Naomi Halas Named as a Winner of the €200,000 Eni Energy Transition Award

Naomi Halas, a professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas, is sharing the prestigious 2022 Eni Energy Transition Award for developing light-powered “antenna-reactor” catalysts that can substantially lower the temperatures required for industrial-scale hydrogen production. She is sharing the award with a Rice University colleague, Professor Peter J. A. Nordlander.

Sponsored by Eni, a global multibillion-dollar energy company headquartered in Rome, the Eni Awards are premier honors for scientific research in energy and the environment. The Energy Transition Award, one of three main Eni Award prizes, recognizes the best innovations for decarbonizing the world’s energy system and includes a gold medal and cash award of 200,000 Euros.

Antenna-reactor nanocatalysts drive chemical reactions with energy from light rather than heat. This results in record-high efficiencies for chemical reactions. While this had been proven in laboratory tests on particles made of expensive metals like gold and palladium, Halas’ and Nordlander’s research groups spent years driving down the cost of the technology by developing techniques to make the catalysts from materials like aluminum and copper. Their invention has been licensed by Syzygy Plasmonics, a Houston-based startup company with more than 60 employees, which is using antenna-reactor nanocatalysts with LED illumination to make sustainable green hydrogen and other chemicals.

Dr. Halas is the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, physics and astronomy. She also serves as the director of the Smalley-Curl Institute and director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics. She has taught at Rice University since 1990.

Professor Halas is the first Rice faculty member to be elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering for research done at Rice. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Materials Research Society, the Optical Society, the American Physical Society, the International Society for Optical Engineering and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Professor Halas holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a science doctorate from La Salle University in Philadelphia. She earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in physics from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

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