Rice University Professor Naomi Halas has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences – one of the highest honors that can be conferred upon a U.S. scientist or engineer. She is one of 84 new members and 21 foreign associates announced today in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.
One of the world’s most-cited experts in nanophotonics and a pioneering researcher in the field of plasmonics, Halas is the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a professor of biomedical engineering, chemistry, physics and astronomy. She also is founding director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics and director of the Rice Quantum Institute.
“Membership in the National Academy of Sciences recognizes Naomi’s deep abilities in both science and engineering,” said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering and professor in mechanical engineering and materials science and in chemical and biomolecular engineering. “It’s a well-deserved honor for her.”
“This is an outstanding recognition for Naomi’s years of cutting-edge and highly cited research,” said Behnaam Aazhang, department chair and the J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). “She is the first ‘homegrown’ faculty in ECE to achieve such a recognition. We are all very proud of her accomplishments; however, being recognized by the National Academy of Sciences as an engineering faculty member is particularly sweet.”
Since joining the Rice faculty in 1990, Halas has specialized in studying how light interacts with engineered nanoparticles. Her research spans a broad spectrum from electromagnetic theory to chemical nanofabrication. Her lab has created and studied dozens of new varieties of nanoparticles that are engineered to interact with light in specific ways, often to perform a function in unique applications that have societal and technological impact.
For example, Halas invented gold nanoshells and pioneered a nanoshell-based treatment that is currently in clinical trials for both lung cancer and for head and neck cancer. Nanoparticles encased in a thin shell of gold are absorbed by tumors but not healthy tissue, so tissue-penetrating laser light can destroy cancer tumors with virtually no damage to nearby healthy tissue.
Halas unveiled a revolutionary new technology in 2012 that uses nanoparticles to convert solar energy directly into steam. The new “solar steam” method is so effective it can even produce steam from icy cold water. Halas is working to develop the technology for sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world.
Her scientific accomplishments have led to numerous honors, including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Halas is a fellow of 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 for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
In 2011, Thomson Reuters included Halas on its list of the top 100 chemists of the past decade. The list was based upon the number of citations per chemistry paper published in the ISI/Web of Science database from 2000 to 2010.
The State Bar of Texas named Halas “Inventor of the Year” in 2010, along with former Rice colleague Jennifer West. Halas made Esquire’s “Best and Brightest” list in 2006, and she was a finalist for Small Times magazine’s “Best Researcher of 2004.”
She is a member of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Council of the National Science Foundation, and she is a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow of the U.S. Department of Defense. Halas is a member of the editorial advisory board of Chemical Physics Letters and Laser and Photonics Reviews and an associate editor of Nano Letters. She serves on the board of directors of the Optical Society of America.
Halas has a doctorate and a master’s degree in physics from Bryn Mawr College and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from La Salle College, where she graduated magna cum laude.
The National Academy of Sciences, created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, is one of four organizations that make up the National Academies, along with the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.