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A cool paper

Interdisciplinarity highlights the uniqueness of nanoscience.

When assessing manuscripts, we ask ourselves whether a large chunk of researchers in nanoscience and nanotechnology will be able to appreciate the findings. This goal can be achieved through a combination of conceptual advances, mechanistic insights and technological implications. But the uniqueness of nanotechnology is also its interdisciplinarity, and when all of these components come together a manuscript can really fly. One such example is the paper by Cui et al. on page 122 of this issue.

It reports refrigeration (Peltier cooling) in molecular junctions. There are a number of aspects that made this manuscript stand out when it landed on our desks.

First of all, the work is truly interdisciplinary. Physicists and chemists, experimentalists and theoreticians came together to develop an experimental platform that allows the relationship between heating or cooling and the charge transmission properties of molecules to be investigated. This interdisciplinarity is what has made nanoscience special since the beginning, but it is probably now, more than ever, that the tools of top–down nanofabrication are getting enticingly close to the molecular scale, enabling a more intimate cooperation between physicists and chemists. Ironically, as in this paper, it is sometimes the nanogap rather than the nanostructure itself that is most interesting to study.

Second of all, the paper describes a novel instrument, a very sensitive calorimeter, capable of detecting the total heat absorbed or dissipated in the junction under a bias voltage with picowatt sensitivity. Any reader educated in general science can appreciate the tricks the researchers used to achieve such a feat.

Third of all, the paper represents the experimental verification of the theoretical prediction of refrigeration in molecular junctions, following the estimate that some molecules can exhibit large thermopower (Seebeck coefficient) and therefore high thermoelectric power conversion efficiency.

Of course the final decision on publication was taken only after formal peer-review. The experts were already impressed in the first round of review and in the end the manuscript was accepted just two months after submission.

It is unlikely that the paper will have immediate practical implications. As Keehoon Kang and Takhee Lee explain in the accompanying News & Views (on page 97), “…many advances and optimizations are needed before thinking of any practical implication.” However, our remit is to report exciting results in both technology and science at the nanoscale, and papers like that by Cui et al. are good examples of the more fundamental aspects that we aim to publish.

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A cool paper. Nature Nanotech 13, 93 (2018).

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