Electronic devices have become pervasive in our household equipment, our cars, our communication tools and indeed in almost every object that surrounds us in our private and professional spheres. Not only do they multiply, but they continue to decrease in size, to use less energy and cost less. To assemble such devices, the semi-conductor industries have perfected silicon-based technologies. However, they will soon be approaching the physical limits of solid state physics. To go beyond this barrier, they are already working on new approaches for nanometric level electronics.
The spectacular optical properties of nanoparticles are revolutionizing medical imaging. They also help to renew therapeutic techniques. On the occasion of the inauguration of the AXA-ESPCI Chair, Emmanuel Fort, professor at the Langevin Institute of ESPCI ParisTech, presented the latest advances in a promising field where two roads meet.
Ever since the electronic properties of silicon were discovered in the United States in the late 30s, it has been a well-known fact: a new material can change the world. Perhaps because it weighs less, is sturdier, provides better thermal and acoustic performance, lasts longer, or makes production and assembly easier. Every now and then, the scientific community announces a new miracle material successor to silicon and the 2010s already rustle with announcements about a very serious candidate: graphene, a two-dimensional crystal consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, which is credited with exceptional potential.
Countries endowed with great research institutions know it all too well. In order to stay in the race for innovation in the 21st century, they need to be involved and successful in four fronts, summarized by the acronym "NBIC": nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences. Nanotechnology came back into the spotlight early 2010 following a particularly heated public debate in France, which emphasized the ethical and environmental concerns over an assessment of the potential of this new scientific frontier. Speaking of which, what is the real promise of nanotechnology? What can we say about the astronomical profits that certain big American consulting firms promised industrialists who were ready to embark on the adventure? In short, is nanomania meant to last?