President’s Science Symposium Showcases Nanotechnology

The director of Northwestern University’s International Institute for Nanotechnology, Dr. Chad Mirkin, gave the keynote address at last Friday’s President’s Science Symposium. Mirkin spoke about the vastness of the emerging field of nanotechnology, which focuses on the tiniest particles and miniaturization.

“This field is going to, and has, impacted everyone in this room, and will begin to impact you in very profound ways and in a variety of different areas,” he said to the audience in Kresge Auditorium.

The annual Science Symposium showcases the range of student scientific research at Bowdoin. It includes an invited speaker, three or four faculty-nominated student speakers, and an event where 80 to 90 students present posters on their research.

In his address, Mirkin explained that nanotechnology has applications for electronics, medicine, energy, environmental clean-up, security and defense. “It is a route to new materials,” he said. “All of these [areas] rely on access to new materials and new techniques. This is an incredible way of rapidly generating new materials and developing new techniques that can solve major problems in these areas.”

For instance, he continued, nanotechnology breakthroughs could lead to improved diagnostic tools and imaging tools that track diseases. The technology is also heading toward the creation of new structures (spherical nucleic acids) that can move into cells and flip genetic switches to correct diseases.

Nanotechnology has also helped bring about new and improved bone replacements, sunscreens, sporting goods — think carbon nanotube tennis rackets — and fabrics that won’t stain when wine or coffee is spilled on them.

Mirkin finished his talk by emphasizing the need to keep training young scientists, engineers and medical doctors in the field of nanotechnology. “Training is a huge part of this entire effort. Having access to really talented people is essential to developing the field,” he said. “We would love to have more students from Bowdoin, so please keep sending them.”

Following Mirkin’s remarks, Julia Maine ’16 gave a talk titled, “Snap, Crackle, Crunch: The Effect of Ocean Acidification on the Food Quality of the Cocolithophore Emiliania huxleyi.” James Sullivan ’16 spoke about “Structure Based Prediction of Cation Exchange Soils:Implications for the Environmental Fate of Pharmaceuticals and Pesticides.” And Cody Woods ’16 presented on “Plant Growth Regulation by Structural and Protective Pectins.”