Wole Soboyejo’s work and perspectives perhaps reflect his unique set of life experiences. Born in Palo Alto, named after Winston Churchill, raised in Nigeria and with a PhD in Materials Science from Cambridge at 23, Professor Soboyejo bridges a continental perspective with interests as varied as human health, sustainable energy, and the challenges of the developing world with a passion for nanotechnology, engineering at the atomic level.
In his March 14 Lunch ‘n Learn talk, Professor Soboyejo reviewed a varied range of surprising applications of nanotechnology.
Much of the inspiration for nanotechnology research for the past 45 years, explained Soboyejo, originated with the insight of a Princeton alumnus, Richard Feynman in 1961. At a time when others were “thinking big,” Feynman wrote a beautiful paper at the American Physical Society that predicted the advent of micro- and nano-scale machines and the potential for bio-nano-technology, devices that would clean up arteries, and detect and treat disease.
For the past few years, Soboyejo has engaged Princeton faculty, students, and visiting scientists primarily from the developing world to think about interdisciplinary approaches to nanotechnology. He founded and now directs USAMI, a multi-University US/Africa Material Institute, whose primary mission is to develop collaborations between the US and Africa in areas of materials research and education.
USAMI projects tend to focus on efforts of relevance to the developing world such as water purification, human health, affordable housing, and alternative energy sources.
In the field of human health, nanotechnology offers hope for early detection and treatment of cancer, using magnetic fields and magnetic particles to detect cancer cells and then to deliver therapeutic drugs at the desired time in the correct dosage to the correct site in the human body. Conventional treatments detect cancers only when they are already well along. Current Chemotherapy treatments, for example, target not only cancer cells but viable cells as well.
Nano targets inserted into the blood can attach themselves to the over-expressed receptors of diseased cells. The nano targets are magnetic, and will therefore show up in magnetic resonance scans. The efforts have resulted in the synthesis and trial of such nano-particles. Early results have been promising. In a series of laboratory experiments with mice, the particles attached to targeted tumor sites at each stage of the cancer. The experiments for breast and prostate cancer confirmed that the nano-particles did not accumulate in other healthy organs. Additional progress is required for targeted delivery, but early work is promising.
In the area of alternative energy, nanoscience approaches may provide an assist in the overall performance of harvesting solar energy. Initial acquisition costs of silicon-based solar cells is expensive. Looking forward, the use of organic electronics based on plastics are likely to increase efficiencies and significantly lower costs.
Soboyejo brought together in physicists, chemists, and material scientists to work in an integrated way, investigating the use of different substrates and materials for solar cells and for light emitting devices. They hope that, within a decade, to have useful devices for developing areas.
He emphasized that this type of science, this type of approach, can be very important for developing countries. As an example, he illustrated the fabrication of solar collectors from local materials, reflecting sunlight into an insolated box. With the right materials, you can raise the temperature within the box to 400 degrees F, enough for a good oven for a community or enough to roast coffee, which raised the value of the bean by a factor of ten.
Such is the nature of Dr. Soboyejo’s work, a passionate commitment to science and the developing world.
Posted by Lorene Lavora