Research Mission

Our research group is advancing the understanding and control of the light–matter interface. We are housed in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with affiliations with Physics and the Beckman Institute on campus. We perform some of our experimental work at the Materials Research Lab and also are a part of the UC Berkeley-UIUC Energy & Biosciences Institute. Our theoretical work uses facilities of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and XSEDE.

Selected Papers

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We are always looking for graduate students from our Chemistry, MatSE or Physics graduate programs to join us. If you are already admitted to one of these programs, please contact Prof. Jain by emailing jain (at) illinois (dot) .edu for openings. For prospective students who have not yet been admitted to a UIUC graduate program, please contact the program of your interest for information about admissions. Students are admitted into a department or a program and not into a group

Currently there are no openings for postdoctoral scholars, but typically candidates with experience in electrochemistry, catalysis, surface science, and optical microscopy may write to Prof. Jain by emailing jain (at) illinois (dot) edu with a CV, one selected representative publication, and a 1-page-or less research statement. Please arrange to have three recommendation letters sent to Prof. Jain.

Our research is at the intersection of chemistry, materials science, and condensed matter physics, areas in which UIUC has programs ranked in the nation's top 5 and has been home to 20 Nobel laureates & discoveries/ inventions such as the LED, MRI, and theory of superconductors. UIUC also houses the world-class Materials Research Laboratory, where we perform a lot of our work.

Our group is diverse in several respects. We value inclusiveness and support and cherish the successes of all of our group members link. In our science, we value quality over quantity. We value people over productivity.


You can learn about the CU area in this short video.

Latest News (Click here for archived news)

Interfacing light to matter on the molecular

and nanometer length scales


Image: Ryan McCarron, King's College London

Light-matter interactions are central in nature, life, and in technology. There are three aspects of the light–matter interface that we study using spectroscopy, microscopy, and theory:

i) We employ the rich interplay between visible light and metal catalysts for selective formation of energy-dense chemical bonds.

ii) We image with nanoscale spatial resolution chemical reactions on surfaces or nanoparticles and uncover their mechanistic pathways.

iii) We design quantum materials and coax them into exhibiting non-natural optical or optoelectronic phenomena

In summary, we are learning how to control and harness light as a source of energy and as a means to control the attributes and functions of advanced materials.

Watching carbon fixation on a nanoparticle

Nature Comm. 2021 (link)

Chemical potential of plasmon excitations

Angew Chem. Int. Ed. 2020 (link)

Plasmonic photosynthesis

Nature Comm. 2019 (link and news)

Twins and superionicity

Nature Comm. 2019 (link)

Watching an order-disorder transition

Nature Comm. 2019 (link)

Multi-electron photoredox plasmonic catalysis

Nature Chem. 2018 (link and news)

Plasmonic catalysis of carbon fixation

Nano Lett. 2018 (linkcover)

Graphene formation in plasmonic catalysis

Nature Comm. 2018 (link)

Superionicity on the nanoscale

Nature Comm. 2017 (link & news)

Co-operative transitions in nanocrystals

Nature Comm. 2013 (link & news)

A regenerable sorbent

Nature Nanotech. 2012 (link & news)

06.24.21 News Bureau article features our latest work on "light-harvesting nanoparticle catalysts" link


06.17.21 Dinu has successfully defended her PhD dissertation, a successful culmination of the quest to probe individual chemical events occurring on a metal catalyst in a realistic reaction medium. Congrats to (soon-to-formally-be) Dr. Devasia!


06.15.21 Prashant is named among this year's Blavatnik National Awards Finalists! Thank you to the Blavatnik foundation for recognizing the contributions of the lab. link


06.15.21 Thank you to Matt Sheldon and Stephan Link for organizing the Plasmonics session at this year's ACS Colloid and Surface Science Symposium. It was great to open Tuesday's session with a discussion of the path from photons to chemical bonds using plasmonic light harvesters.


06.09.21 Check out Wiley-VCH's recently released book 'Plasmonic Catalysis: Fundamental and Applications' link with a chapter from us on plasmonic photoredox chemistry, multi-electron reactions, and photosynthesis. 


06.01.21 Prashant listed among 'Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students' for his Spring 2021 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics course (Chem 444).


