From at least the time of Ancient Rome, humans have been inventing new ways to use light in order to understand and control our surroundings. Reading stones, eyeglasses, prisms, and refracting telescopes are a few historic examples. With each new advance in ways to focus and separate light have come new scientific discoveries. Isaac Newton used newly optimized prisms to separate sunlight into the colors of the visible light spectrum, in the first "spectroscopy" experiment.
In the Department of Chemistry at Rice, we bring together experimental and theoretical physical chemists whose expertise is to develop new tools to look at nanoscale interfaces. Our faculty aims to overcome one of the most difficult challenges in chemistry: to measure and model interfacial structure and dynamics in situ, where proteins, water, ions, and energy exchange outside equilibrium descriptions. Interfacial dynamics play a crucial role in materials and biological functionality. Viral cell entry, catalysis, adhesive materials, antifouling coatings, and separations science all rely on nanoscale interfacial dynamics. Perhaps disease inception itself stems from protein aggregation at membrane interfaces. At the same time, interfaces are quite literally buried from view. Our goals are to build an understanding, both experimental and theoretical, of dynamic and hybrid interfaces at which both spatial and temporal heterogeneity on the single molecule scale drive macroscale observables, and to provide new ways to see and explore new frontiers through spectroscopic imaging at the multiple time and length scales necessary to achieve transformative improvements in chemistry, materials science, and eventually medicine.
Our efforts are grounded in a common, paradigm-shifting approach to physical chemistry by developing a multiscalar combination of single molecule spectroscopic methods, large-scale data analysis, and new theory, including predictive modeling, in order to bridge the gap between the behavior of individual molecules and ensemble properties. While the idea of summing up the behavior of individual components is at the heart of statistical mechanics, there remains a disconnect between single molecule experiments and a true translation to ensembles of molecules. Furthermore, applying this vision to complex experimental systems, for example to heterogeneous interfaces between hard and soft materials dominating many real world problems, has the potential to lead to yet unforeseen discoveries as often rare, single events matter the most from evolution to building novel materials and disease inception.
Please see the Laboratory for Nanoscale Spectroscopic Imaging at Rice (LaNSIR) for more details.