The design and synthesis of new materials is a major focus of research at MIT. Novel chemical principles are being applied (at the molecular level of detail) to create exciting new materials with novel sensory, mechanical, biological, electronic and magnetic properties. Materials chemistry differs from classical chemical research in that it is generally concerned with interactions that arise from organizing molecules, polymers, and clusters over length scales beyond typical small molecule dimensions (nanometers to centimeters). Research in materials chemistry disregards the barriers between chemistry's traditional sub-disciplines and combines organic, inorganic, polymer, physical, biological, and analytical chemistry. MIT has one of the largest academic materials research efforts in the world. Materials researchers in chemistry benefit tremendously from interactions with those in other departments and research centers at the Institute.
Nanoscience refers to the science and manipulation of chemical and biological structures with dimensions in the range from 1-100 nanometers. Nanoscience building blocks may consist of anywhere from a few hundred atoms to millions of atoms. On this scale, new properties (electrical, mechanical, optical, chemical, and biological) that are fundamentally different from bulk or molecular properties can emerge. Nanoscience is about creating new chemical and biological nanostructures, uncovering and understanding their novel properties, and ultimately about learning how to organize these new nanostructures into larger and more complex functional structures and devices. Nanoscience is a new way of thinking about building up complex materials and devices by exquisite control of the functionality of matter and its assembly at the nanometer-length scale. Nanoscience inherently bridges disciplinary boundaries. The "nano" length scale requires the involvement of chemical concepts at the atomic and molecular level. Devices and other functional structures engineered at the nano-scale often use light or electrical signals either to interact with the macroscopic world, or because the devices are designed to process information, with photons or electrons. The vision of nanoscience ultimately combines the science and engineering of man-made and biological entities, controlled at the nanometer scale, and assembled into complex, engineered structures that can interact with their surroundings at dimensions ranging from that of molecules to that of humans and beyond.