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Coupling energy and matter on the molecular and nanometer length scales


Image: Ryan McCarron, King's College London


Our research group is focused on understanding and controlling the energy–matter interface. In particular, we are studying quantum light-matter interactions using spectroscopy, superresolution imaging, and theory. We are applying this understanding to develop new electric field-driven synthesis and catalytic pathways for sustainable production of molecules and fuels. We are housed in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with affiliations with Physics, Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology (IQUIST), and the Materials Research Laboratory on campus. Group alumni have gone on to tenure-track/tenured  faculty positions in and outside the US, staff scientist positions at national labs, semiconductor and microelectronics industry, environmental policy, and startups.

Research Mission

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 finding new non-thermal modes of reactivity, promoting selective formation of chemical bonds, catalyzing multielectron chemistry, and manufacturing fuels and energetic chemicals with photons as reagents.

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

Selected Papers

Ammonia electrosynthesis with light

JACS. 2022 (link & feature)

Distinguishing non-thermal effects from thermal effects in plasmonic catalysis          J Phys Chem C 2019 (link)

The LK-99 superconductivity puzzle,

J Phys Chem C 2019  (link & feature)


Watching carbon fixation on a nanoparticle

Nature Comm. 2021 (link)

Twins and superionicity

Nature Comm. 2019 (link)


​​Plasmonic photosynthesis

Nature Comm. 2019 (link & news)

Watching an order-disorder transition

Nature Comm. 2019 (link)

Multi-electron redox plasmonic catalysis

Nature Chem. 2018 (link & 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 for hydrogen sulfide

Nature Nanotech. 2012 (link & news)

Featured Research

Leveraging plasmonic multielectron redox catalysis (Kim & Jain, 2016), we have developed the following photopowered transformations for a hydrogen economy, sustainable chemical manufacturing, and solar fuel synthesis

CO2 conversion to methane (Yu & Jain)

Imidazolium-promoted CO2 conversion (Yu & Jain)

Ammonia electrosynthesis (Contreras, Nixon, & Jain)

Water dissociation (Yu & Jain)

Hydrogen evolution reaction (Wilson & Jain)

Alcohol dehydrogenation (Kim, Yu, Mohan, & Jain)

Alcohol electrooxidation (with Xiongwu Kang's lab)

Ammonia electrooxidation (Wang & Jain)


Graphene photosynthesis (Zhang & Jain)

Norrish-like cleavage of ketones and aldehydes (Mohan & Jain)



Join Us

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We are always looking for graduate students from our Chemistry, MatSE, ChBE, 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 rather than into a group. The process of selecting and joining a group starts after you have been admitted.

We have openings for postdoctoral scholars from time to time. 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 highly ranked programs 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 archive)

06.03.24 Prashant listed among 'Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students' for his Spring 2024 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (Chem 444; Physical Chemistry II) course for Chemistry undergraduates. link


05.15.24 Our viewpoint article on hydrogen evolution from a spurious source is published in ACS Energy Letters. link Congratulations to Chloe.


04.26.24 Prashant gave the UIUC Condensed Matter Physics seminar on “Few-Electron Plasmon Resonances”.

04.16.24 Prashant gave the Center for Advanced Study Food for Thought talk: "Path of a Photon in Artificial Photosynthesis".


04.12.24 Congratulations to postdoctoral scholar Dr. Enrique Contreras, who will soon start his tenure-track faculty position and research group in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the California State University in San Bernandino, CA.


03.22.24 Welcome to our newest group member, Juhee Ha, a visiting scholar from Yeungnam University.


03.11.24 Welcome to our newest group member, postdoctoral research scholar Dr. Hyun-Hang Shin who is an expert on single-molecule vibrational spectroscopy and theoretical modeling of non-thermal excitations.

03.01.24 Prashant gave the Physics and Astronomy seminar "From photons to chemical bonds" at the University of Texas San Antonio. 


