Thomas W. Ebbesen: The 2022 SPIE Mozi Award
Physical chemist Thomas Ebbesen is widely known for his pioneering work in nanoscience. While researching nano-structured carbon materials and exploring the potential of cavity quantum electrodynamics for controlling molecular properties, he discovered that, contrary to the accepted theory at that time, it was possible under certain conditions to transmit light extremely efficiently through subwavelength holes milled in opaque metal films. The phenomenon, known as extraordinary optical transmission, can be applied in a broad variety of areas, from chemistry to opto-electronics. Since 2005, he has pioneered the investigation of light-matter strong coupling effects on material and chemical properties, leading to the development of a new field known as polaritonic or quantum electrodynamic chemistry.
Ebbesen received his PhD in physical photochemistry in 1980 from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. He later worked at the University of Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory; the NEC Fundamental Research Laboratories in Tsukuba, Japan; and the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, NJ. He became a professor at the University of Strasbourg in 1999 where he is currently the director of both the Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study and the International Center for Frontier Research in Chemistry, and holds the chair of physical chemistry of light-matter interactions. He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the French Academy of Science. Among other recognitions, Ebbesen is the recipient of the 2001 Agilent Europhysics Prize; the 2005 France Télécom Prize; the 2009 Quantum Electronics and Optics Prize; the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience; and the 2019 CNRS Gold Medal. He presented and published his research at several SPIE symposia between 2005 and 2010.
"I have known Thomas since he published his now-famous paper on transmission of light through sub-wavelength holes," says Imperial College London Professor John Pendry, with whom Ebbesen shared the 2014 Kavli Prize in nanoscience alongside Stefan Hell. "His paper reported an astonishing result: holes in a thin silver film were highly transparent at certain resonant frequencies, whereas conventional theory predicted almost no transmission. The answer, after much debate, proved to lie in excitation of surface plasmons which forced light through the tiny holes. Thomas' paper kickstarted a huge new interest in surface plasmons both as an experimental phenomenon and as a challenge to theorists. This success is all the more remarkable in that Thomas' background was in chemistry rather than electromagnetism. In fact, his brush with light seems to have stimulated his latest field of interest which is the influence of light on chemistry. He is a worthy recipient of the Mozi Award and will bring further luster to its reputation."