Thomas Ebbesen received his bachelors from Oberlin College, and a PhD from Pierre and Marie Curie University 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 major 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 Telecom Prize of the French Academy of Sciences and the 2009 Quantum Electronics and Optics Prize of the European Physical Society.
His current research is focused on the physics and chemistry of light-matter interactions at the nanoscale.
In 1999, Thomas Ebbesen joined ISIS founded by Jean-Marie Lehn at the University of Strasbourg, which he headed from 2004 to 2012. He is the director of the International Center for Frontier Research in Chemistry. and the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Study. He is a member of the Institut Universitaire de France, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the French Academy of Science and the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts.
He is married to the pianist Masako Hayashi-Ebbesen. They have two daughters.
- NEC Research Prize 1992
- Randers Prize 2001
- Agilent Europhysics Prize 2001
- Prix France Telecom 2005
- Tomassoni Prize 2009
- Scola Physica Romana Medal 2009
- Quantum Electronics and Optics Prize 2009
- Dr. Scient. H.C., University of Southern Denmark 2009
- T.W. Ebbesen and P.M. Ajayan, Large scale synthesis of carbon nanotubes. Nature 358, 220 (1992)
- M.M.J. Treacy, T.W. Ebbesen and J.M. Gibson, Exceptionally High Young’s Modulus Observed for Individual Carbon Nanotubes. Nature 381, 678 (1996)
- E. Dujardin, T.W. Ebbesen, H. Hiura and K. Tanigaki, Capillarity and wetting of carbon nanotubes. Science 265, 1850 (1994)
- T.W. Ebbesen, H.J. Lezec, H.F. Ghaemi, T. Thio, and P.A. Wolff, Extraordinary optical transmission through sub-wavelength hole arrays. Nature 391, 667 (1998)
- C. Genet and T.W. Ebbesen, Light in Tiny Holes. Nature 445, 39 (2007)