05.10.21 Our group has developed a vibrational spectroscopy-based method for probing the surface of a nanoparticle catalyst under operating conditions with single-molecule-level resolution. Using this method, we found that the surface of silver nanoparticles is capable of using concentrated light to reduce CO2 and form C-C bonds, enabling the photosynthesis of larger, more valuable organic compounds. Our work was published in Nature Communications link and featured in a Editors' Highlight link. Congratulations to Dinu and the rest of the team!

05.03.21 Many congratulations to Maya, who has been named a Clare Boothe Luce Scholar for 2021-22 and has also received a Mary-Dell and Scott Chilton Scholarship for Undergraduate Research.

04.29.21 On plasmonic catalysts, aliphatic alcohols undergo unique photochemistry. Our latest study is published in ACS Energy Letters. link

Congratulations to Varun (now Dr. Mohan, at Intel) and the rest of the team!

04.14.21 Prashant speaks at Shell Oil about using concentrated light for the manufacturing of fuels and chemicals.

04.01.21 Feature story in Leaps magazine on carbon-neutral energy technologies highlights our efforts on the production of fuels from carbon dioxide and visible light. link

03.19.21 Congratulations to former postdoc Xueqiang Zhang. Xueqiang has accepted a position as a Professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology and will start his research laboratory in the Advanced Research Institute of Multidisciplinary Science and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. 


03.04.21 Prashant will be giving a talk on the 'the path from photons to chemical bonds' in the Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry Virtual Seminar Series of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


02.23.21 Congratulations to PhD alumnus Dr. Dumett Torres who started his new position as a Physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.


02.23.21 Prashant gave the Physics & Astronomy colloquium at Ohio U. on "Special relativity and optical control of chemistry" and the International Physics webinar on “Light-matter coupling for energy harvesting and chemical manufacturing” hosted by Pabna University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh.

02.15.21 Prashant is listed among the most cited researchers (by career and for 2019) according to a study link by John Ioannidis at Stanford  U.; Richard Klavans and Kevin Boyack at the analytics firm SciTech Strategies; and Jeroen Baas, director of analytics at Elsevier.


01.26.21 Photons, captured by nanoscale antennas, can be used to control chemical reaction pathways. See our invited review on the topic in the Annual Review of Physical Chemistry! link


01.21.21 We contributed to the 'Roadmap on quantum nanotechnologies' put together by an international cohort of experts in the field. The roadmap is published in Nanotechnology. link A preprint is also available on arXiv. link

01.20.21 Prashant gave a News in Nanocrystals Community (NiNC) seminar on an emerging paradigm in nanoparticle-based photocatalysis.

01.08.21 Great to start the year with a stimulating discussion of plasmonic chemistry: Prashant gave the opening webinar in the series on Elementary Processes of Light-Driven Reactions at Nanoscale Metals held by the Institut für Physik und Astronomie at Universität Potsdam and the Ultrafast Dynamics group at Helmholtz-Zentrum in Berlin. Thank you to Prof. Matias Bargheer for hosting this scientific discussion.

12.21.20 Welcome to first-year MatSE graduate student Wenxin Zhang who is the newest member to join the group!

12.17.20 Congratulations to our recent PhD graduates Dr. Jaeyoung Heo and Dr. Varun Mohan and many thanks for their invaluable contributions to the group over the past five years. Varun will be taking up a Process Engineer position at Intel. Jaeyoung will be starting a postdoctoral research position at PNNL. We wish both our PhD graduates the best as they start a new phase of their careers!   

11.30.20 By using in-situ transmission electron microscopy, we observed different types of collective motion in a superionic nanowire. Our study will be published in Nano Letters.
link Congratulations to Jaeyoung and Kihyun!

11.24.20 Prashant has been elected a Fellow of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS). link  link This is great recognition of the group's "distinguished contributions to the field of nanomaterial chemistry leading to atomistic understanding of artificial photosynthesis, multielectron transfer, catalysis and phase transitions." 

11.24.20 This week, Prashant is giving a seminar in the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University and an invited webinar (by a highly cited researcher in the area of gold catalysis) for the International GOLD conference. He will talk about the harvesting of free energy from light.

