Jackie Ying, 33
Jackie Ying thinks applications. It doesn’t take very long in a conversation with her before she makes clear she’s more interested in explaining uses of her nanoscale materials than in discussing arcane details of their chemistry. An associate professor who has already distinguished herself in the traditionally male domain of chemical engineering, Ying comes alive as she ticks off the potential benefits ofher precisely tailored nanomaterials: safer pharmaceuticals, more efficient processes for making industrial chemicals, better catalysts to cut air pollution from automobiles. She adds that her group is also interested in using the materials to make nanoscale wires for microelectronics and "smart" drug-delivery systems. The list is remarkably broad, but make no mistake, these aren’t fantasies.
Ying has developed elegant ways to tailor materials with nanoscale precision, using self-assembled organic templates as the scaffolding. She has, for example, synthesized catalytic materials with intricate--but well-defined--networks of pores. These nanopores give access to the catalytic surface to specifically sized or shaped molecules; thus the catalysts can be used for very selective reactions, such as producing the desired form of a compound that comes in several variants, which could mean safer and more effective therapeutics.
That’s only one possible benefit. The simplicity and flexibility ofher approaches mean they can be applied in a wide variety of industrial contexts. Nanotechnology will be one of the key economic areas of the next century. And in that field Jackie Ying will be a leader.