Past events

The Zepler Institute Distinguished Speaker Lecture Series presents:

The Alchemy of Vacuum

Hybridising Light and Matter

Prof Thomas W. Ebbesen, USIAS, University of Strasbourg, France

Strong coupling of light and matter can give rise to a multitude of exciting physical effects through the formation of delocalised hybrid light-matter states. When molecular materials with high transition dipole moments are placed in the confined fields of metallic microcavities or surface plasmons, Rabi splittings approaching 1 eV are observed due to the interaction with the vacuum electromagnetic field. This leads to fundamental changes in the properties of the coupled system even in the dark.

While strong coupling has been extensively studied due to the potential it offers in physics such as room temperature Bose-Einstein condensates and thresholdless lasers, the implications for molecular and material science have remained mostly unexplored. After introducing the fundamental concepts, examples of modified properties under strong coupling, such as enhanced charge transport in organic semiconductors and non-radiative energy transfer, will be given to illustrate the broad potential of light-matter states.


Thomas W. Ebbesen was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1954. He was educated in the United States and France, receiving his bachelor degree from Oberlin College and his PhD from the Curie University in Paris. He then did research in both the US and Japan, most notably at NEC, before returning to France in 1999 to help build a new institute at the University of Strasbourg. He is currently the head of the Center for Frontier Research in Chemistry and the Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Studies ( He holds the chair of physical chemistry of light-matter interactions.

The author of many papers and patents, Ebbesen has received numerous awards for his pioneering research on nanostructured materials including the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience for his transformative contributions to nano-optics. He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and, the French Academy of Science.