Dr. Pavle Radovanovic

Pavle Radovanovic’s budding career as a concert musician ended in his teens when he discovered “a true love for science.” But those long hours of practicing his violin and trumpet provided not only a life-long hobby, but the discipline he needs to be a successful scientist.

Only those most persistent and least discouraged will succeed,” says the chemistry professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Physical Chemistry and Spectroscopy of Nanoscale Materials.

Success for Radovanovic means coaxing nanomaterials such as quantum dots — tiny nanocrystals up to 100 thousand times smaller than the width of a hair — into developing the ability to multitask.

The idea of nanotechnology is to decrease the sizes of materials to get new properties,” he explains.

Photo of Pavle Radovanovic in the lab

For example, as cadmium selenide, a semiconducting material, becomes smaller, changes occur in the wave length of light emitted.

Instead of shrinking the materials to nanoscale, Radovanovic uses a “bottom-up” approach, building the structures from molecules or atoms. The next challenge is tweaking the nanomaterials to further enhance the functions they can exhibit.

For example, we can give them magnetic or electric properties so they can perform different tasks at the same time. We also study these materials in detail with a variety of spectroscopic techniques.”

Getting sometimes disparate elements to work together to add functionality can be a challenge, especially when a foreign component does not naturally belong.

Sometimes we have to knock it off balance first, to deceive the atom to believe it belongs. It becomes a chemistry game in some ways,” he laughs.

Multi-functionality has a myriad of benefits. Having different functions operating at the same time in the same device allows it to store information in different modes, using light, magnetic, or electric qualities. Applications range from computers with larger memory capacity and processing speed to tiny devices implanted in a human body for cancer treatment to energy production and storage to the yet unimagined.

This is basic science at its best, answering questions that need to be solved to benefit society,” says Radovanovic. “Nanoscience is almost limitless in what it can do and where it can take us.”