Reactions – Ted Sargent

1. What made you want to be a chemist – or scientist/engineer in your case?

From an early age I loved applied physics – particularly the opportunity to solve a diverse range of application-oriented problems using a strikingly compact set of mathematical tools and physical ideas. And I grew up in town where III-V compound semiconductor quantum optoelectronics (quantum well lasers etc) was hot and exciting.

2. If you weren’t a chemist/scientist and could do any other job, what would it be – and why?

A dog walker. Fun to get outdoors and hang out with the dogs.

3. What are you working on now, and where do you hope it will lead?

(1) We are trying to break the solar energy compromise: today, solar cells are either efficient, or low-cost, but not both. We are working towards breaking the compromise by harvesting the sun’s full spectrum, including the infrared rays, using spectrally-tunable solution-processed colloidal quantum dots incorporated into photovoltaic devices.

(2) Working with chemist Prof. Shana Kelley, we are endeavouring to build chips that can detect a panel of nucleic acid biomarkers that are the harbingers of disease. We use a diverse range of nanostructures to display the molecular bait sequences; the Kelley team’s electrocatalytic reporter system to gain up the signal; and a merger of top-down lithography and bottom-up materials chemistry to integrate the nanostructures on chip. Together we are building low-cost, high-sensitivity, wide-dynamic range molecular detection systems.

4. Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with – and why?

George Washington. The more I read about him, the more it becomes clear that he united practical brilliance with a lack of pretention. And I loved the fact that he clearly worried a lot – even despaired – yet triumphed. He was confident in himself without taking success for granted.

5. When was the last time you did an experiment in the lab – and what was it?

Back when I was a grad student. Some of my last experiments involved lowish-temperature (30–250 K) measurements of lateral current injection laser current-voltage-light characteristics. Temperature turned out to be a power experimental degree of freedom that helped us elucidate the inner workings of this new class of devices.

6. If exiled on a desert island, what one book and one music album would you take with you?

Book: New York Times: The Complete Front Pages: 1851-2008

Music Album: Glenn Gould – Bach – The Partitas, Preludes, Fugues & Fughettas

7. Which chemist would you like to see interviewed on Reactions – and why?

Harry Atwater and David Ginger – both astonishingly capable and versatile interdisciplinary fusions of {materials scientist – applied physicist – chemist – engineer}. In both cases I’d love to know how on earth they honed and fused so many remarkable talents and so much knowledge.

Ted Sargent is in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto, and works on colloidal quantum dot photodetectors and photovoltaics, as well as multiplexed nucleic acids biosensors.