The Kavli Foundation has endowed a new institute at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) to explore the basic science of how to capture and channel energy on the molecular or nanoscale and use this information to discover new ways of generating energy for human use. The new institute will explore fundamental issues in energy science, using cutting-edge tools and techniques developed to study and manipulate nanomaterials – stuff with dimensions 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair – to understand how solar, heat and vibrational energy are captured and converted into useful work by plants and animals or novel materials.
Scientists at the Kavli Energy NanoScience Institute will look beyond today’s energy conversion approaches to explore unusual avenues found in biological systems and to build entirely new hybrid or completely artificial systems. For example, Kavli ENSI scientists plan to explore how plant pigments capture energy from the sun and transport it for chemical storage, and how the body’s molecular motors convert chemical energy into motion inside a cell. Meanwhile, other scientists and engineers plan to build nanodevices that mimic and improve on nature’s tricks, using materials ranging from graphene and metal oxide frameworks to nanowires and nanolasers.
Other Kavli ENSI scientists plan to investigate how heat flows in nanomaterials and whether the vibrational energy, or phonons, can be channeled to make thermal rectifiers, diodes or transistors analogous to electronic switches in use today; develop novel materials, ranging from polymers to cage structures and nanowires, with unusual nanoscale properties; or design materials that could sort, count and channel molecules along prescribed paths and over diverse energy landscapes to carry out complex chemical conversions.