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From Cancer Therapy to Solar Energy, Naomi J. Halas
part of:2011 ECE Affiliates Meeting

Naomi J. Halas, Stanley C. Moore Professor
Director, Rice Quantum Institute
Director, Laboratory for Nanophotonics
Professor of ECE, Bioengineering, Chemistry, Physics & Astronomy

Nanoscale metallic structures provide a unique and useful method for controlling and manipulating light “from the bottom up”, guiding and focusing light at length scales far below the diffraction limit of classical optics. This important property has the potential to introduce new capabilities into a range of existing technologies, and to provide key innovations for emerging technologies. This capability is based on the collective oscillation of electrons in metallic structures, which are known as surface plasmons- hence the name “Plasmonics” for this rapidly developing field. The development of nanoshells – nanoparticles with tunable resonances – in our laboratory resulted in the demonstration of photothermal cancer therapy, now in clinical trials. Current work in this area has led to the design of plasmonic nanocomplexes with multiple functions: contrast enhancement in bioimaging, therapeutics, even light-triggered drug and gene delivery. Plasmonic nanostructures can also be used to facilitate light-coupling for solar harvesting applications: we will show how the unique properties of “semi-shells” can give rise to light-bending effects useful for these technologies.

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