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20 March 2019

Wheatstone Lecture 2019

This year’s Wheatstone Lecture was held on 20 February 2019 by the Department of Physics. Professor Naomi Halas, Rice University, presented a lecture entitled ‘From Faraday to tomorrow: nanoscale optics for sustainability and societal impact’.

Audience in a lecture hall
Audience in a lecture hall

Professor Halas talked about the history of metallic nanoparticles, from adding colour to materials to ‘Faraday’s colloid’. Today they are used to manipulate light at the nanoscale. Researchers are also investigating whether similar properties to the noble and coinage metals originally used for nanoparticles, can be found in more sustainable materials such as aluminium and graphene. Indeed, nanoscale graphene introduces new properties such as single-electron colour switching.

Professor Halas explained the potential impact of these developments:

‘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 energy-intensive membrane distillation into a more efficient and scalable water purification process.’

Sir Charles Wheatstone FRS (1802-75) was Professor of Experimental Philosophy at King's and was the first Professor in the Department from 1834 until his death in 1875. Polymath and self-taught son of a London-based musical instrument maker, Wheatstone conducted early experiments into acoustics and the transmission of sound. His greatest achievement was the development of the electric telegraph, which revolutionised communications in the nineteenth century.