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James and Jeanette Neckers Lectureship in Chemistry Series: Dr. Naomi J. Halas, Rice University

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Friday, February 16, 2024 4pm

263 College Avenue, Holland, MI 49423-3646

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Dr. Naomi J. Halas of Rice University will focus on Nanotechnology and its social impact through two lectures while at Hope College on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 15-16, through the college’s James and Jeanette Neckers Lectureship in Chemistry.

The public is invited to both talks. Admission is free.

Halas is a University Professor and the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University. She is also the Director of the Smalley-Curl Institute.

Her first lecture, “Nanomaterials and Light for Sustainability and Societal Impact,” will be on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall and is intended for a general audience. 

Abstract: Metallic nanoparticles, used since antiquity to impart intense, vibrant color into stained glass windows, then brought to scientific attention in the 19th century as “Faraday’s colloid”, have more recently become a central tool in the nanoscale manipulation of light. When excited by light, metallic nanoparticles undergo a coherent oscillation of their conduction electrons- known as a plasmon- which is responsible for their strong light-matter interactions and properties: they can be thought of as “optical antennas”. One result of light-illuminating metal nanoparticles is strong photothermal heating, a property that we originally introduced into biomedicine for highly localized cancer therapy. Now, years after their initial demonstration, this approach has been used in successful human trials for the precise and highly localized ablation of cancerous regions of the prostate, eliminating the deleterious side effects characteristic of conventional prostate cancer therapies. A second outcome of illuminating metal nanoparticles is the generation of nonequilibrium, or “hot” electrons, that can drive chemical processes very efficiently. By coupling optical antennas and catalyst particles, one can transform heat-driven chemical reactions into photo-driven reactions that proceed under surprisingly mild, low-temperature conditions. This new type of light-based catalyst- an antenna-reactor nanoparticle complex- can be utilized for remediating greenhouse gases, converting them to useful molecules for industry, or into benign molecules for a cleaner planet.

Her second lecture, “Plasmonic Photocatalysis with Antenna-Reactor Nanoparticle Complexes,” will be on Friday, Feb. 16, at 4 p.m., also in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall, and will be more technical in nature. 

Abstract: The dual effects induced by illuminating a plasmonic nanoparticle of photothermal heating and hot carrier generation can both play important roles in chemical catalysis. For processes where hot carrier generation is dominant, catalytic rates can depend upon the specific plasmonic nanoparticle geometry, when the plasmonic response of the various geometries is equivalent. By introducing binding sites onto plasmonic nanoparticles one adds “reactors” to the “antenna”, which can greatly increase reaction rates and efficiencies in comparison to the analogous thermocatalytic processes. We will discuss several different types of antenna-reactor complexes and their characteristics for promoting various gas phase reactions. In addition, we have observed that reactors in photocatalytic complexes are not limited to metals in the platinum group, as is frequently seen in thermally driven catalyzed reactions, due to photoinduced desorption of intermediates on the reactive sites of the photocatalyst. We also have observed that “cheap” photons from LED light sources can effectively drive photocatalytic reactions, opening the door to industrial applications.

Bio: Halas received her undergraduate degree from La Salle University in 1980, and her PhD from Bryn Mawr College in 1987. She was a graduate fellow at IBM Yorktown and a postdoctoral research fellow at AT&T Bell Labs. She is best known for showing that the shape of noble metal nanoparticles controls their optical properties.  She was the first person to introduce structural control into the synthesis of coinage metal nanoparticles to control their optical resonances, which are due to collective electron oscillations known as plasmons. She pursues fundamental studies of coupled plasmonic systems as well as applications of plasmonics in biomedicine, optoelectronics, chemical sensing, photocatalysis, and solar water treatment. She is the author of more than 350 refereed publications, has more than 25 issued patents, and has presented more than 600 invited talks. She is co-founder of Nanospectra Biosciences, a company offering ultralocalized photothermal therapies for cancer based on her nanoparticles, and co-founder of Syzygy Plasmonics, a company with more than 100 employees currently deploying light-based chemical reactors for Hydrogen production based on photocatalyst particles originally invented in her laboratory. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK).

The James and Jeanette Neckers Lectureship and Student Assistance Fund through which Halas is speaking was established in 1984 by Dr. James W. and Jeanette Hoffman Neckers, members of the college’s Class of 1923, to support annual lectureships in chemistry. Through additional gifts from Dr. Neckers, the fund was expanded to include student summer research stipends and student scholarships.

James Neckers was chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale for 37 of his 40 years at the university. Under his leadership, the department grew from a three-year offering in chemistry to granting the doctorate, and the faculty grew from three to 23. Jeanette Neckers died on June 10, 1992, and James Neckers died on May 8, 2004.

To inquire about accessibility or if you need accommodations to fully participate in the event, please email  Updates related to events are posted when available at in the individual listings.

Graves Hall is located at 263 College Ave., between 10th and 12th streets.

  • Natnael Belay
  • John Dryfhout

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