The collaborative environment at Rice was critical to the development of nanotechnology, having facilitated the work of two of the first Nobel laureates in the area. Nanotechnology has blossomed into a major strength of the department, which houses one of only six National Science Foundation-funded centers for nanoscale science and engineering.
The word "nanotechnology" is used to describe research where the characteristic dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers. In the future, nanotechnology will allow traditional manufacturing methods to be replaced by assembly of new products atom by atom. It will be possible to assemble the fundamental building blocks of nature easily and will also allow the fabrication of an entirely new generation of products that that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, and more precise. Research in this area at Rice focuses primarily on carbon-based materials including carbon nanotubes and fullerenes. Applications that are anticipated include strong fibers, materials for storage of dihydrogen, imaging agents and highly efficient conductors.
W. Edward Billups' research covers a variety of areas in organic chemistry, including the synthesis and properties of small ring alkenes and bicycloalkenes, fullerenes, single-wall carbon nanotubes, and products formed at low temperature from the reactions of transition metal atoms and small organic molecules.
Vicki Colvin’s research explores how nanoscale particles interact with the environment and living systems. Currently her projects draw on the unique and responsive behavior of nanoparticles to solve problems related to water purification and targeted cell death.
Naomi Halas' group is actively pursuing applications of nanoshells in biomedicine, in applications relating to ultrafast immunoassays, optically triggerable drug delivery, early stage cancer detection and photothermal cancer therapy.
Robert Hauge studies the properties and manipulation of single wall carbon nanotubes, chemistry and modification of elastomers used in oil drilling applications, direct fluorination development of new CVD diamond growth methods and reactions of metal atoms and small clusters.
Stephan Link's research group utilizes single molecule spectroscopy to study of noble metal particles in the size range of 2-100 nm. These nanoparticles have long fascinated scientists because of their intense color, which is caused by the surface plasmon resonance, a coherent motion of the conduction band electrons induced by interaction with light.
Gustavo Scuseria develops and applies computational quantum chemistry methods widely used in academia, industry, and government through the Gaussian suite of programs.
James Tour's research is focused on the synthesis of nanomachines such as nanocars, nanotrucks, motorized nanocars, and other machines that can roll on surfaces and do work at the nanoscale.
R. Bruce Weisman and his group investigate the spectroscopy and photophysics of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. Time-resolved absorption and emission methods are used to study radiationless decay, photochemical reactions, and energy transfer in fullerenes. Another major research topic is single-walled carbon nanotube spectroscopy.
Michael Wong's laboratory is engaged in interdisciplinary research at the interface of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Materials Science, with a focus on designing functional nanoparticle-based materials for catalytic and encapsulation/delivery applications.
Boris Yakobson's group studies the methods of theoretical condensed matter and chemical physics used for understanding/ predicting materials properties, and relationships between structure and function (strength, conductance, color, etc.) of nanoscale units. Advanced computations, simulation and visualization broadly assist this endeavor.
Eugene Zubarev's research is focused on the synthesis and characterization of functional organic-inorganic nanostructures. They are mainly interested in self-assembly of these hybrid structures, which may result in emergence of previously unseen physical and chemical properties.