Thomas Ebbesen Technological Innovation Liliane Bettencourt (2017-2018)


Thomas W. Ebbesen is a franco-norwegian physical chemist born in Oslo, Norway, in 1954. He is currently the director of USIAS, the Institute for Advanced Study of the University of Strasbourg, and the International Center for Frontier Research in Chemistry.

Thomas Ebbesen received his bachelor degree from Oberlin College, USA, and a PhD from the University of P. & M. Curie in Paris in the field of photo-physical chemistry. He then worked at the Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory before joining the NEC Fundamental Research Laboratories in Japan in 1988 where his research shifted first to novel carbon materials such as fullerenes (C60), graphene and carbon nanotubes. After discovering how to mass-produce carbon nanotubes, he and his colleagues measured many of their unique features such as their mechanical and wetting properties. For his pioneering and extensive contribution to the field of carbon nanotubes, he shared the 2001 Agilent Europhysics Prize with Sumio Iijima, Cees Dekker and Paul McEuen.

While working at NEC, Ebbesen discovered a new optical phenomenon. He found that, contrary to the then accepted theory, it was possible to transmit light extremely efficiently through subwavelength holes milled in opaque metal films under certain conditions. The phenomenon, known as extraordinary optical transmission, involves surface plasmons. It has raised fundamental questions and is finding applications in broad variety of areas from chemistry to opto-electronics. Ebbesen has received several awards for the discovery of the extraordinary optical transmission such as the 2005 France Télécom Prize of the French Academy of Sciences and the 2009 Quantum Electronics and Optics Prize of the European Physical Society. In 2014, he also shared the Kavli Prize for Nanoscience with Stefan Hell and Sir John Pendry for their transformative contributions to the field of nano-optics.

His current research is focused on strong light-matter coupling and its implications for the properties of molecules and materials.


  • NEC Scientific Research Prize, 1992
  • Agilent Europhysics Prize, EPS, 2001
  • Randers Research Prize, 2001
  • Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, 2003
  • Prix France Télécom of the French Academy of Sciences, 2005
  • Member of the Institut Universitaire de France, 2005
  • Quantum Electronics and Optics Prize, EPS, 2009
  • Tomassoni Prize, Rome, 2009
  • Schola Physica Romana, Sapienza University, Rome, 2009
  • Dr. Scient. H. C., University of Southern Denmark, 2009
  • Foreign member of the French Academy of Science, 2009
  • Foreign member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and Arts, 2011
  • Kavli Prize in Nanoscience, 2014
  • Prix Special of the French Physics Society, 2014
  • Honorary Doctorate, Oberlin College, USA, 2015
  • Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, France, 2017
  • Lauréat d'une bourse du programme ERC Advanced Grants 2017 avec le projet MOLUSC, 2017