11.05.20 Varun has successfully defended his PhD dissertation and is now on track to receiving his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering. Many congratulations to Varun on a job well done!

10.28.20 Some ion-exchange reactions show cooperative behavior; our recent density functional theory investigations shed light on the structural origin of this effect. Our findings will be published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C. link Congratulations to Daniel, who is current an NNSA fellow at PNNL.

10.26.20 We are excited to add two new group members: first-year Materials Chemistry graduate students, Chloe Litts and Rachel Nixon. Chloe received her B.S. in Chemistry from College of Wooster. Rachel received her B.S. in Chemistry from Missouri University of Science and Technology. Welcome, Chloe and Rachel!


10.26.20  Jaeyoung has successfully defended his PhD dissertation and is now on his way to receiving a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering. Congratulations Jaeyoung!

09.29.20  Prashant featured among SN10 Ten Scientists to Watch by Science News. link Thanks to Science News magazine for featuring our group’s work on light harvesting.


09.28.20 A warm welcome to postdoctoral research scholar Dr. Enrique Contreras. Enrique comes to our group following his PhD research at National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), where he studied photoelectrochemical catalytic conversions.

09.15.20 We welcome postdoctoral research scholar Dr. Biswanath Dutta to the group. Biswanath conducted his PhD studies in Chemistry in Steve Suib's group at the University of Connecticut.


09.08.20 In plasmon-excitation-driven photosynthesis on Au nanoparticles, the primary step is the hole-mediated splitting of water, which supplies protons and electrons for carbon dioxide conversion. This mechanistic insight is obtained from measurements of kinetic isotope effects in the reaction. See our latest work published in Angewandte Chemie. link  Congratulations to Sungju!


09.02.20  Prashant was featured in the Department Chemistry Diversity Newsletter. link Thanks to Tracy Crane for sharing the story and a big shout out to all our international graduate students for all they contribute to our excellence!

08.17.20 Prashant gave a talk about concepts and controversies in plasmonic catalysis at the virtually held ACS Fall national meeting in the PHTS symposium on 'Spectroscopy for Understanding Catalysis'. Thank you to the organizers, Randy Goldsmith and Josh Vura-Weis.

08.14.20 A simple quirk in the Arrhenius mode can mask photochemical effects as photothermal effects or vice versa in photocatalysis, plasmonic catalysis, or hot electron chemistry. See Prashant’s short commentary in Chemical Science link and further discussion link


08.07.20 Shining light on metal nanoparticles produces a voltage on the nanoparticles. These photo-voltages play a role in catalyzing chemical and electrochemical reactions on the metal nanoparticle surface. Our account on this phenomenon is now published in the Accounts of Chemical Research. link Congratulations to Andrew, who is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisville.


7.27.20 Jun will be starting as a Professor at Nanjing Tech University later this Fall. Congratulations Jun and thanks for all you have contributed to the lab. We wish you the best as you embark on your independent academic career!


07.27.20 We found that electrochemical ammonia oxidation can be boosted by a photochemical potential generated by the excitation of plasmons in the bimetallic Au@Pt nanoparticle catalyst. These findings will be published in Angewandte Chemie. link Congratulations to Jun and the rest of the team!

07.19.20  Our review of the use of nanoscale optical imaging methods in chemistry is being published in Chemical Society Reviews. link Congratulations to Andrew and Dinu!

07.03.20 Later this summer, Jianxiao will begin her research group and a new position as Professor at the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing. Many congratulations to Jianxiao! We wish her the best as she starts this exciting phase of her scientific career.

07.02.20 Group alumnus, Sungju Yu, who is currently a Senior Research Scientist at KIST, will start a new position at Ajou University as an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Energy Systems Research. Congratulations Sungju!


06.17.20  Prashant has been selected as a Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists Finalist and Medalist. link Thank you to the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the NY Academy of Sciences!

06.01.20 Chem 444, Physical Chemistry II course on Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics continues to receive good feedback from our Chemistry undergraduates. Prashant was listed among teachers ranked as excellent with outstanding ratings and received for the second semester in a row an ICES score of 5.0 (99%) for his instruction and course effectiveness. Looking forward to teaching the Fall 2020 class!