02.22.24  Prashant receives the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, awarded for the first time to a Department of Chemistry faculty member. link

02.22.24 We are hosting Prof. Han-Kyu Choi of Kunsan National University and former alumnus Prof. Youngsoo Kim of Yeungnam University this week. Prof. Choi gave a talk on "Proving the Existence of Single Molecules in Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering Spectra."

02.12.24  Prashant receives the 2024 LAS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, awarded for the first time to a Department of Chemistry faculty member. link


02.09.24 A special issue on Hot Electrons in Catalysis link guest-co-edited by Reinhard Maurer and Prashant is now out in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C with a preface. link

02.07.24 Welcome to four new group members: Chemistry PhD student Arda Turk, sophomore in Computer Science and Chemistry and James Scholar Ram Ganesan, ChBE freshman Tharun Baburaj, and Engineering Physics senior Ayush Sharma.

12.14.23 Prashant joins the Editorial Advisory Boards of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) and the Journal of Chemical Physics (JCP) effective Jan 1, 2024.

12.06.23 Prashant invested as the G. L. Clark Professor of Physical Chemistry. link

12.04.23 We are delighted to host Prof. Jose Manuel Romo Herrera from Centro de Nanociencias y Nanotecnología Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México this week and advance joint efforts on catalytic solutions for nitrate remediation.

10.26.23 We welcome visiting researcher, José Manuel Ruiz Marizcal, from Centro de Nanociencias y Nanotecnología Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

10.17.23 Recent graduate Frank Alcorn named a recipient of the 2023 Klemperer Award for Outstanding Materials Chemistry PhD Thesis! Congratulations to Frank!

10.03.23 Prashant named the 2023 recipient of the Akron American Chemical Society (ACS) award. Thank you to the Akron section of the ACS and to supportive colleagues and many coworkers who have contributed to our research program. Prashant will give two award lectures in Akron, including one on “Catalysts Dressed in Light”.


09.19.23 We are excited to be part of a team link supported by the National Science Foundation's Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) program. link


09.13.23 Welcome to our newest group member, postdoctoral scholar, Dr. Daeho Kim. Dr. Kim brings expertise in heterogeneous catalysis and surface science.

09.08.23 Our explanation of the purported room-temperature superconductivity signatures of LK-99 now published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C and is the topmost read article of this month. link

08.16.23 Our contribution link to the puzzle of purported room-temperature superconductivity in LK-99 featured in a Nature news article "LK-99 isn’t a superconductor — how science sleuths solved the mystery" link  and many features in the news media. link

08.09.23 Tracking gold-copper nanoparticles using a dynamic environmental transmission electron microscope equipped for laser irradiation showed them Ostwald ripening under the action of plasmonic excitation. Our findings are published in a virtual special issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry C on hot electrons in catalysis. link Congratulations to first author Frank and the rest of the team, which included UG researcher, Maya Chattoraj, now a graduate student at MIR and Prof. Renske van der Veen of Helmholtz Zentrum, Berlin!

08.09.23 Congratulations to Chloe for receiving the University Block Grant and the Peixin He and Xiaoming Chen PhD4 Graduate Fellowship, Omar for the Robert F. Carr Fellowship in Chemistry, Sreelekshmi for the John and Margaret Witt Fellowship, and Wenxin for being named the Racheff Teaching Fellow by the MatSE department.

08.02.03 Our review article on excited-state electrochemistry using plasmons has been published in Trends of Chemistry. Congratulations to Rachel and Enrique! link

07.26.23 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

07.03.23 Using our dynamic environmental transmission electron microscope equipped for laser irradiation, we observed in real time how copper-copper oxide nanoparticles restructure under plasmonic excitation. Our findings are published in Nano Letters. link Congratulations to first author Frank and collaborator Prof. Renske van der Veen, of the Helmholtz Zentrum in Berlin!

06.22.23 The group says farewell to Frank who will soon start a postdoctoral research position at Sandia National Laboratories.

