What game is he playing? In the basement of his laboratory at the Center for the Development of Materials and Structural Studies (Cemes), in Toulouse, Christian Joachim, assisted by Umamahesh Thupakula, a postdoctoral student, is perplexed. Like a mikado lover, thanks to the commands sent from his keyboard to an imposing machine, he pushes a stick invisible to the naked eye. Without success. He shoots it. It doesn’t work either. He tries it with a double push. Same. Then you scribble your next strategy on a piece of paper. Will she be the one? Will he be able to accomplish the feat of lifting this 50 nanometer long rod on a step about twenty nanometers high: a nanometer is a billionth of a meter, less than the diameter of a cut hair?
Achieving this would please this pioneer of a discipline called biotics first in the 1970s, then molecular electronics a few years later. The idea is to be able to concentrate in a single molecule the functions of the components of current electronics, resulting from the nanometric shaping of materials such as silicon. Switch, wire, amplifier, transistor, adder … all on one molecule, ten to a hundred times smaller than current materials.
If we don’t understand his fun game, it’s also hard to put the researcher, who just turned 65, into a box. Chemist ? Physicist? Or even a mathematician? A little bit of all three for this silver medal from the CNRS in 2001.
Since it manipulates molecules, it should be classified as a chemist. ” But he has a physicist’s view of itcorrects Erik Dujardin, CNRS researcher at the Carnot interdisciplinary laboratory in Burgundy, who worked extensively with him at Cemes. He is not interested in their usual crystallization or phase change property, but imagines how their energetic state will allow them to perform a function. He has also invented names for these molecules, outside of the official nomenclatures, which makes chemists’ eyes widen. “ “I like to draw five-legged sheep on the blackboard to stimulate my colleagues who will try to make them”points out Christian Joachim, who remembers imagining, while still a student, a first molecular thread on the blackboard in his bedroom. “He sure likes to draw! But chemists sometimes brought him back down to earth.recalls Jean-Pierre Launay, former director of Cemes.
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