Paul O’Brien obituary

Materials chemist who perfected nanoscientific techniques and enabled important advances in electronics

In 1995 the leading British materials chemist Paul O’Brien, who has died aged 64 after suffering from brain cancer, began to use chemical synthesis to make quantum dots, which are tiny semiconductor particles, only nanometres across, that can be made to emit light of varying colours according to their size. Up to that point quantum dots had been difficult to produce, requiring the use of hazardous metal alkyl precursors at high temperatures. O’Brien’s new method not only allowed them to be mass-produced; it also required much less energy and generated fewer harmful byproducts.

As a consequence, quantum dots are now ubiquitous in modern electronics and are used in any number of applications, from lighting and visual display units to solar energy capture and bio-markers, which help doctors to detect disease in the human body.

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