This podcast was produced for The Kavli Prize by Scientific American Customized Media, a division separate from the journal’s board of editors.

How do you make a bit of glass repel water? How do you defend metals from harsh chemical substances? Scientists have been puzzling over the best way to remodel surfaces for hundreds of years. 

Jacob Sagiv made an enormous step ahead on this area of analysis by discovering a solution to remodel a stable floor with an ultrathin layer of molecules. 

He shares The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience with Ralph Nuzzo, David Allara and George Whitesides for locating and making use of an method that’s been utilized in the whole lot from batteries to automobile windshields, to dental implants. 

Scientific American Customized Media, in partnership with The Kavli Prize, spoke with Jacob to study extra about his contribution to this work.


Megan Corridor: Jacob Sagiv knew he needed to be a chemist since he was a child.

Jacob Sagiv: I performed chemistry since I used to be 10 years outdated. However after all, if you say chemistry, what do you suppose? You consider check tubes, boiling one thing, placing liquid from one beaker into one other beaker. 

Corridor: By the point he was in graduate college, Jacob had advanced from taking part in with check tubes to manipulating molecules.

Sagiv: The dream of chemistry is to have a deal with on every molecule, to have the ability to put it in the suitable place, and to construct with molecules. That is the last word purpose that each chemist would dream about.  

Corridor: Thus far, Jacob had tried out other ways of arranging molecules by dissolving them into skinny plastic movie. He discovered if he stretched this movie, the molecules would line up and he might measure them.

Sagiv: It’s in a stable, which is a polymer, and you’ll have some management on how these molecules are organized by doing this, and this was helpful.

Corridor: However by the point Jacob completed his PhD, he was hungry to do extra. And he wanted a job.

Sagiv: I used to be on the lookout for a postdoctoral place someplace. And I had a pal, a colleague, who was additionally taking part in with molecules and polymers. On his desk, I instantly noticed a paper with some unusual footage.

Corridor: These unusual footage had been easy — simply traces and circles. However they represented molecules being organized right into a single layer.

Sagiv: I by no means noticed one thing like this, so I requested him, what’s that? And he stated, these are monolayers. I requested, what’s that, and he began to clarify it to me.

Corridor: Jacob’s pal defined that these monolayers had been shaped by placing molecules in water. Not simply any molecules — a particular form with one finish that’s drawn to water and one finish that’s repelled by it.

Sagiv: So when you put them on water, they stick onto the water floor. However they don’t dissolve, they don’t go into the water.

Corridor: Think about that these molecules seem like matches, with a head that’s drawn to the water and a tail that’s not.

Sagiv: In case you throw them on the desk, they disperse randomly. In case you put them within the field and produce them collectively, they usually don’t have any area to maneuver, then they’re aligned.

Corridor: That is mainly what the scientists did. They lined up all of those match-like molecules by rigorously pushing on the floor of the water, till they had been all standing straight up, however on their heads.

Sagiv: Then it’s like a carpet floating on water and all molecules are aligned.

Corridor: Scientists might then scoop these molecular carpets out of the water utilizing glass slides. They then shaped layers that might change the best way surfaces act.

Sagiv: They usually confirmed very good results. For instance, antireflective coatings. You may scale back the reflection of a floor and so forth.

Corridor: This course of had been invented again within the late 1920s by Irving Langmuir and Katharine Blodgett.

Jacob had by no means examine their work earlier than however when he noticed that article on his pal’s desk, he was instantly hooked. 

Sagiv: I keep in mind that I instantly knew that that is what I need to do. You realize, it’s like falling in love.

Corridor: He rushed to the library to study extra about this method, and went on to affix a lab led by Hans Kuhn, who was constructing off the method that Langmuir and Blodgett had developed.   

Sagiv: They began, I feel, within the early 60s taking part in with the Langmuir–Blodgett. And this, I’d say, was the mecca of Langmuir–Blodgett at the moment.

Corridor: However there was a puzzle the lab couldn’t work out.

Sagiv: They had been asking themselves, how can we align the molecules throughout the Langmuir–Blodgett.

Corridor: Scientists within the lab thought when you took a single layer of molecules and laid them on high of a floor lined in crystals, the molecules would match into the sample of these crystals. The issue was that the crystals they used dissolved in water.

Sagiv: So, with the intention to switch the Langmuir–Blodgett, we’ve got to dip it into the water. The second we dip it within the water, the group is misplaced.

Corridor: To resolve this drawback, Jacob went again to his expertise in graduate college, organizing molecules utilizing skinny polymer movies.

Sagiv: I stated, okay, I’ve a greater concept. I understand how to make polymers that aren’t soluble in water. And I do know that molecules get oriented contained in the polymer.

Corridor: Jacob thought, when you put a Langmuir–Blodgett layer on high of a polymer movie, you may set up the molecules.

