Rice University
Rice Magazine| The Magazine of Rice University | No. 3 | 2009

Move Over Bono — Naomi’s Here

Naomi Halas recently found herself searching Wikipedia to learn about Thomas Pynchon and delighting in the possibility that, somewhere out there, Bono was Googling her.

The Rice University scientist, along with two Rice alums — philanthropist John Doerr and economist Karen Davis — joined the reclusive novelist, the U2 singer and a host of others renowned in their fields when they were elected members of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

HalasHalas, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and professor of chemistry, biochemistry and bioengineering, is an expert in photonics and plasmonics whose lab deals in biomedicine, advanced display technology, solar power and many other applications that depend on the nanoscale manipulation of light. Recent breakthroughs have led to human trials of a novel cancer treatment and have suggested the possibility of an invisibility cloak.

She’ll certainly make tracks for Cambridge, Mass., to be among the inductees in October. “A friend who is also a member told me I can’t miss it,” Halas said. “I’ll never get another chance to see Kenny Barron, Nelson Mandela and Dustin Hoffman all in the same place.”

Other marquee names among this year’s group of 212 new fellows and 19 foreign honorary members are James Earl Jones, Marilyn Horne and Emmylou Harris.

Doerr ’73, who earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Rice, is a venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers whose interests as an entrepreneur and philanthropist include innovative green technology, urban public education, poverty abatement and the advancement of women as leaders. He was an early champion of Google and Amazon, among many other companies.

Doerr, Rice’s commencement speaker in 2007, and his wife, Ann ’75, recently donated $15 million through their Beneficus Foundation to establish the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership.
Davis ’65, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based health care think tank, is a former assistant professor of economics at Rice who earned both her undergraduate and doctoral degrees here, the latter in 1969.

A friend who is also a member told me I can’t miss it. I’ll never get another chance to see Kenny Barron, Nelson Mandela and Dustin Hoffman all in the same place.
                                                                 — Naomi Halas

Before joining the fund, she chaired the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she also was a professor of economics. She was deputy assistant secretary for health policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1977 to 1980, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a visiting lecturer at Harvard. In 1991, Rice recognized her achievements with its Distinguished Alumni Award.

Davis returned to Rice last year to speak at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s “Campaign 2008: The Issues Considered” event on health care reform.

Halas wasn’t aware she’d been nominated to join the academy, and she admitted she didn’t know the particulars of how her name rose to the top of the list. “But certainly the area we work in — nanoparticles and light — has become a hot topic in nanoscience,” she said. “It has really exploded in the last year or two. I think that probably played an important part.”

Halas appreciates the challenge of keeping pace with her peers, especially since being named an associate editor of Nano Letters, the most highly cited journal in nanoscience and nanotechnology. “This area has absolutely caught on fire across a bunch of different disciplines because it’s very useful,” she said. “So I get to enjoy the burden of the success of this field. There’s a lot of great new work coming out every single week.”