievements. In addition to a medal, the awardee receives a grant of $500,000 over a three-year period for scientific research or advanced study in their field.
Yang is a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley. His main research interests focus on one-dimensional semiconductor nanostructures and their applications in nanophotonics, nanoelectronics, energy conversion and nanofluidics.
"Not only did Yang develop powerful methods to synthesize one-dimensional semiconductor nanostructures, he continues to demonstrate such creative energy when exploring fundamental physical and chemical principles, such as the basic science needed to transform developments in fields ranging from sensors and molecular computers to biotechnology," said David Nelson, director of NSF's Solid-State Chemistry Program and one of the officers who has supported Yang's research.
Yang has created one of the nation's leading laboratories for the study of nanowires, the NSF said. Like nanotubes, nanowires are filaments only molecules wide with nearly miraculous properties, yet nanowires lack a hollow core and are proving generally easier to create and manipulate. Yang's research team has developed novel, efficient ways to create particularly sophisticated nanowires and complex nanowire arrays.
"As we were dealing with a new class of nanostructure, naturally there were many fundamental questions and challenges that needed to be addressed," said Yang. "For example, how could we make them in a controlled manner? Do they have interesting chemical and physical properties? We are lucky that we are among the first few groups who started to address and answer some of these interesting questions."
By controlling the self-assembly of the wires and their orientation, Yang and his colleagues have created devices such as a wire only a hundred nanometers (billionths of a meter) wide that fires ultraviolet laser light; a patchwork of oriented nanowires that shows promise for shrinking the next generation of computer chips; and a nanowire array that has properties akin to solar panels but could potentially cost far less and is manufactured using an environmentally friendly process.
"Nanowires represent a rich family of functional materials," said Yang. "It is now possible to design and synthesize nanowires with quite complex structures based on progress made in the past couple of years. This type of control in nanostructural engineering has generated a rich collection of fascinating properties and functionalities, including nanoscale lasers, nanowire-based transistors, sensors and solar cells. These nanowire materials will have a particularly significant impact in areas such as energy conversion and solid-state lighting."
A native of China, Yang studied chemistry at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei in 1988. After earning his PhD from Harvard in 1997, Yang went to the University of California, Santa Barbara, then moved to UC-Berkeley in 1999. Currently associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, he is also the deputy director for the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems and serves as an associate editor for the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Yang is also the recipient of: The NSF Young Investigator Award, the Alfred P. Sloan research fellowship, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Young Investigator Award, the MRS Young Investigator Award, the Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics, and the American Chemical Society's Pure Chemistry Award.
In addition to the Waterman, Yang has received NSF support through grants and as coprincipal investigator for the NSF Center Of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.