05.18.20 Prashant has been named the Alumni Scholar Professor of Chemistry. He also received the Campus Distinguished Promotion Award from the Provost's office. link Many thanks to the alumni and donors of the Department of Chemistry and to the many members of our group, past and present, who have contributed to the lab!

05.18.20 We are proud of the many accomplishments of our undergraduate researchers who are in the graduating class of 2020. Roma will begin her PhD studies in Chemistry this Fall at the University of Illinois in Chicago! David has received the ACS Division of Physical Chemistry Undergraduate Award and the Worth H. Rosebush Award! Congratulations to Roma and David! 

05.11.20 Varun is a recipient of the Racheff-Intel Award conferred each year by the MatSE department to the most outstanding graduate researchers. Congratulations Varun!

04.21.20 Can mercury selenide be a host for Majorana fermions and topological quantum computing? Our latest publication in the Journal of Physical Chemistry predicts the existence of spin-protected conduction on certain surface facets of mercury selenide. link Congratulations to Daniel on the publication of these interesting findings!


03.18.20 Undergraduate researcher Maya Chattoraj has received a Campus Honors Program (CHP) research grant to conduct single-molecule-level studies of bimetallic catalysis this summer semester. Many thanks to the CHP and congratulations to Maya!


03.17.20 Dinumol has been selected as a recipient of a TechnipFMC Fellowship for the 2020-2021 academic year. link Thank you to the TechnipFMC educational fund created by Mr. Bert A. Gayman, a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Illinois and congratulations to Dinumol!

03.17.20 Our article on plasmonic photosynthesis is in the Top 50 Nature Communications chemistry and materials science articles published in 2019. link Read the article here link


02.19.20 Our work on light-driven carbon fixation is featured in a Wired magazine article alongside carbide nanoparticle catalysts developed by the University of Southern California and NREL. link


02.04.20  Varun has passed his MatSE preliminary examination with flying colors and is now on track to complete his PhD dissertation in the coming months! Congratulations to Varun on a job well done!


01.14.20  2020 starts with some remarkable news for two of our group members. Postdoctoral scholar Andrew Wilson has accepted a tenure-track faculty position in the Chemistry Department at the University of Louisville. Recent PhD graduate Daniel Dumett Torres has accepted the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) Fellowship. He will be a Fellow in the Advanced Computing and Simulation office of the Pacific Northwest National lab in Washington D.C. Andrew and Daniel begin the next phase of their career in the summer. Congratulations to both. We are excited to celebrate their achievements and thank them for their valuable contributions to the laboratory!

01.09.20 Our invited review article on the use of plasmonic excitations as redox equivalents in chemical reactions is published in January’s special issue of the MRS Bulletin. link

01.06.20 Prashant listed among teachers ranked as excellent by their students and received an ICES score of 5.0 (99%) for his instruction and course effectiveness of Physical Chemistry II: Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics for Chemistry undergraduates.

01.04.20 We start the year by welcoming three Chemistry undergraduate researchers to the Jain lab: Maya Chattoraj, Haobo Wu, and Bladen Lee. We are excited to have you become a part of our group!


12.04.19  Thanks to Prof. Libai Huang and the Physical Chemistry division at Purdue University for hosting Prashant’s visit and seminar on artificial photosynthesis.


11.26.19 How does one think about the chemical potential of light excitations, especially in plasmon-driven chemistry. We provide a simple picture in our latest paper published in Angewandte Chemie. link

11.26.19 Prashant is visiting the Chemical Engineering department at Oklahoma State University, where he will discuss the storage of energy from plasmonic excitations in chemical bonds. Thanks to Prof. Mari Andiappan for hosting!

11.09.19 Prashant is recommended for promotion to Professor of Chemistry (effective 2020).

11.09.19. Under plasmonic excitation the electrochemical hydrogen evolution reaction on a nanostructured gold electrocatalyst is enhanced. In our latest paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C, we describe this effect and its mechanistic origin. link Congratulations to Andrew!


10.17.19 The group bids a warm farewell to Sungju Yu, who is set to move to Korea to start an independent position at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. We thank Sungju for his many contributions to the group!

​10.16.19  Prashant gave a talk on plasmonic photosynthesis at the Electrochemical Society meeting in Atlanta.