Physical and Materials Sciences, Energy and the Environment

Economic and environmentally sustainable technologies will require new approaches to chemical science and technology; Stanford scientists are leading this charge with the molecular design of materials that can be produced economically with minimal environmental impact, but which are also designed to ensure that they can be recovered, reused and reintegrated at the end of their useful life. Powered by an exceptional and diverse array of institutes, centers and training programs, Stanford scientists are developing new physical tools, new materials and new strategies to relate atomic and molecular behavior to the macroscopic behavior of materials, the interaction of light with matter, and the dynamics and energetics of bond rearrangements that are critical to new energy conversion technologies.


  • Physical Science, Analysis and Measurement.  Stanford chemists are pioneering new ways to quantify measurements of atomic and molecular behavior, and to access the properties of matter at size scales ranging from single molecules to macroscopic materials, and time scales from picoseconds to hours. Our scientists are driving these advances with emerging experimental and theoretical approaches that can interrogate matter with extraordinary sensitivity and precision.  Stanford chemists are studying the design and use of new analytical tools that promise to revolutionize trace chemical analyses, for example revealing biomolecules within a cell; the dynamics of chemical reactions, such as the electrostatic forces behind enzyme function; and ultrafast processes, including split-second changes in molecular shape that alter function.
  • Sustainable Materials.  Stanford chemists lead at the forefront of synthesizing and studying novel materials originating from renewable resources.  We are developing groundbreaking electrochemical strategies for catalytically extracting electrons from chemical fuels and injecting those electrons into carbon dioxide as a means of storing chemical energy. We are creating new chemical intermediates from sunlight and carbon dioxide that allow for the synthesis of commodity chemicals through new routes with minimal carbon footprint.
  • Energy.   Stanford chemists are developing new materials to power economical and clean energy cycles that can be available to all. We synthesize new materials that can capture sunlight and transform it into electricity, materials that can store and deliver that energy as needed, and materials that can miminize electricity waste by producing more efficient lighting and better indoor thermal management. Through extensive collaborations, Stanford chemists are involved in every step of realizing these technologies, from material design and fundamental property measurements to device fabrication and evaluation under operating conditions.
  • Theory.   Stanford chemists are developing new computational techniques and theories that allow unprecedented insights into electronic characteristics of materials, as well as cutting-edge atomistic simulations of molecular behavior from the simplest of atomic species up to molecular dynamics of complex living systems. These collective technologies allow us to address electron dynamics and molecular behaviors which are often not experimentally accessible, while also informing new directions in experimental studies and identifying new chemical reactions. Ongoing studies examine how the behavior of individual molecules translates into macroscopic properties as well as how natural and synthetic materials can be integrated and used in energy conversion technologies.
  • Nanomaterials and nanoelectronics.  Stanford chemists are developing nanostructured wiring schemes and self-assembly methods for the construction of whole circuits of wired molecules.  Ongoing efforts include solid-state and soft biological materials with well-defined atomic structures, creating new materials for novel chemical and environmental sensors.
  • Catalysis.   Stanford chemists are designing new catalysts inspired by natural enzymes, creating the building blocks for novel approaches to chemical synthesis that will enable greener technologies and industrial production.