Professor of Nanotechnology
Professor Mark Welland has been a driving force behind advances in materials that exploit nano-scale properties. Professor Welland and colleagues have explored the mechanical, optical and electronic properties of atoms and molecules and grown them into nanostructures by seeding them onto a surface. These structures then intertwine in a form of self-assembly creating a series of different materials and structures that retain their nano-scale properties.
"The achievement has been not in manipulating a single atom but in growing several square centimetres of a novel material," comments Professor Welland. For instance, the team have produced a nano-material that is super-hydrophobic (repels water) which could be scaled up into a coating for car windscreens that might mean you would never need windscreen wipers.
Another example is growing materials that are also devices - such as a zinc oxide nanowire. "This is itself a semiconductor, so in one step we have created a field effect transistor, something that could be scaled up and mass produced," he explains.
The award of an Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) has helped to create a genuinely interdisciplinary environment at Cambridge. "The culmination of this is that, with the IRC, research that mixes chemistry, physics and engineering is seen as completely normal," he adds. While the foundations of nanotechnology have been laid, its future, he believes, lies in concentrating on what's useful: "We're moving away from 'here's a single structure with strange properties it took us six months to make' to 'here's a process, here's a usable material.'"