The 2023 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded today to three scientists for the discovery of quantum dots. These are nanoparticles so small that their size controls their many properties, such as their color.

The winners are Moungi Bawendi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louis Brus of Columbia University and Alexei Ekimov of Nanocrystals Technology in New York City. The three scientists will share the prize of 11 million Swedish kronor, or about $997,959.

Today quantum dots are common materials in television screens, where they produce a cornucopia of colors. Essentially, they are compressed balls containing electrons. “If you take an electron and put it into a small space, the electron’s wave function gets compressed,” said Heiner Linke, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, at the announcement. “You give electrons more energy.” So, for example, the smallest dots will emit more blue light than red. Enlarging them slightly will change the color composition.

The dots are also used in solar cells and to visualize blood vessels feeding tumors in biomedical imaging.

Bawendi, when reached by phone by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences after the announcement, said he was “very surprised…, shocked … and very honored.”

Editor’s Note (10/4/23): This story will be updated.