Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.


Making Waves: Harnessing Photons for Smart Materials

Making Waves
Reported by
Sarah Webb

Posted May 30, 2008


Like the complex molecular systems that make up living cells, engineers would like to build synthetic systems that have their blueprints built into their chemical composition. Such systems would self-organize, respond to stimuli, and adapt. Though synthetic "intelligent materials" don't exist yet, researchers have made progress in understanding and building comparatively simple "smart materials" that organize to form regular defined two-dimensional structures based on molecular interactions such as hydrogen bonding and Van der Waals interactions.

At the Academy's Soft Materials Discussion Group meeting on April 9, 2008, researchers revealed how in the world of such smart materials, light can play many roles: as a clean, inexpensive reagent for patterning surfaces, as a component in lasers that construct more complex 2-D and 3-D crystals, and as a medium that smart materials can manipulate.

Web Sites

Nicholas Turro's group
The Turro group in the Department of Chemistry at Columbia University collaborates with Koberstein's group to build photochemically reactive hard and soft surfaces.

The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies
An interdepartmental institute funded by the U.S. Army Research Office, its goal is to apply nanotechnologies to help protect soldiers.

Sound Ideas
Ned Thomas and colleagues describe the potential of phononic crystals.


Jeffrey Koberstein

Lee K, Feng P, Carroll GT, et al. 2004. Photolithographic technique for direct photochemical modification and chemical micropatterning of surfaces. Langmuir 20: 1812-1818.

Carroll GT, Wang D, Turro, NJ, Koberstein JT. 2006. Photochemical micro-patterning of carbohydrates on a surface. Langmuir 22: 2899-2905.

Wang D, Carroll GT, Turro NJ, et al. 2007. Photogenerated glycan arrays identify immunogenic sugar moieties of Bacillus anthracis exosporium. Proteomics 7: 180-184.

Carroll GT, Sojka ME, Lei X, et al. 2006. Photoactive additives for cross-linking polymer films: inhibition of dewetting in thin polymer films. Langmuir 22: 7748-7754.

Pan F, Wang P, Lee K, et al. 2005. Photochemical modification and patterning of polymer surfaces by surface adsorption of photoactive block copolymers. Langmuir 21: 3605-3612.

Ned Thomas

Park C, Yoon J, Thomas EL. 2003. Enabling nanotechnology with assembled block copolymer patterns. Polymer 44: 6725-6760.

Muthukumar M, Ober CK, Thomas EL. 1997. Competing interactions and levels of ordering in self-organizing materials. Science 277: 1225-1237.

Yoon J, Lee W, Thomas EL. 2006. Optically pumped surface-emitting lasing using self-assembled block-copolymer-distributed bragg reflectors. Nano Lett. 6: 2211-2214.

Yoon J, Lee W, Thomas EL. 2006. Highly oriented thin-film microdomain patterns of ultrahigh molecular weight block copolymers via directional solidification of a solvent. Advanced Materials 18: 2691-2694.

Ullal CK, Maldovan M, Wohlgemuth M, et al. 2003. Triply periodic bicontinuous structures through interference lithography: a level-set approach. J. Opt. Soc. Am A 20: 948-954.

Maldovan M, Thomas EL. 2006. Simultaneous complete elastic and electromagnetic band gaps in periodic structures. Applied Physics 83: 595-600.


Jeffrey T. Koberstein, PhD

Columbia University
e-mail | web site | publications

Jeffrey Koberstein is a professor at Columbia University, where he holds the Percy and Vida Hudson Chair in Chemical Engineering. He completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Wisconsin and his PhD at the University of Massachusetts. He began his independent career as an assistant professor at Princeton University in 1980 and moved to the University of Connecticut in 1986. After moving to Columbia, he served as professor and chair of chemical engineering from 2000 to 2005. Koberstein is an elected fellow of the American Physical Society and received the 2006 Stine Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Edwin Thomas, PhD

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
e-mail | web site | publications

Edwin (Ned) Thomas is a professor and department head of Materials Science and Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he is also the founding director of strategic planning for the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. He completed PhD in materials science at Cornell University. Prior to moving to MIT in 1989, he had held faculty appointments at both the University of Minnesota and at the University of Massachusetts. Thomas is a fellow of the American Physical Society and has won two Special Creativity Awards from the National Science Foundation.

Sarah Webb

Before hanging up her labcoat, Sarah Webb earned a PhD in bioorganic chemistry from Indiana University. Based in Brooklyn, NY, she writes about science, health, and technology for publications including Science, Science News, Discover, and Nature Reports Stem Cells.