Jason H. Hafner, an associate professor of physics and chemistry at Rice University, received the Welch Foundation’s Hackerman Award in Chemical Research at a ceremony on Jan. 27. The $100,000 award, named in honor of academic scientist Norman Hackerman, is presented annually to recognize a young scientist conducting basic chemistry research in Texas.
Hafner’s interests lie in applying nanomaterials and nanoscale tools to study biological systems. Using an atomic force microscope, he has developed ways of detecting the electrical fields inside a cell’s lipid membrane. By mapping these fields, he hopes to understand how they affect the interactions of small biomolecules with the membrane.
In other work, Hafner and coworkers have modified the surface chemistry of newly discovered metal nanoparticles and studied how they grow and interact with living cells. For example, gold nanostars, with elongated points that absorb and scatter light at varying wavelengths, may be useful for imaging and sensing in cellular systems. When interacting with laser light, these nanostars also create nanobubbles, which can pinpoint and kill cancer cells and thus may have therapeutic applications.
The Texas native grew up near Dallas and attended Trinity University, in San Antonio. He obtained a Ph.D. at Rice, working as a graduate student with the late Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley. After completing postdoctoral work at Harvard University, he returned to Rice as a faculty member in 2001. He is an associate editor of the journal ACS Nano.