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Title: Faculty Profile: Steven Louie
Date: 06/29/2010
Publication: Berkeley Science Review
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Faculty Profile: Steven Louie

by Anna Goldstein

Professor Steven Louie has spent a lot of time on the UC Berkeley campus. He graduated in 1972 with an undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics and then earned his PhD in physics here in 1976. Following postdoctoral appointments at IBM and Bell labs, he taught briefly at the University of Pennsylvania before returning to UC Berkeley as a faculty member in 1980. Today, he is a professor in the physics department and a Senior Faculty Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He also directs the Theory of Nanostructured Materials Facility at the Molecular Foundry. I spoke with him recently about his research and his impressions of UC Berkeley over the years.

Your research focuses on nanomaterials and their physical properties. Why should people outside of physics be interested in nanomaterials?
As you go from macroscale to microscale to nanoscale, the behavior of matter changes. For example, objects give out light of a certain color, but if you give the material a smaller and smaller diameter, you change the frequency, or color, of the light that comes out. This means that you can tune the properties of the material by just changing its size. In terms of fundamental science, many interesting phenomena occur in nanostructures that help us understand nature. At the same time, because properties change at the nanoscale, there are many applications for nanostructure research. Look at the electronics industry, where you try to make things smaller and smaller in order to pack more transistors and other devices into a given chip. If making the device smaller causes its properties to change dramatically, then you have to understand how the device behaves in these new dimensions.

What do you see in the future of nanoscience?
The future of nanoscience is very exciting. There's a lot of promise in terms of new discovery and new applications. In the field of energy research, for example, a lot of studies are trying to develop new nanostructure–based photovoltaic devices that might function better than standard solar cells. They might also be cheaper to make, because making nanostructures might becheaper than growing pure silicon crystals for solar cells.

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