I spent most of the day in the thermoelectrics symposium on superlattices, nanowires, and nanoparticles. Now, I'm as fascinated by nano-everything as much as the next gal/guy, but the practical side of me always has a nagging question... how do we make small nano into big nano? Those tiny things with marvelous properties are all well and good, but we ultimately need devices that we can slap onto cars, stick into computers, and incorporate into all kinds of other large-scale systems. And then, in the midst of talks describing superhuman feats of fabricating, suspending, measuring teeny tiny samples, came the big nano talk. Tim Huesler of the Institute of Energy and Environmental Technology in Germany described his group's progress on making silicon nanoparticles on a large scale ("Synthesis of Nano-sized Silicon Particles for Use as Ecological Thermoelectric Materials"). They don't just make blocks of this material a few mm on a side. Oh no. They have a production plant, and they can make a lot of it. Ok, ok, maybe they haven't quite done all the characterization they need to do. I'm sure they'll get to it. Nonetheless, the promise of nanostructured thermoelectrics produced on a large scale was exciting, and I can't wait to see more progress in this area.
On another note, I slipped out of the thermoelectrics symposium to see Jeffrey Grossman's talk, "Understanding and Prediction of Materials Properties for Energy Conversion and Storage" in the computational approaches symposium. I don't do this type of computational work, so I don't know the details of how he computes these novel material properties. I can say I like the way this guy thinks and expresses his thoughts. His intellectual curiosity and willingness to ask "But what if? Let's just see..." were really exciting.
Looking forward to the poster session tonight!