For pioneering "nano-architecture."
Julia Greer has made a career of exploring how materials can change properties—by getting much stronger, for instance—when reduced to microscopic sizes. A year ago, she had a revelation: What if you could fabricate nanotrusses—materials made up of tiny, intricate geometric structures linked together—in a way that might resemble, say, the webwork of the Eiffel Tower? A hunk of metal engineered from nanotrusses might look ordinary, but it could be both stronger and lighter, since it's mostly air. The technology could be revolutionary for energy, transportation, and electronics. Her team is now designing and building nanotrusses in their Caltech labs. The next challenge is manufacturing. "How do you make these materials in large sheets?" she asks. It helps that Greer, a Stanford PhD, knows her way around Silicon Valley—she has worked at both Xerox's famed PARC facility and Intel. Already, Google and other tech companies are interested in her discoveries. "We're at the beginning of this," she says. "And now we're trying to figure out how to scale it up."