By Sean Sullivan, The University of Texas at Austin, Nanomaterials and Thermo-Fluids Laboratory and MRS Student Chapter
Back in 2007, the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) released a report entitled “Directing Matter and Energy: Five Grand Challenges for Science and the Imagination”, with the intent of sparking the energy community’s collective imagination and laying down a path for future research. The 100+ page document begins – perhaps paying homage to Arthur C. Clarke – by stating that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. After seguing into familiar examples of this adage and extrapolating into the future, the Committee issues its five Grand Challenges for Basic Energy Science that it believes will help usher us into what it refers to as the “Age of Control”. In brief, these challenges are summed up in the form of five questions:
- “How do we control material processes at the level of electrons?”
- “How do we design and perfect atom- and energy-efficient synthesis of revolutionary new forms of matter with tailored properties?”
- “How do remarkable properties of matter emerge from complex correlations of the electronic constituents and how do we control these properties?”
- “How can we master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things?”
- “How do we characterize and control matter away – especially very far away – from equilibrium?”
While the report then provides further explanations of these challenges and examples of then state-of-the-art research pertaining to them (e.g nanotransistors, artificial photosynthesis, molecular machines), the questions are, of course, left open-ended. The intent of this document was not to provide the answers, but to define these research questions pertaining to the advanced control over matter and energy. Despite the great progress that has since been made, close to seven years later, these five questions are still very relevant and remain chiefly unanswered.