Pulickel Ajayan: Nanotechnology Trailblazer

Carbon Nanotubes to Paper Batteries: Pulickel Ajayan

In the realm of nanotechnology, one name stands out as a true pioneer and innovator – Pulickel Ajayan, affectionately known as Pulickel Ajayan. His journey from a coastal town in Kerala to becoming the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Engineering at Rice University is a testament to his passion for scientific exploration and groundbreaking research.

Early Life and Education of Pulickel Ajayan

Born on July 15, 1962, in Kodungallur, Kerala, Pulickel Ajayan’s early years were shaped by a humble background. His father, a telephone mechanic, and his mother, a teacher, instilled in him the values of curiosity and hard work.

Pulickel Ajayan’s educational odyssey began in a government school, where the medium of instruction was Malayalam. However, it was at Loyola School, Thiruvananthapuram, that he found his passion for learning, describing it as the “most exciting thing one can ever befriend.”

Graduating from Loyola in 1977, Pulickel Ajayan went on to achieve academic excellence. In 1985, he graduated at the top of his class with a BTech degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) Varanasi. His insatiable thirst for knowledge led him to Northwestern University, where he earned a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering in 1989.

Global Ventures in Research

Pulickel Ajayan’s academic journey expanded globally as he spent three years as a post-doc at NEC Corporation in Japan, two years as a researcher in France, and another year at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Germany. His early work involved the characterization of gold nanoparticles on oxide substrates and laid the foundation for his groundbreaking contributions to nanotechnology.

P. M. Ajayan is recognized for his pioneering work in the early development of carbon nanotubes. Collaborating with Sumio Iijima and Thomas Ebbesen, his efforts resulted in several key publications on carbon nanotubes, marking a significant milestone in the field.

Prolific Contributions to Nanotechnology

Over the past two decades, Pulickel Ajayan has published over 400 papers on various aspects of carbon nanostructures, with a primary focus on nanotubes and, more recently, on graphene and other layered materials such as boron nitride. His research spans diverse applications, including energy storage, composites, electronics, and sensors.

Pulickel Ajayan’s notable achievements include holding two Guinness World Records – one for creating the smallest brush and another for developing the darkest known material, a carpet of carbon nanotubes reflecting only 0.045% of light.

His team’s innovations also extend to the creation of an energy storage device on paper, aptly named the paper battery, with promising applications in industry and medicine.

In 2012, Pulickel Ajayan’s group introduced a paint-on battery design that could potentially eliminate restrictions on surfaces used for energy storage. His commitment to sustainable technology is evident in the development of a green battery with an environmentally friendly lithium-ion cathode, paving the way for completely bio-friendly batteries.

Nanotechnology Visionary and Educator

Beyond his research, P. M. Ajayan is a dedicated educator and advocate for nanotechnology. As the founding chair of Rice University’s Materials Science and NanoEngineering department, he has played a pivotal role in shaping the curriculum and promoting interdisciplinary courses.

With a research group comprising around 40 individuals, including post-docs, graduate and undergraduate students, and international visiting scholars, Ajayan continues to lead pioneering research in nanotechnology-enabled energy storage devices, nanocomposites, layered materials, 3D nanostructured materials, and smart material systems.

Global Recognition and Honors

Ajayan’s global impact is underscored by his visiting professor positions at renowned universities worldwide, including Tsinghua University (Beijing, China), Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore, India), and Shinshu University (Japan).

His contributions have earned him numerous accolades, including the Helmoltz-Humboldt Senior Award, the Materials Research Society (MRS) medal, and being listed among the world’s most cited materials scientists by Elsevier Scopus in 2016.

Personal Life and Legacy

In his personal life, P. M. Ajayan is a family man, married to Poornima, and a proud father of two daughters, Anakha and Ahi. His commitment to excellence in both personal and professional spheres exemplifies the balance between scientific achievement and a fulfilling family life.

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