Baylor Alum Among Scientific American's Top 50 Visionaries

Dec. 10, 2002
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by Judy Long

Inventor and chemist James Heath, 1984 Baylor University chemistry graduate and contributor to the discovery of the "Bucky Ball," has been named by Scientific American as one of its "Top 50 Visionaries." The article appears in the popular science magazine's December 2002 edition.

Scientific American described the list as a "celebration of visionaries from the worlds of research, industry and politics whose recent accomplishments point toward a brighter technological future for everyone." Editors said the honorees, the first for the magazine, have demonstrated clear, progressive views of the world's technological future.

Now teaching at the University of California at Los Angeles, Heath's research focuses on fabricating, assembling and utilizing nano-computers, which are computers the size of molecules and are assembled through chemical reactions. Since the tiny machines (the size of molecules)are constructed chemically, they cannot be built to perfection. The challenge Heath faces is to develop a machine that, though not perfect, will be able to achieve numerous powerful computer tasks. The advance will produce computers much less expensive than a modern Pentium microprocessor. He hopes to develop molecular-based memories and communication networks within a couple of years.

"Our ultimate goal is to build a computer with approximately the power of 100 high-end workstations on a platform the size of a grain of sand," Heath wrote on his web site.

Heath's team also is involved in unlocking the secrets of the nano-circuitry of biological systems. Through the development of a scanning nonlinear optical microscope, scientists will be able to non-invasively probe biological electrical functions with the power to resolve molecular identities at the 0.1 micron length scale. The team is collaborating with UCLA's medical school on the project, which is in the early stages of development.

In addition to his Baylor degree in chemistry, Heath received his doctorate in chemistry from Rice University and was recognized there for his contributions to the discovery of C-60, known as the "Bucky Ball," a beautifully symmetrical and stable carbon molecule that gave rise to an entirely new branch of chemistry with consequences in areas as diverse as astro-chemistry and superconductivity. Heath has published extensively, holds several patents, and teaches and conducts research in molecular computing at UCLA. Beginning Jan. 1, 2003, he will join the faculty of California Institute of Technology as the Elizabeth W. Gilloon Professor of Chemistry.

For more information, go to Heath's web page at http://www.chem.ucla.edu/heath/.

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