What is the Power of N?

Over the past number of months, many have asked me what “The Power of N” means. The phrase is very simple, yet it has many different layers of meaning and understanding.

N is a variable.

In mathematical terms it represents an ever expanding number of possibilities. This is a metaphor for what we – as nanotechnologists – do.

Traditional science is reductive: narrowing down the known possibilities until we come to a conclusion. We are heading in the opposite direction toward the unknown. We seek to discover the processes in nature that humanity has yet to comprehend or imagine.

This is a journey of discovery in its purest sense. Of course we are venturing forth within the framework of science or, more accurately, the framework of many different scientific disciplines (such as Engineering, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Informatics, Agriculture, and Health Sciences, etc.) but these serve as our point of departure, not our final destination.

The concept of an object or entity being “to the power of N” represents exponential potential for growth, learning, leadership and prosperity — with prosperity being our ultimate goal.

N is also the initial letter of our three areas of concentration:

Nanotechnology relates to our ability to manipulate matter on a molecular level. Work at this nano scale level has yielded many breakthroughs in our understanding of how matter functions. Even more exciting is that it opens our eyes to the potential of utilizing this understanding to develop technologies that enable new solutions to challenges in areas that were previously intractable.

Nature represents the discipline of biomimicry, which involves observing the natural attributes of matter, objects, systems and beings. Based on this fundamental understanding, we then seek to replicate and manipulate these processes to discover what is possible when they are used with other processes or materials.

Networks are the true frontier of scientific discovery. Once we understand the bases of matter and processes, we are then left to understand how these phenomena work with each other. How is the information that takes the form of molecular interactions processed? This leads to the broader potential of using this molecular information exchange to leverage nanotechnology to build emergent functionality as an intrinsic property in the solution of complex problems.

Through this framework of discovery, we have assembled a dynamic team of scientists who are working collaboratively (across multiple disciplines) to explore the potential of next-generation materials that can, for example, sense the environment around them, amplify information, generate energy, and change physical characteristics.

This is the new frontier of science that functions at the molecular level and has much broader applications with respect to resource extraction, environmental management, healthcare, information processing and the production of high-value products and services that will shape the future of Alberta, Canada and the rest of the world.

This is the Power of N.