Prashant K. Jain

 Prashant Jain

Contact Information

Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois
A224 CLSL, Box 16-6
600 South Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Associate Professor of Chemistry
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Additional Campus Affiliations


Professor Jain received his B.Tech. from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, India in 2003 and his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Georgia Tech in 2008. During 2008, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and from 2009-2011 a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley. He joined the University of Illinois faculty in Fall 2011. He has affiliations with the Materials Research Lab, the Department of Physics and the Beckman Institute. His research is focused on the understanding and control of energy transport, light-matter interactions, and chemical transformations on nanometer length scales.

Research Interests

  • artificial photosynthesis; super-resolution imaging of active sites in heterogeneous catalysis; novel condensed matter phases and phenomena in nanostructured solids; plasmonic manipulation of photophysics and photochemistry; nanoplasmonics and nano-optics; imaging phase transformations in single nanodomains

Research Description

The theme of the research in the Jain lab hinges on the question: how can we use light to interface better with molecules and nanostructures? The goal is to use light in unique ways to: i) resolve important nanoscale or molecular processes that are not well understood, or, ii) induce novel optoelectronic or photochemical behavior in matter. We are a diverse team with interest and expertise in spectroscopy, materials science, and condensed matter physics. The tools we use include single-molecule spectroscopy, nanofabrication, high-resolution electron microscopy, and plasmonics. The systems we investigate range from artificial photosynthetic systems to nanophotonic switches. Specific research areas include:

Super-Resolution Imaging of Heterogeneous Catalysts. Catalytic processes, despite their importance in the chemical industry as well as in solar-to-fuel conversion, remain poorly understood. This is primarily because of the involvement of surfaces that are often chemically complex and heterogeneous. In most cases, the identity of the active site is still in question. Our lab  is using single-molecule super-resolution imaging techniques borrowed from the the biophysics community, and high-resolution electron microscopy, to resolve individual active sites on a catalyst surface. By mapping the distribution, structural composition, and heterogeneity of active sites, we seek to enhance understanding of catalytic materials and processes. Particular focus is on catalysts for water-splitting and CO2 to methanol conversion. 

Light-Matter Interactions in the Near Field. The interaction of light with matter is primarily entailed by the excitation of electronic and vibrational modes by the electromagnetic field of light. The characteristic length scale of such excitations is typically on the molecular size scale (ca. 1 Å), whereas the characteristic length scale of the electromagnetic field can be defined for a plane wave by its wavelength (ca. 5000 Å for visible light). This disparity in length scales between a molecule and the electromagnetic field limits light-matter interactions to common dipole-type processes. By employing strong optical resonances of metal nanostructures to 'squeeze' electromagnetic fields down to the nanoscale (10 Å), our lab  seeks to bridge the gap between light and molecular excitations and uncover novel photochemistry and photophysical behavior in quantum dots, metalloproteins, chiral molecules, photovoltaic, and photosynthetic systems.

Imaging Phase Transitions in Single Nanocrystals. Phase transitions in solid-state materials often involve interesting dynamics. Since macroscopic solids are typically polycrystalline, such dynamics is smeared out in studies on bulk solids, due to ensemble averaging over different crystalline domains. By acquiring snapshots of a single nanocrystalline domain undergoing a phase transition, our lab is attempting to uncover the dynamic trajectory involved in the nucleation of a new phase. We are developing new optical and spectroscopic methods to acquire snapshots of model phase transitions and also using these techniques to learn new facts about fundamental phenomena such as crystal growth, impurity doping, and correlated electron systems.    

Prospective postdocs, students, and collaborators interested in the above research projects are welcome to contact us.


Distinctions / Awards

  • I. C. Gunsalus Scholar (2017-18)
  • Kavli Emerging Leader in Chemistry and Lectureship, ACS (2017)
  • American Vacuum Society Prairie Chapter Early Career Award (2017)
  • Campus Distinguished Promotion Award, UIUC (2017)
  • Center for Advanced Studies Beckman Fellow (2017)
  • Most Cited Researchers in ChemE as per Elsevier Scopus (2016)
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2015)
  • School of Chemical Sciences Faculty Teaching Award (2015)
  • American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award (2014)
  • Journal of Physical Chemistry C Lectureship (2015)
  • 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award (2015)
  • Arnold and Mabel O. Beckman Young Investigator Award (2014)
  • Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (2014)
  • Dupont Young Professor Award (2013)
  • List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students (Fall 12, 15, 16, Spring 14, 15)

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