Gregory Stillman Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Professor of Physics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL, USA
- PhD in Theoretical Physics, University of Liége, Belgium (1978)
Jean-Pierre is am a teacher of solid-state electronics at the undergraduate and graduate level in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and conducts research on computational nanotechnology and semiconductor devices.
Advice to Students:
Build–up a solid background in mathematics and physics.
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Leburton: Very early in my career, I became interested in the physics of low dimensional systems and published a paper on dissipation in quantum wires in 1984. Later on I developed my research in this direction for carbon nanotubes and quantum dots.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Leburton: I am currently working in developing an artificial solid-state membrane with a nanopore that can mimic the operations of human cells. I have invented a new way to sequence DNA with artificial membranes. In addition I have propose novel applications with these kind of membranes.
Q: What's the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Leburton: The fact that nanotechnology is a vast area that encompasses many disciplines, and allows you to cross the traditional borders between them. For instance at the molecular level, biology, chemistry and solid-state physics merge, which gives rise to new research areas on hybrid living–inorganic systems at the cross road between traditional disciplines with broad potential for discovering new applications in wide range of society. As an electrical engineer and physicist, I work on fundamental as well as applied aspects of nanotechnology.
Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you’ve worked on has positively impacted the world?
Leburton: In the early stage of my career, I worked on solid-state systems of reduced dimensionality characterized by quantum effects such as tunneling, which are presently considered in electronic nanodevices for large-scale integration. In addition my work on solid-state nano-membranes may have important consequence in nano- and personal medicine, health care and home land security.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Leburton: So far the greatest impact has been in information technology with the realization of ultra large integrated electronic circuits made of billions of nanoscale devices that created the information revolution.
Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future.
Leburton: I believe the future will experience a revolution in nano-bio-electronics with the convergence between information technology based on solid-state materials and biology to lead to hybrid systems with enormous functionality in robotic, artificial intelligence and medicine.
Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Leburton: I am essentially working with my group of students and postdoctoral fellows. I also interact with some of my colleagues with different expertise when the need arises.
Q: If you work more as a team, what are some of the other areas of expertise of your team members?
Leburton: My team of collaborators is mostly made of electrical engineers and physics students.
Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Leburton: Yes it did because it provided me with a solid background in physics and mathematics, although this was before the nanotechnology era.
Q: Do you have a mentor? Did you in your college years?
Leburton: No, I am my own mentor. But I had a supervisor in solid-state physics during my PhD thesis.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Leburton: Yes, because it is a field that appears unlimited for its applications in a wide range of areas.
Q: If a high school or college student was interested in nanotechnology, what advice would you give them to help prepare take on those roles?
Leburton: I always tell them to build–up a solid background in mathematics and physics.