05.31.23 Congratulations to Frank, soon-to-be Dr. Francis Alcorn, on a successful defense of his PhD dissertation "Investigating nanoscale dynamics in light absorbing nanostructures using transmission electron microscopy".


05.30.23 Congratulations to undergraduate researcher Aidan Lindsay on receiving the 2023 American Chemical Society’s Undergraduate Award in Physical Chemistry for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


05.15.23 Congratulations to Emmet Rubin on his graduation with a B.S. in Chemistry. We also bid a fond farewell to him, Aidan Lindsay, and visiting scholar Lucas Germano and wish them the best for their future endeavors. 

05.04.23 Congratulations to Rachel on passing her preliminary examination with flying colors and becoming a PhD candidate.


04.24.23 Prashant will give the Physical Chemistry seminar at MIT and Chemistry colloquium at Northwestern University on non-thermal catalysis in photonic fields.


04.11.23 Prashant will deliver two invited talks at the 2023 MRS Spring meeting on the foundations and prospects of catalysis and electrochemistry using plasmons.

03.31.23 Congratulations to Aidan on becoming a 2023 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar!


03.27.23 Congratulations to Molly for receiving the John E. Gieseking Scholarship for Undergraduate Research from the Department of Chemistry.


03.22.23 Chloe has passed her preliminary examination and is now a PhD candidate. Congratulations, Chloe!

02.22.23 Our review article on time-resolved electron microscopy now published in Nature Chemistry Reviews. link Congratulations to Frank and our collaborator Prof. van der Veen.

01.31.23 Lab is awarded joint seed funding with Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) to explore an electricity and solar-powered solution to nitrate pollution of water in areas of Mexico and US. Thank you to the Illinois Mexican & Mexican-American Students Initiative (I-MMAS) and the Coordinación de la Investigación Científica of UNAM for the funding. Dr. Contreras and Prof. Jain are excited to launch this work with Prof. Romo-Herrera of CNyN-UNAM. 

01.09.23 Prashant listed among 'Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students' for his Fall 2022 Thermodynamics and Physical Chemistry II course for Chemistry undergraduates (Chem 444). link


11.10.22 Prashant is named G. L. Clark Professor. We are grateful to the G. L. Clark endowment, the Department of Chemistry, and College of LAS.


11.03.22 Our lab is to be awarded a US patent for a novel process for catalyst-free alkane chlorination.


10.24.22  The group welcomes our latest member: Omar Ghaleb, a first-year graduate student in physical chemistry.


10.19.22 Prashant elected a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) for contributions by him and his research group to chemical physics. link


09.15.22 Prashant discusses optocatalysis and the use of photons for manufacturing fuels and chemicals in several invited talks, including a British Petroleum International Center for Advanced Studies (bp-ICAM) webinar, which is now available on YouTube.

08.16.22 Congratulations to Rachel, Chloe, and Sreelekshmi for being awarded departmental fellowships! Rachel and Chloe received the Thor R. Rubin Fellowship and Sreelekshmi received the Carl S. Marvel Fellowship.


08.16.22 Welcome to Emmet Rubin, chemistry senior, who joins us to perform research on plasmonic electroconversions.


07.29.22 One-dimensional nanostructures support superionic conduction. See our work published in ACS Nano. link Congratulations to former postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Kihyun Cho.


07.22.22 Our light + electricity-powered ammonia synthesis work featured by Nature Energy. link


05.28.22 Prashant named a University Scholar by the Executive Vice President & Vice President for Academic Affairs.


05.23.22 Plasmonic excitation enables green synthesis of ammonia well beyond the electrocatalytic limit. Our findings are published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Congratulations to Enrique, Rachel, and other team members. link

05.23.22  We welcome undergraduate researcher Xindi Yang to the group.


05.17.22 Chalcogenide alloy nanocrystals exhibit multi-phase structures, which influence their plasmon resonances. See our findings published in the journal Chemistry of Materials. link Congratulations to former postdoctoral scholar Ki-Hyun Cho and rest of the team.

