James Tour, the inventor of the nanocar at Rice University, has been awarded the prestigious Foresight Institute Feynman Prize for experimental nanotechnology for 2008 by the California think tank dedicated to the beneficial implementation of nanotechnology.
Tour was one of four nominees for the prize, specifically for his work on the synthesis of nanocars, molecule-sized vehicles with buckyball wheels that served as an experiment to explore the possibility of building working machines at such a scale.
The prize, first awarded in 1993, is named for the late physicist Richard P. Feynman, who introduced the concept of nanotechnology in a famous talk in 1959 called "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom."
"I can't say I was influenced by Feynman, because I got involved in nanotechnology before I even knew who he was," said Tour, Rice's Chao Professor of Chemistry, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and professor of computer science. "But I know he was influential, and I liked his book."
The Foresight Institute played a role in Tour's arrival at Rice from the University of South Carolina, where he taught for 11 years.
"It was at a Foresight conference that I met (Rice nanotech pioneer) Rick Smalley in 1997 or '98," he said. "Rick told me he'd stayed at the conference a couple of extra days just to hear me speak, and afterward he asked if I'd be interested in speaking at Rice as well." Tour liked what he saw at Rice and joined the faculty in 1999.
Recently in the news for his group's breakthrough work on graphene-based computer memory, Tour is thrilled to be the first Rice recipient of the Feynman Prize. "I'm pleased to be recognized by the leaders in the field, and by those who recognize the quality of the work we've done in nanotechnology," he said.
Tour has more than 35 patents and more than 350 research publications related to his nanotechnology research, which encompasses electronics, health, chemical self-assembly, polymers, hydrogen storage and many other potential applications.
The institute awarded a second Feynman Prize for theory in nanotechnology to George Schatz of Northwestern University for his contributions to nanofabrication and sensing.
The bongo-playing Feynman popularized physics through two of his books, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" Book-ending the Nobel Prize-winning Cal Tech professor's career were his work on the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project and his investigation of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, which he traced to a frozen O-ring.