In a podcast to promote the Kavli Award, one of the most prestigious nanoscience awards in the worldthe german teacher Gerb Binning gave a surprising explanation of how he came up with it, together with the Swiss Heinrich Rohrerthe system to observe matter through the atomic force microscope, the first tool available to see and manipulate objects as small as an atom.
The gold medal that is awarded with the Kavli Prize looks so much like Nobel’s that anyone who doesn’t know Alfred Nobel’s face would confuse them. In addition, the two awards have an Academy of Sciences behind them. One Swedish, one Norwegian; also two kings who deliver them. Gustaf, the Nobel and Harald the Kavli; Nordic both and with cheeks that shine when they deliver almost a million euros. Of course, they pay in Swedish and Norwegian crowns.
The first thing Binning and his team built was the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), an instrument that sparked scientific fantasy. It is not for less, because with it the atomic structure of any material could be observed for the first time. Atoms could even be shuffled and manipulated. They gave him the Nobel Prize in Physics together with the professors Christoph Gerber Y Calvin Quatebut Ginning kept racking her brain because her contraption was only good for observing atoms on surfaces that conduct electricity.
Before the Binning microscope, scientists did not know exactly how atoms behaved. Theories were multiple, but no one was really able to observe them. They were really working blind. The striking thing is that, in his brain squeeze, Gerd kept the subconscious trying to make a great leap, armed with brain and intuition.
“Sometimes you can look up into the clouds and see something that isn’t there. You can see a horse or whatever. And that’s what I saw, an overhang on a surface with a very fine tip”, revealed the professor in the aforementioned podcast.
For Professor Binning, innovation arises from a “dance” between the conscious and the subconscious. He assures that what he saw when he reflected looking at the ceiling from his sofa was something similar to a record player. An arm suspended above a surface with a very fine tip that follows the contours of the surface. The turntable that anyone can have at home turns that contour reading into music. The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) translates it into an image from that superfine point that originally, when it was invented, was nothing more than a common needle broken into several pieces.
That technology inspired many to improve it. Between the Nobel Prize won in 1986 for the scanning tunneling microscope and the Kavli Prize won in 2016 for the AFM, 30 years passed. But the interesting thing is how Binning was originally awarded as a physicist and, years later, as a nanotechnologistthus symbolizing the bridge that has been built over the years with Nanoscience, our object of apostolate in Levi’s NanoClub in Disruptors and Innovators.
The Kavlis are said to be the Nobel Prize winners for innovative science. like the medal fields to Mathematics or Pritzker to Architecture. They focus on Astrophysics, Nanoscience and Neuroscience by decision of his mentor, Fred Kavlia Norwegian engineer emigrated to the US who worked at Astrolab Testing Corporation, the company that built the Atlas, the first intercontinental ballistic missile built for the US Air Force.
Fred Kavli’s entrepreneurial drive led him to create his own company, Kavlico, one of the leading providers of sensors for aeronautics. He managed, for example, to have them installed on the SR-71 Blackbird and the space shuttle. He then sold the company to him.
The Kavli Awards have so far honored 54 scientists from 13 countries.. In his list of winners, ten laureates who later received the Nobel Prize. No Spaniard has received it yet.
Gerd Binning is now retired and enjoys spending time with his grandchildren and writing about creativity. But the interesting thing is that he still thinks about the future of nanoscience and, in his opinion, One of the great challenges is for someone to make it possible for nanotechnologies to reproduce.
The question is pertinent: how do you build a small-scale structure out of atoms and then mass-produce it, copy it over and over again?
This has not happened yet. Perhaps there is a Nobel there, even if he is not Swedish.
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Nanoscience has its ‘Nobel Prize’… and it’s Norwegian