|AHF Featured Member: Dr. Naomi Halas|
Naomi Halas, D.Sci, Ph.D.
Her "gold nanoshells" (tiny glass nanoparticles coated in gold) are so small that 1,000 would fit across the width of a human hair and absorb large amounts of light, resulting in a dramatic rise in their temperature. They interact with the widest possible spectrum of sunlight energy and can be tuned to absorb specific wavelengths of light. For example, when light passes harmlessly through the human body, that light hits the injested nanoshells where they grow hot enough to burn away targeted nearby tissue such as a tumor. Later research revealed this same behavior could turn ice water into steam with sunlight, leading to far-reaching implications for disinfection, water distillation and desalinization, and green energy.
Although still new, the technology has already achieved an overall energy efficiency of 24% far surpassing the 15% of photovoltaic solar panels. The efficiency of solar steam is due to how the light-capturing nanoparticles behave when exposed to sunlight. When submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, the particles heat up so quickly they instantly vaporize water and create steam locally in mircobursts!
Halas expects the overall energy efficiency to increase as the technology is refined.“We’re going from heating water on the macro scale to heating it at the nanoscale,” Halas said. “Our particles are very small — even smaller than a wavelength of light — which means they have an extremely small surface area to dissipate heat. This intense heating allows us to generate steam locally, right at the surface of the particle, and the idea of generating steam locally is really counterintuitive.”
Rice engineering undergraduates have already created a solar steam-powered autoclave that’s capable of sterilizing medical and dental instruments at clinics that lack electricity. Dr. Halas won a Grand Challenges in Global Health grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create an ultra-small-scale system for treating human waste in areas without sewer systems or electricity.
With over 200 publication and election to Fellow of the American Physical Society, Dr. Halas' scientific career and history of innovation is nothing less then remarkable and a great source of pride for the Hungarian-American community. She received the "Cancer Innovator" award from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs of the US Department of Defense who also granted (with Rice colleague, bioengineer Jennifer West) $3 million to conduct research into the potential of nanoshell treatment. "Nanotechnology Now" presented Drs. Halas and West the award for Best Discovery of 2003. A recent article in NBC News's "Future Tech" highlights the use of nanoparticles in steam generation.
More about Dr. Halas:
Dr. Halas graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. (Chemistry) from La Salle College in 1980. She went on to her M.A (1984) and Ph.D. (1987) in Physics at Bryn Mawr College and obtained her D.Sc. (2007) at La Salle University. Her PhD research was performed with Daniel Grischkowsky at IBM Yorktown in the area of ultrafast nonlinear optics and dark soliton generation, where she also worked on the first terahertz time-domain spectroscopy efforts, also reported by the IBM group.
Dr. Halas joined Rice University following her postdoctoral fellowship at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where she studied time-resolved photoemission spectroscopy on semiconductor surfaces. She is the author of more than 200 refereed publications, has more than 15 issued and pending patents, and has presented more than 300 invited talks. She is best known scientifically in the field of plasmonics as the inventor of tunable nanoparticles with resonances that span the visible and infrared regions of the spectrum, studying their properties and pursuing applications in biomedicine, chemical sensing, and energy.
Dr. Halas is co-founder of Nanospectra Biosciences, Inc., a company currently commercializing a photothermal cancer therapy based on her nanoparticles. She is founder and Director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) at Rice, which supports collaborations and interactions among researchers at Rice and other institutions nationally and internationally in the field of Plasmon-based optics and applications. She is the Principal Investigator of an NSF-funded integrative graduate education and research training grant (IGERT) in Nanophotonics, the first such graduate training program in the U.S.
Dr. Halas holds numerous patents and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a Fellow of five professional societies: the Optical Society, the American Physical Society, the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE), the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a member of the advisory board for the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, and she is a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow of the U.S. Department of Defense. She is also Visiting Professor at the Institute of Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, was chair of the 2010 Plasmonics Gordon Research Conference, is a member of the Editorial Advisor Board of Laser and Photonics Reviews and an Associate Editor of Nano Letters. Earlier honors include four Hershel M. Rich Invention awards from the Rice Engineering Alumni, the National Science Foundation's Young Investigator Award, and she was named to Esquire magazine's list of the "Best & Brightest of 2006."
For a full list of awards, patents and publications, [download] her Curriculum Vitae
AHF thanks PBS and Rice University for use of the photos.
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Interviews and Other Resources
Rice University unveils super-efficient solar-energy technology: "Solar steam" so effective it can make steam from icy cold water. Rice University scientists have unveiled a revolutionary new technology that uses nanoparticles to convert solar energy directly into steam. The new “solar steam” method from Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) is so effective it can even produce steam from icy cold water. [read more]
PBS NOVA Science Now:
NBC NEWS Technology (with video)
ArsTechnica: Sculpting light: interview with Naomi Halas, plasmon pioneer. At a recent meeting of the MESA+ Research Institute for Nanotechnology, Ars sat down with Naomi Halas to get the low down on nanophotonics, and the strange beasts it enables, called plasmons. [read more]
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