Jeffrey Long, 32
University of California, Berkeley
Chemist Jeffrey Long is daring to remake the ubiquitous computer hard drive. Long is devising ways in which chemists can assemble large inorganic molecules packed with different metals to create a host of novel materials for use in the emerging field of nanotechnology. His first target is the molecular magnet, a chemical structure whose electrons can be set spinning in synchrony by a magnetic field. Molecular magnets are a potential replacement for the increasingly crowded metallic films that constitute computer hard drives. Each molecular magnet could represent one bit of memory, enabling storage densities a thousand times greater than those of the best existing films. Long began building his own molecular magnets in 1997, demonstrating a scheme for packing them with progressively more chromium, cobalt and nickel. Unfortunately, his best clusters can only be magnetized at a chilly -270 °C, just 3 °C above absolute zero. Making more practical molecular magnets may take years, but if this field heats up, it could revolutionize computer storage.