"These technologies will impact across many applications, from advanced photovoltaic devices to computer displays to plastic electronics," said Alivisatos. "What's really exciting about these materials is that they allow us to control all of their functional properties, such as their optical, electronic, conductive and magnetic properties, independent of their processing and physical characteristics. This allows you complete freedom to design a material with the exact characteristics you need."

Nanosys says that two of the near-term applications of Alivisatos's work are lightweight "brilliant" computer displays and solar cells. Earlier this year, the company signed licence agreements with Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Regents of the University of California.

As well as his role as director of the molecular foundry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Paul Alivisatos is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley.