“I would like to see how to avoid the pain of being able to organize atoms”

Galarraga Aiestaran, Ana

Elhuyar Zientzia

Txema Pitark has not responded immediately to the questions, has taken time to think and reflect, remember and look forward. But that yes, he has enjoyed his invitation to premiere section. These are the words of the first witness.
What has surprised you most, altered or fascinated you since you started working?

My little gods were Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman. Bohr, god of quantum mechanics, and Feynman was a very special, original and different person. I was very lucky. And I finished my studies in the 1980s, which was very important. At that time we knew the content of the conference "There is plenty of room at the bottom, an invitation to enter a new field of physics" by Feynman in 1959. The things that Feynman said at that conference about the visualization and manipulation of atoms were then unthinkable. He said: "The principles of physics do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It's something that happens: but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big". That is, the atomic manipulation of things is not against the principles of physics, but we cannot do it because we are too big.

But in 1981, when he was attending university studies in physics, Binnig and Rohrer built the microscope of tunnels, following the principles of quantum mechanics, and that is why they took the 1986 Nobel Prize. That same year I started doing the thesis under the direction of Pedro Etxenike. And in that I started to study the microscope of tunnels. In fact, it was the one who opened the doors of nanotechnology, which allowed to see, touch and move the atoms for the first time.

According to Feynman, we are too big to see atoms with our eyes and touch them with our hands, but Binnig and Rohrer invented a nanoneedle (blind stick) that would be part of the microscope of tunnels to see and touch atoms. This was conceptually very important and had a great influence on the research work of my time.

What would you like to witness the revolution or the discovery throughout your trajectory?

I don't think this happens before my career ends; perhaps before I die, if I reach a hundred years... I want to witness the power of nanomedicine.

The truth is that today we have the ability to organize atoms and molecules to our liking. Through this use and from this fact, new medical techniques are being developed, with applications in diagnosis and new therapies. But for me it would be especially important to see that this allows avoiding pain from diseases.

Why should we suffer painful effects of diseases? We will always have diseases, but why suffer so much in vain? Will you be able to organize atoms and molecules to avoid this pain? I don't think we see it, but we are on the right track.

Txema Pitarke
Txema Pitarke was born in Bilbao in 1960. He is a doctor in Physical Sciences. He earned his doctorate at UPV/EHU in 1990 under the direction of Pedro Miguel Etxenike. At the same time it was the first thesis presented in Basque and English. Since 2000 he has been Professor of Condensed Matter Physics at UPV/EHU. In 2006 he was appointed Director General of the nanoGUNE Research Centre, a position he has held since then. The relationship with Euskalgintza is very old: He has had a close relationship with the UEU, has been awarded the Azkue Prize for Research in Basque and the Agustín Zumalabe Research Grant from Eusko Ikaskuntza... President of Elhuyar since 2013.


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