Sagiv: After which I began taking part in with this.

Corridor: However…

Sagiv: Nothing. The Langmuir–Blodgett monolayer doesn’t need to reorganize.

Corridor: He tried to determine why this didn’t work the best way it had for him in graduate college.

Sagiv: So then I began considering, only a second, why they don’t align? They don’t align as a result of they’re stiff carpets. 

Corridor: The Langmuir–Blodgett monolayers had been created by pushing a number of molecules collectively and now they had been caught.

Sagiv: They’re like a stable, the molecules can’t transfer.   

Corridor: However Jacob noticed this limitation as a chance.  

Sagiv: The very best factor is experiments that don’t work as predicted, as a result of I feel that our minds are restricted to a sure form of considering, and the experiment can educate you greater than you’ll be able to suppose upfront.

Corridor: If the Langmuir–Blodgett monolayers had been too compressed to reorganize, what when you didn’t use them in any respect? In case you put the suitable molecules into an answer, would they set up themselves? Jacob gave it a attempt.

Sagiv: I take advantage of simply an natural resolution, not water. I dissolved the molecules into the natural resolution. I dipped a correct floor. After which instantly I bought what I needed. The molecules bought aligned, and it was lovely.

Corridor: Jacob had simply found that you just don’t want bodily strain to create these monolayers. You possibly can simply use the pure interactions between the molecules and the floor.

Sagiv: However you must know what to place there. I imply, this resolution should be the suitable resolution, below the suitable situation and the suitable molecules, and if the whole lot is true, you simply dip in and take it out.

Corridor: These layers shaped by chemical reactions, not bodily strain, would come to be known as self-assembled monolayers. They usually revolutionized our method to manipulating molecules and coating surfaces. However on the lab, nobody was taken with Jacob’s discovery.  

Sagiv: This is among the issues if you begin one thing new. It’s very tough to get folks to do one thing else.

Corridor: Everybody else on the lab was comfy utilizing Langmuir–Blodgett monolayers they usually didn’t need to change course. So, Jacob left and bought a place on the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the place he printed a number of papers on his discovery. 

However nonetheless, nobody actually seen.

Sagiv: There was the primary worldwide convention on Langmuir–Blodgett movies in 1982. I write them that I need to take part. And I’m getting a poster presentation, not a lecture.

Corridor: Even his former mentor, Hans Kuhn, criticized Jacob’s self-assembled monolayers. He stated they weren’t nearly as good as those shaped utilizing the Langmuir–Blodgett method. Jacob argued that that is typically the case with new expertise.

Sagiv: Take for instance, the primary airplane. Evaluate it to a scorching air balloon. It was a superior precept, but it surely didn’t work as nicely. This doesn’t imply that we stick with the balloon ceaselessly.

Corridor: However most teachers had been unconvinced. Even the scientists at Jacob’s personal establishment. He didn’t get tenure on the Weizmann Institute and was pressured to resign.  

Sagiv: And I went to the unemployment workplace in our city, Rehovot, and registered as a professor of chemistry, unemployed.

Corridor: However slowly, Jacob’s luck modified. The Weizmann Institute of Science let him come again as an affiliate professor and reapply for tenure. 

Additionally, over in America, his fellow laureates Ralph Nuzzo, David Allara and George Whitesides had found his work. Nuzzo and Allara had been additionally learning self-assembled monolayers at Bell Labs.

Sagiv: They invited me to go to them at Bell Labs. It was incredible. They usually informed me what they’re doing. And I informed them what we’re doing.

Corridor: The scientists at Bell labs cited Jacob of their analysis papers. In 1989, Jacob lastly bought tenure. He’s now broadly identified for his contributions to nanoscience and chemistry, but it surely took time. 

Corridor: Jacob says one of the best science is all the time pushed by pure curiosity. However that doesn’t all the time result in success.

Sagiv: You’ll by no means get a grant stating that the goal of this work is to fulfill your curiosity. You all the time should say what is that this good for? However, if each time you suppose, what is that this good for when it comes to quick utility, you aren’t going to progress an excessive amount of, when it comes to primary science.

Corridor: Jacob’s recommendation to different scientists? If you would like a great profession, don’t observe his path. If you wish to make an necessary discovery, hold transferring, despite the obstacles.


Corridor: Jacob Sagiv is a professor on the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

This yr, he shared The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience with Ralph Nuzzo, David Allara and George Whitesides.

The Kavli Prize honors scientists for breakthroughs in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience — remodeling our understanding of the massive, the small and the complicated. 

The Kavli Prize is a partnership among the many Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Training and Analysis, and the US-based Kavli Basis. 

This work was produced by Scientific American Customized Media and made potential via the help of The Kavli Prize.

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

By 24H

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