Each year the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation selects between 20 and 40 individuals to receive one of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, which are better known as “genius grants.” The honor is awarded to individuals working in any field, who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work” and are citizens or residents of the United States.
Based on the 24 Fellows selected this year, geniuses can be choreographers, biologists, economists, set designers, chemists, educators, photographers, musical composers – and even puppeteers.
Geniuses also work in nanotechnology.
This year, the foundation honored an inorganic chemist at the University of California, Berkeley – Peidong Yang – noting that “his advances in the science of nanomaterials are opening new horizons for tackling the global challenge of clean, renewable energy sources.”
Yang created a synthetic leaf that uses the same ingredients as photosynthesis – water, sunlight and carbon dioxide – to produce liquid fuels like methane, butane and acetate with the help of semiconductor nanowires. And like nature’s photosynthesis, this process also releases oxygen into the air.
These nanowires, similar to normal electrical wires except for their size – 100 to 1,000 times thinner than a human hair – have a variety of fascinating properties, including that they are extremely capable at capturing solar energy.
While the technology is still several years from being commercially viable, it represents an important step on the road to creating a carbon-neutral and sustainable fuel system.
Jay West, manager of the American Chemistry Council’s Nanotechnology Panel, says that the Panel’s main objective is to promote the safe and responsible development of nanotechnology – in projects like that of Yang and many others.
ACC’s Nanotechnology Panel works to advance good product stewardship practices among nanomaterial producers and users. The Panel regularly supports and participates in partnerships with universities, regulatory agencies and other organizations to identify and communicate best practices concerning the responsible development and use of nanotechnology.