MOLECULAR wires that could replace silicon chips and offer massive increases in computing power and data storage capacity are the research goal of the University of Huddersfield's Dr Nathan Patmore. And he has the backing of a prestigious and valuable award from the world's most venerable scientific body.
Dr Patmore was the recipient of one of the small number of University Research Fellowships (URF) bestowed annually by the Royal Society, which was founded in the 1660s. The fellowships – for which there is intense competition – run for several years, during which the Society provides the bulk of the recipient's salary and meets the cost of consumable items needed for research.
The aim is to boost the early research careers of the most promising younger scientists and Dr Patmore estimates that his URF will have been worth approximately £800,000 by the time it has run its course later this year.
His first degrees were from the University of Bath and in 2002 he moved to Ohio State University for post-doctoral work. He returned to the UK and was awarded his Royal Society URF while based at the University of Sheffield. In 2013, he relocated to the University of Huddersfield's Department of Chemical Sciences, where he is a Senior Research Fellow.
As a scientist he defines himself as a synthetic inorganic chemist who specialises in air-sensitive compounds. He manipulates these compounds at a molecular level, aiming to produce wires which are made from individual metal atoms. A key application will be electronics.
Faster computing and greater data storage
"At the moment, we have silicon computer chips, but in future we will be able to use these very small molecular wires. This would give us much faster computing and much greater data storage capacity," said Dr Patmore. But it is a development that could take 20 years to come to fruition. As a scientist he takes the long view and relishes the challenge.
"I find it exciting to be at the cutting edge of fundamental research, developing theories and looking at what the future might be," he says. "But it can be very difficult to make predictions. The technology we develop may well end up being used in a field that we don't know anything about yet."
For example, his work on air-sensitive compounds – which would be used for molecular wires – also provides insights into the processes of electron transfer, which makes it relevant to a wide range of disciplines.
"These compounds are useful for designing new solar cells and they also improve our understanding of processes in nature, such as how cancer-forming DNA mutations occur."
Professor Joe Sweeney, who is Head of Chemical Sciences at the University of Huddersfield and a Royal Society Industry Fellow himself, said: "We are delighted to welcome Nathan to the team. As a Royal Society University Research Fellow, he is a perfect ambassador to promote our ethos to deliver class-leading fundamental scientific advances with impact relevance. His area of research is perfectly positioned at the interface between chemistry, materials science and molecular electronics, and his enthusiasm and talent will reinforce our delivery of a superb student experience."
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