Decorated physicist and Bryn Mawr alumna Naomi Halas spoke to students, faculty and community members on Thursday evening in Thomas Great Hall about her work in the field of Solar Steam Technology. Halas earned her master’s degree from Bryn Mawr in 1984 and completed her Ph. D., also from Bryn Mawr, in 1986. Halas is currently the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as a professor of biomedical engineering, professor of chemistry, professor of physics and astronomy and founding director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics at Rice University, and has achieved much acclaim in her field. According to her bio for Rice University she, “is author of more than 250 refereed publications, has more than fifteen issued patents, has presented more than 450 invited talks, and has been cited more than 30,000 times.”
In her talk at the college, Halas focused on “Life-Saving Potential of Solar Steam Technology in the Developing World.” She is the co-founder of a startup called “Eureka Sun,” which works to apply solar steam technology to everyday life. To kick of her talk, she began with the science behind solar steam technology. In short, solar steam is created by “light capturing nanoparticles that turn sunlight into heat.” Halas explained to the group that when the nanoparticles are put in water and exposed to sunlight, they heat up very quickly and instantly vaporize the water into steam.
The second part of Halas’ speech focused on what can be done with solar steam. She spoke specifically about how the hot steam created through the process outlined above can be used as a sterilizing method for dental tools and medical tools. Another application that excites Halas is the ability to sterilize human waste using solar steam technology. According to Halas, 40% of the global population doesn’t have any way to contain their waste, and she is working to create a solution to this problem using solar steam technology. Halas has been awarded a “Grand Challenges grant” from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to work on creating a small-scale apparatus for treating human waste in developing areas with no other way to do so.
The speech was followed by a Q&A where the audience seemed very intrigued by Halas’ work with solar steam technology. Sydney Maves, a Bryn Mawr senior who attended the talk, said, “Ms. Halas’ talk on nano-particle use in solar power generation was very interesting even to someone who may not have understood all of the scientific details that were being explained… This talk expanded my understanding of what solar energy generation can mean for both the developed and developing world.”