NANOMATERIALS AND LIGHT FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND SOCIETAL IMPACT
Metallic nanoparticles, used since antiquity to impart intense, vibrant color into materials, 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 lightmatter interactions and properties. While the scientific foundation of this field has been built on noble and coinage metals (most typically gold or silver), more recently we have begun to question whether the same, or similar properties can also be realized in more sustainable materials. Aluminum, the most abundant metal on our planet, can support high-quality plasmonic properties spanning the UV-to-IR region of the spectrum. Coupling a plasmonic nanoantenna directly to catalytic nanoparticles or individual single-atom catalytic sites transforms the entire complex into an efficient, light-controlled catalyst capable of driving chemical reactions under surprisingly mild, low temperature conditions. This new type of light-based catalyst can be utilized for remediating greenhouse gases, and converting them to useful molecules for industry, or benign molecules for a cleaner planet. We have previously introduced photothermal effects for biomedical therapeutics; now, years after their initial demonstration, this approach is being utilized in human trials for the precise and highly localized ablation of cancerous regions of the prostate, eliminating the highly deleterious side effects characteristic of conventional prostate cancer therapies. Photothermal effects can also be harvested for sustainability applications, which we have most recently demonstrated in an off-grid solar thermal desalination system that transforms membrane distillation into a scalable water purification process.