Announced on Oct. 4 of this year, Chemists Moungi G. Bawendi, Louis E. Brus and Alexey I. Yekimov were awarded the 2023 Chemistry Nobel Prize “for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots.”
According to the British Council, a quantum dot is a nanoparticle — a particle ranging from 10 to 100 nanometers in size — composed of semiconducting materials. These small clusters of atoms are used for their abilities to emit color and are vital to the components of both commonly used technologies to much more advanced processes, such as television screens and cellular nanotechnology.
The discoveries made by the scientists about the tiny particles exceeded theory alone and were capable of making the ideas on paper become reality. Through physical application, the three chemists were successfully able to synthesize quantum dots, which was unheard of in the scientific world.
Laurance Beauvais, professor of chemistry at Point Loma Nazarene University, emphasized the importance of the Nobel Prize.
“This work has led to a completely new area of chemistry, so there is quite a large impact,” Beauvais said. “A chemistry department at a large research school will have at least one, if not more, people working in the field.”
Beauvais shared the history of quantum chemistry, where the first emergence of nanoparticles was that of the red-stained glass in European gothic cathedrals. Gold nanoparticles, discovered by the scientist Michael Faraday, were responsible for the distinct coloration of the stained glass windows. Red is the color seen by the human eye because gold nanoparticles are approximately 520 nanometers in size, which is interpreted as red on the visible light spectrum.
In relation to the Nobel Prize, there were multiple components leading to the extremely innovative discoveries of this year. Each of the three winners had substantial contributions years prior that led to the eventual discovery of quantum dots. According to the Nobel Prize, Yekimov was successful in creating size-dependent quantum effects through colored glass, Brus proved size-dependent quantum effects in particles float freely in liquid, and Bawendi pioneered the most efficient way to synthesize quantum dots.
Together, the three scientists’ work furthered the development of quantum chemistry, specifically aspects that affect people daily, as stated by the Nobel Prize.
Nanotechnology has been revolutionized through quantum chemistry, one of the more familiar technologies is that of TVs. As discussed by Insights, Samsung created new television screens and computer monitors utilizing Quantum LED technology to further enhance their display quality. Quantum dots are advantageous for screen manufacturing due to their expansive range of colors, and businesses have billions of colors at their disposal with the use of these nanoparticles.
Not only are the findings of the Nobel Prize being harnessed for electronic screens, but they are also being used to advance medical innovations. Noted for their specific coloration capabilities, CellTracker dyes have been developed to mark and track cells of interest in multiple generations. Highlighted by Thermo Fisher Scientific, cells manually marked by scientists can easily be tracked and localized, hopefully promoting more efficient research in cell mutation.
Alexa Alcantar, a first-year biology-chemistry major, stressed her connection to these newfound revelations.
“I think it’s really interesting how the [discovery of] quantum dots, the synthesizing of it, can be super helpful in finding cell mutation,” Alcantar said. “It can be helpful in finding the ‘why’ behind cancer, hopefully leading to a cure.”
Ultimately, the Nobel Prize is awarded to those who work continuously to improve the state of the world, as chosen by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Not everyone is recognized in their efforts to push the emergence of new technologies, as Beauvais explains the process is limited to just three winners per year, yet the work of Bawendi, Brus and Yekimov are new additions to the constant growth of the chemistry field.