Science Faculty Spotlight: Matthew Sfeir
An accomplished researcher shows students the power of lasers.
Professor Matthew Sfeir, a member of the Graduate Center’s Chemistry, Physics, and Nanoscience programs who is based at our Advanced Science Research Center, wants his students to love lasers as much as he does.
He introduces Nanoscience master’s students to lasers and other cutting-edge topics in his Nano and Micro Photonics courses.
Students in Sfeir’s lab use lasers to research problems in renewable energy, sensing, and light detection. Lasers can heat or cool a material and measure the time it takes to transfer energy with femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) resolution. They can help generate electricity from plastic and produce fuel from water. They can also create quantum states of matter and new colors of light. Many of the lab’s projects also involve nanomaterials, which have sizes and shapes that can be tuned to resonantly interact with visible and infrared light. The research team recently developed next-generation ultrafast laser techniques to facilitate nanomaterials research.
Before starting at CUNY in 2019, Sfeir worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which, like the Advanced Science Research Center, houses world-class shared facilities and emphasizes cross-disciplinary research. There, he used an instrument the size of a building that emits even more light than a laser: a synchrotron. His first project at the synchrotron involved using infrared light to generate electricity in nanometer-sized tubes of carbon. (He also got good at ducking under giant pipes, maneuvering around immense piles of lead bricks, and dodging towers of electronics.) The resulting paper is his proudest professional accomplishment.
Later, Sfeir built his own laser lab at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials. He became fascinated with organic semiconductors and conductors. One of the most notable involves singlet fission molecules, which convert a single unit of light energy into two units of electrical energy. Two prominent papers on this work were published in Nature Materials and Nature Chemistry.
Sfeir’s science career began when he first learned about quantum mechanics as a college freshman. After finding out that science is fun and magical, he decided to keep doing it until someone told him to go away. Amazingly, he jokes, this hasn’t happened yet. His first lab experience involved an instrument the size of a room that shot single atoms at metal surfaces to see if they had any nanoscale-sized imperfections. (They did.) There was no way the scientists in charge were going to let an undergraduate touch this huge, expensive, highly sensitive equipment, so they gave him a laser to fix instead, sparking his ongoing love of lasers.
When not in the lab, Sfeir is probably eating spicy food, doing crossword puzzles, coaching youth soccer, or working out in his garage.