Distinguished Lecture

New Horizons and Grand Challenges for Nanophotonics

Harry A. Atwater
California Institute of Technology

Research in nanophotonics is yielding advances that are opening paths for conceptually new “grand challenge” photonic technologies that have not previously been achievable.  I will discuss three examples. The first is realization of comprehensively tunable nanoantenna arrays, which are enable   dynamic, active control of the constitutive properties of light – amplitude, phase, wavevector and polarization – opening new applications such as phased-array optical beam steering, visible light modulation for communication and thermal radiation management.  A second grand challenge is bringing next-generation solar energy technology to fruition.  Nanophotonic design has enabled new directions for beyond-Si photovoltaics, such as luminescent solar concentrators that can enable an efficient and stable approach to tandem-on-Si photovoltaics.  Nanostructure design is also critical to generation of chemical fuels from sunlight, and recent advances in nanostructures have allowed photoelectrochemical water splitting with record efficiency.  A final grand challenge for nanophotonics is design of spacecraft capable of reaching the stars beyond our solar system, since light itself is the only fuel capable of propelling spacecraft to the relativistic speeds needed to achieve interstellar travel.  Recently, the Breakthough Starshot initiative has captured scientific imagination and motivated thinking about conceptual prototypes for light-driven spacecraft that could reach nearby stars within a human lifetime.  I will show that this audacious concept may be closer than we imagine, if advances in nanophotonics can enable key concepts for spacecraft propulsion, instrumentation and communications.

Harry Atwateris the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science at the California Institute of Technology. His scientific interests have two themes: light-matter interactions in nanophotonic materials and structures as well as solar energy conversion. Harry is an early pioneer in nanophotonics and plasmonics; he gave the name to the field of plasmonics in 2001. He has also created new high efficiency solar cell designs, and has developed principles for light management in solar cells, and currently serves as Director of the DOE Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

Harry is a Member of US National Academy of Engineering, and is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the Materials Research Society, and the National Academy of Inventors.  Harry is the co-founder of Alta Devices, a solar photovoltaics company in Santa Clara, CA, that holds the current world records for 1 Sun single and dual junction solar cell efficiency and that is currently transitioning GaAs photovoltaics technology to manufacturing and large-scale production. He is the founding Editor in Chief for the journal ACS Photonics, and is Associate Editor for the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics. In 2006 he founded the Gordon Research Conference on Plasmonics, which he served as chair in 2008.

He has authored or co-authored more than 400 publications cited in aggregate > 50,000 times, and his group’s advances in the solar energy and plasmonics field have been reported in Scientific American, Science, Nature Materials, Nature Photonics and Advanced Materials.

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