Billinge Featured in Scientific American

Prof. Simon Billinge was featured in the article "Breaking Down Nanostructures by the Atom - Trying to figure out where each atom belongs in a nanostructure" by Mark Wolverton in the January 2009 edition of Scientific American. Below is an excerpt from the article:

In nanotechnology, the position of a single atom can make all the difference—whether a material functions as a semiconductor or an insulator, whether it triggers a vital chemical process or stops it cold. The ability to define every atom in a nanoparticle precisely would permit full control of the properties and behavior of a nanomaterial. But deep-down atomic imaging techniques, such as electron microscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy, are not enough for nanoengineering, because they do not provide the precise mathematical coordinates of every atom that nanotechnologists need.

“Beautiful pictures of nanostructures capture the imagination, but if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a table, filled with accurate atomic coordinates, is worth 1,000 pictures,” says Simon Billinge, who studies what he has dubbed the nanostructure problem at Columbia University and Brookhaven National Laboratory. Billinge and his like-minded colleagues instead are looking to combine methods and use conventional techniques in novel ways.

500 W. 120th St., Mudd 200, MC 4701 New York, NY 10027 / Phone: 212-854-4457 / Fax: 212-854-8257 / Email:

©2012 Columbia University