Today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to scientists from MIT, Columbia University, and the New York–based company Nanocrystals Technology for “the development of quantum dots, nanoparticles so tiny that their size determines their properties.”
It’s a welcome development. IEEE Spectrumhas been following quantum dots for nearly 25 years. Spectrum has found a host of opportunities for quantum-dot stories because they’ve been game-changing in television displays, computing, optoelectronics, medicine, and more. And also, to be honest, because the technology just seems magical; it literally glows.
Here’s how quantum dots have had an impact on electronics in recent years, from Spectrum’s perspective:
In 2000, Spectrum ran a feature article (“Toward Nanoelectronics”) that touted the future directions of semiconductors and stipulated that “minuscule dots are at the heart of future transistor generations.” “Called the single-electron transistor, or sometimes the quantum dot transistor,” the article went on, “it is under development by research groups worldwide.” In fact, no small portion of the Royal Swedish Academy’s technical backgrounder (PDF) released to the media this morning could have been cribbed from this in-depth Spectrum consideration of nearly a quarter-century ago.
But don’t sleep on quantum dots as quantum computers’ possible salvation as well! In 2001, Spectrum delved further into an emerging tech called quantum computing, at the time thought to be nearly science fiction. Our correspondent Justin Mullins described a then-popular idea of making a “two-qubit system consisting of two electrons shared by four quantum dots in a square.” Two years after that, our correspondent Peter Fairley filed a feature story for Spectrumconsidering a similarly sci-fi-sounding idea of using biological viruses as the builders behind what he called “postlithography” integrated circuits. “Viral films of magnetic dots could provide the active layer for high-density quantum-dot flash memories,” Fairley wrote.
The same year, one of the authors of this story (TSP) reported on LED display technology that could be affected by developments in quantum dots—at the time considered the basis for quantum-dot lasers, which could be well suited for the environmental extremes needed behind fiber-optic cables routed to the home. Six years on from that story, in 2009, Spectrum reported on quantum-dot technologies for improving lighting and TV displays.
By 2015, it became clear that the promise of quantum dots in TV displays was about to be realized, enhancing the popular LED TVs. We explained how that would work.
We also visited a factory to see how they are made.
Meanwhile, researchers began finding applications for quantum dots in optoelectronics, potentially enabling faster computing or even quantum computing. And developers began experimenting with using them to turn windows into transparent solar panels.
Soon, medical researchers began exploring their use in cancer surgeries.
That’s as broad a range of applications as one could possibly hope for. And it’s likely just the beginning; the exploration of the power of quantum dots continues. So congratulations to inventors and now Nobel Laureates Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus, and Alexei Ekimov—we at Spectrum thank you for sparking years of fascinating developments! The Royal Swedish Academy’s announcement today ensures that media coverage of and attention to this incredible technology will likely no longer be tiny or insubstantial, however increasingly advanced and substantial these very nanoscale devices may themselves be.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.
Margo Anderson is the news manager at IEEE Spectrum. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in astrophysics.