05.12.22 Check out the Baekeland award symposium organized by the American Chemical Society (North Jersey section) in celebration of the 2021 Leo Hendrik Baekeland Award to Prashant Jain. link

05.04.22 We welcome visiting researcher Lucas Germano to the group from the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

04.07.22 Prashant named a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. link

04.07.22 Congratulations and best wishes to our undergraduate researchers who are soon to embark on their graduate research journeys. Maya will join the MIT Department of Chemistry and Omar will begin his graduate studies at UIUC Department of Chemistry.

04.01.22 Prashant interviewed for Chemistry World article link on the use of plasmonic catalysts for industrial production of amine intermediates.

03.11.22 Prashant gave the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry seminar "Lights, Catalyst, Action..." at the University of Texas at El Paso.


02.28.22 Rachel has been awarded the Diffenbaugh Fellowship from our campus for her academic achievement, scholarly promise, and strong Missouri ties. Congratulations to Rachel and thank you to the Diffenbaugh fund!

01.25.22 We welcome Chemistry freshman Aidan Lindsay to the group. Aidan will be working with Chloe on ammonia synthesis using plasmonic electrocatalysts.


01.22.22 Prashant appointed to the UIUC Center for Advanced Study (link) as an Associate for 2022-23.

01.22.22 Prashant was selected as a Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences.


01.10.22 Prashant listed among 'Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students' for his Fall 2021 Thermodynamics and Physical Chemistry II course for Chemistry undergraduates (Chem 444).

11.13.21 Contributions invited for the Journal of Chemical Physics Special Issue on Plasmon-Driven Energy Conversion guest-edited by Prashant, David Wei, and Zee Hwan Kim. link


10.27.21 Welcome to first year Physical Chemistry graduate student Sreelekshmi Venu who has joined our group. Sreelekshmi will be developing and applying in-situ spectroscopy to understand unconventional catalytic processes.

10.21.21 ​Congratulations to former postdoctoral research scholar Dr. Indranath Chakraborty who will start a faculty position in the School of Basic Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mandi. We are looking forward to exciting new science from the Chakraborty lab. Happy to see our postdoctoral alumni lead research groups across the globe: USA, S. Korea, China, and now India.

09.23.21 We have an opening for a postdoctoral researcher interested in developing and applying in-situ Raman spectroscopy for understanding light-driven and plasma-driven chemistry. To apply, email Prof. Jain a CV, a copy of one key publication from PhD work, and names and contact information of three reference letter writers.
09.23.21 Prashant discussed fast-ion transport in nanostructures at the International Advanced Energy Storage Battery Conference organized by Shell.​

09.12.21 Check out our collaborative review article on energy and electron transfer mechanisms in plasmon-driven chemistry published in Advanced Optical Materials link with Mari Andiappan's group at Oklahoma State University.

09.01.21 Prashant will receive this year’s Leo Hendrik Baekeland Award/Medal. Thank you to the North Jersey Section of the American Chemical Society for recognizing the lab’s contributions over the years.

09.01.21 A fond farewell to our most recent PhD graduate, Dinumol, who will be staring a position at Intel. It was great to have you as a part of the group for the last five years. We also bid adieu to Biswanath who is starting as a Heterogeneous Catalysis Scientist at Leidos. Congratulations and best wishes from the group!

08.20.21 We developed a process for chlorinating methane at room temperature without catalysts or external energy sources. Our paper is published in Cell Reports Physical Science. link Congratulations to Varun!

08.10.21 Our findings of stochastic noise in nanoparticle catalysis are published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. link Congratulations to Dinu, now Dr. Devasia! 


08.04.21 Congratulations to our Chemistry graduate students Chloe, Frank, and Rachel for being awarded the Thor R. Rubin Fellowship from the Department of Chemistry.

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.




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