Russian physicist Aleksey Ekimov and two American and French researchers have won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of tiny clusters of atoms known as quantum dots. Decades after the breakthrough, these ‘quantum dots’ are now found in the most advanced television screens and medical devices.
“The Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2023 have succeeded in producing particles so small that their properties are determined by quantum phenomena,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Wednesday. “The particles, which are called quantum dots, are now of great importance in nanotechnology.”
Born in Soviet Russia, Ekimov was working at the Vavilov State Optical Institute in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the 1980s when he discovered that nanoparticles of copper chloride in colored glass changed color depending on their size. Ekimov found that he could alter the size of these nanoparticles by heating them, thus controlling their color output.
Ekimov’s work was refined in the 1990s by Louis Brus, an American scientist who achieved the same results with nanoparticles suspended in fluid, and by Moungi Bawendi, a Tunisian-French chemist who came up with a new chemical formula for synthesizing quantum dots, resulting in perfectly-formed particles up to 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Quantum dot technology is used in high-definition QLED television screens and monitors, in medical imaging, and in the treatment of cancerous tumors.
“Researchers believe that in the future they could contribute to flexible electronics, tiny sensors, thinner solar cells and encrypted quantum communication – so we have just started exploring the potential of these tiny particles,” the academy said.
Read more: Covid-19 vaccine scientists win Nobel Prize
Brus and Bawendi are now professors at Columbia University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively. Ekimov emigrated to the US in 1999 and worked as chief scientist for Nanocrystals Technology Inc. in New York.
The trio will share a $1 million award, which will be formally presented by Swedish King Carl Gustaf XVI at a ceremony in Stockholm in December. Despite honoring a Russian scientist, the Nobel Foundation was heavily criticized in Russia for disinviting, then inviting, then again disinviting the Russian, Belarusian, and Iranian ambassadors to Sweden from the ceremony in December.