Naomi J. Halas , Rice University
Nanomaterials and Light Addressing Global Challenges
In the 21st century, we face many global challenges that require new ideas and new ways of thinking about long-standing problems. It also requires that we channel our solutions with earth-abundant materials and sustainable strategies. One key challenge that affects many people on the planet is water security, and one enormous limiting factor with water treatment is its energy requirement. We have recently developed a method for harnessing direct solar power to convert membrane distillation into a solar-driven, scalable process. Through these studies we also are discovering new ways to transform solar membrane distillation into a higher-performance, higher-output process. As the highest energy consumer of all industrial sectors, the energy costs of the chemical industry are staggering: to substantially improve efficiency requires entirely new approaches. Traditionally, chemical reactions are performed by applying heat. Driving chemical reactions with light instead of heat is inherently more efficient, however, directing light energy into reactant molecules has been a barrier to practical applications. We have introduced the concept of an Antenna-Reactor nanoparticle complex, which combines the light capturing properties of plasmonic metallic nanoparticles with the adsorbate-binding properties of catalytic metals. Antenna-Reactors have been licensed by Syzygy Plasmonics, which has developed a solid-state lighting-based chemical reactor technology for Antenna-Reactors that can demonstrate methane reforming at more than 500 degrees below current industrial practice, opening the door to low-cost Hydrogen on demand and a wealth of other chemical processes.
About Naomi J. Halas
Naomi J. Halas is the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University, with faculty appointments in the Departments of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry, Materials Science and Nanoengineering, and Bioengineering. She received her undergraduate degree in chemistry from La Salle University in Philadelphia and her PhD degree in physics from Bryn Mawr College. She was a graduate fellow at IBM and a postdoctoral fellow at AT&T Bell Laboratories. She pursues the design, fundamental studies and wide-ranging applications of light-nanoparticle interactions. She is the author of more than 350 refereed publications, has more than 20 issued patents, and has presented more than 600 invited talks. She co-founded two companies: Nanospectra Biosciences (cancer therapy) and Syzygy Plasmonics (Hydrogen on demand). Halas has been elected to the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering (US), the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.