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Personal profile

Personal profile

Professor Jain received his B.Tech. from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai and his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Georgia Tech. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and a Miller Fellow at UC Berkeley, following which he joined the University of Illinois faculty. He has affiliations with the Materials Research Lab, the Department of Physics and the Beckman Institute. His research focuses on the understanding and control of light-matter interactions on the nanoscale and the use of confined light for artificial photosynthesis and imaging atomistic dynamics of complex solids and catalysts.

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

Professional Information

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 selective formation of energy-dense chemical bonds.

ii) We image with unprecedented resolution chemical reactions on surfaces or in nanoparticles and uncover their mechanistic pathways.

iii) We design materials and coax them into exhibiting non-natural optical or optoelectronic phenomena.

In summary, we are learning how to control and harness light as a source of energy and as a means to control the attributes and function of advanced materials.

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.

Honors & Awards

Guggenheim Fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2022)
Leo Hendrik Baekeland Medal, American Chemical Society, North Jersey Section (2021)
Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow, National Academy of Sciences (2021)
2021 Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists Finalist and Medalist (2020&21)
Elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2020)
Science News Magazine Ten Scientists to Watch, SN10 (2020)
2020 Alumni Scholar
Alumni Scholar (2020)
Campus Distinguished Promotion Award (2020)
Defense Science Study Group (2020-22)
Beilby Medal and Prize (2019)
Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (2019)
Discovery Fund Award, Department of Chemistry (2018)
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2018)
Highly Cited Researcher, Clarivate Analytics (2018)
Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholar (2018-)
American Vacuum Society Prairie Chapter Early Career Award (2017)
Campus Distinguished Promotion Award, UIUC (2017)
Center for Advanced Studies Beckman Fellow (2017)
I. C. Gunsalus Scholar (2017-18)
Kavli Emerging Leader in Chemistry and Lectureship, ACS (2017)
Most Cited Researchers in ChemE as per Elsevier Scopus (2016)
3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award (2015)
Journal of Physical Chemistry C Lectureship (2015)
National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2015)
School of Chemical Sciences Faculty Teaching Award (2015)
Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (2014)
American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award (2014)
Arnold and Mabel O. Beckman Young Investigator Award (2014)
Dupont Young Professor Award (2013)
List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students (Fall 12, 15, 16, 19; Spring 14, 15, 18, 20, 21)

Office Address

Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois
A224 CLSL, Box 16-6
600 South Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801

Office Phone


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