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Northwestern University

Extraordinary Discoveries Honored

National Geographic has featured chemists Chad Mirkin and Mark Ratner in a special issue titled "100 Scientific Discoveries That Changed the World".

The issue celebrates “inspiring technologies that forever altered our future and fascinating ideas that reflect the cutting-edge thinking of today,” including evolution, penicillin, the Internet, regenerative medicine, and the transistor.

Professors Mirkin and Ratner are both lauded for opening the path for dramatic miniaturization of electronic circuits, which in turn has created technologies and devices that would have been impossible not long ago.

Prominent on the list is Chad Mirkin’s invention of nanolithography, one branch of the groundbreaking science of nanotechnology, which involves particles one billionth of a meter in size. In 1999 Mirkin, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, developed a tool called Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN) that uses an atomic force microscope to write with molecular ink. While DPN has a wide range of applications that include information transfer and medical diagnostics, the article cited in particular DPN’s ability to produce tiny circuit boards, which led to the development of computers so tiny they can be used in other nanoscale technologies.

Mark Ratner, the Lawrence B. Dumas Distinguished University Professor, is known as one of the originators of the field of molecular electronics, that is, the use of molecular components to build electronic devices. In 1974 Ratner and Ari Aviram created the “rectifier,” the first molecular electronic device that converts alternating current to direct current. Since then scientists have expanded their knowledge of molecular electronics and its applications. Currently many researchers are working to substitute molecular electronic switches for semiconductors in all of their applications, which will further miniaturize electronic technology.

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