Nanotechnology is more than just a set of applications. When people wonder what the next big product will be, the truth is more nuanced. Jillian Buriak, professor of chemistry at the University of Alberta, calls it a quiet revolution. For the first time in history, scientists from all disciplines are working together towards solving big problems; the ability to control matter at the atomic and molecular level is how nanotechnology is opening doors all across the sciences.
One area that Buriak’s research addresses is the critical need for renewable energy. Even by the most conservative estimates, global energy needs are going to double by 2050, and triple by 2100. The economic and social security of our civilization will depend on our ability to meet these needs.
Buriak is developing solar cells to respond to this challenge. In a single hour, more solar energy hits the Earth than all of humankind uses in a year. Harnessing that energy will be sustainable, scalable, and will even work for remote communities.
Nanotechnology is key to making this possible. “In our solar cells, we’re making a lot of nanomaterials in there and we need to control them so that every single photon light that comes from the sun is captured in a way that doesn’t allow for other nasty side things to go on which leads to inefficient solar cells,” explains Buriak. “We need to have that control over matter – this length-scale – and nanotechnology enables that.”