How a Nanotech Toolbox Can Revolutionise Medicine and Energy Storage

The sheet of paper this text is printed on is about 100,000 nanometers thick and one hair on your head is about 50,000 nanometers wide. In our everyday experience, these are some of the smallest objects we are able to see and feel, but compared to the nanoscale, they are colossal. The nanoscale describes the dimension between 1 and 100 nanometers – in terms of objects, between a sugar molecule and an influenza virus. Nanotechnology tries to understand and control matter at this length scale, a particularly interesting area of research, because the experimental materials often show new and unexpected physical, chemical or biological properties. Once understood and replicated, this nanoscale behaviour can be used for engineering new materials for specific applications. Some nanomaterials have been in use for years, such as the titanium dioxide in sunblock, or water-repellent coating for textiles, but today more than ever, materials scientists are working on the creation of new materials which have the potential to revolutionise a variety of fields – from industrial engineering, biomedical research and diagnosis, to batteries and water purification. Jackie Ying is one of the leading experts at the intersection of nanoscale science, engineering and medicine. In 2003, having returned to Singapore from the USA, she was entrusted with setting up the world’s first bioengineering and nanotechnology institute at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). As the institute’s Executive Director, Jackie Ying shapes its vision of how excellent interdisciplinary research can tackle a wide range of challenges from diverse fields. At Falling Walls, she shows how a “nanotech toolbox” could take us one step closer to advanced medical technologies and sustainable green technologies.

Jackie Y. Ying was born in Taipei, and raised in Singapore and New York, and graduated with B.E. summa cum laude in Chemical Engineering from The Cooper Union in 1987. As an AT&T Bell Laboratories Ph.D. Scholar at Princeton University, she began research in materials chemistry, linking the importance of materials processing and microstructure with the tailoring of materials surface chemistry and energetics. She pursued research in nanocrystalline materials with Prof. Herbert Gleiter at the Institute for New Materials, Saarbrücken, Germany as NSF-NATO Post-doctoral Fellow and Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow. Prof. Ying joined the Chemical Engineering faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1992, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1996 and to Professor in 2001. She is currently the Executive Director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Singapore. IBN is a multidisciplinary national research institute founded by Prof. Ying in March 2003 to advance the frontiers of engineering, science and medicine; it has grown to over 170 research staff and students under Prof. Ying’s leadership.

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