Acceptance Speech of the 2021 Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award Transcript
5th December 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen
I’m Yuanning Feng. Currently, I’m enjoying my time as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at
Northwestern University. It is my honor to have been chosen as the recipient of the 2021 Foresight
Institute Distinguished Student Award. It’s a big feather in my cap! Many thanks for this coveted
piece of recognition and being invited to the Vision Weekend in San Francisco by the Foresight
Institute. I appreciate the support I have received from Professors Fraser Stoddart, Dean Astumian
and Yunyan Qiu. I would like to offer my congratulations to both Professor Ken Houk and
Professor Anne-Sophie Duwez who are the recipients of the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology
this year for contributions to Theory and Experiment, respectively.
I was fortune to begin my research as a graduate student in the Stoddart Group in 2016 just before
the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.
During the past five years, I have contributed to this field by synthesizing a molecular dual pump,
a photocleavable molecular pump and a polyrotaxane synthesizer. This challenging research has
been developing rapidly now for three decades. Believe it or not, this year marks the 30-year
anniversary of the introduction of the molecular shuttle, which has led to the design and synthesis
of molecular switches and machines. The question now is — what can be achieved in the next 30
years? My senior collaborators Drs Liang Feng — recently listed as one of the 2022 Forbes 30
under 30 in Science — and Yunyan Qiu, who are both 2021 Foresight Fellows have published in
Science a couple of days ago, an article describing a new category of absorption beyond
physisorption and chemisorption — namely mechanisorption, which can actively recruit
molecules from solution to surfaces and store them away-from-equilibrium. Mechanisorption
provides a fresh approach to separating, storing and releasing molecules, such as fuels, catalysts
and drugs. Mechanisorption, which is one small step in the manipulation of molecules in the nanoworld,
is one giant leap for the nano-machines. It is a game-changer — and, according to Professor
Jonathan Sessler from UT Austin — it opens up a new chapter in the all-important and typically
energy-intensive area of separations.
I am optimistic in looking to the future of the field of nano-machines. Richard Feynman
commented famously in 1959 — There’s plenty of room at the bottom. I feel privileged to have
had the opportunity to design and synthesize nano-machines on a daily basis for the past five years,
not because it is easy to do, but because it is hard to do. Looking to the future, I would like to
think that more scientists and engineers will join in the design and synthesis of future generations
of nano-machines that will assume meaningful tasks in the nanoscopic, microscopic and eventually
macroscopic world. I look forward to witnessing a major nano-driven revolution in human society
in my lifetime.
Thank you all very much for listening to me describing my hobbies and sharing my dreams!