A Collection of Articles

Visionaries

Tom Deason

35 Innovators Under 35

Visionaries

They look at things in new ways, unlocking powerful and sometimes unconventional uses of technology.

Prineha Narang, 28

Harvard University

Her research on materials at the smallest scale could lead to a new generation of technologies.

Prineha Narang seeks to build technologies by starting small: with the atom.

As an assistant professor of computational materials science at Harvard, Narang studies the optical, thermal, and electronic behavior of materials at the nanoscale. Her research in how materials interact with light and other forms of electro-magnetic radiation could drive innovations in electronics, energy, and space technologies.

Narang’s work builds on decades of advances in nanoscience that have brought the field closer to a long-held goal: the ability to engineer materials atom by atom.

Yet since its emergence in the 1980s, the discipline has focused mainly on nanostructures at or near equilibrium—their lowest state of energy. At the temperatures they encounter in nature, however, most materials are away from equilibrium, in so-called excited states, which remain poorly understood at the quantum level. “There’s so much more we can do with excited states that has just not been tried yet,” Narang says.

By studying these excited states, Narang is developing approaches that could lead to vastly improved materials. Applications could include improved reflectors and lenses for telescopes, lighter cell phones with better cameras, or synthetic fuels designed at the atomic level.

—Jonathan W. Rosen