New Faculty 2009-10
Domenico Pacifici Assistant Professor of Engineering Credit: Lauren Brennan/Brown University

Domenico Pacifici
Assistant Professor of Engineering

By Richard Lewis  |  September 9, 2009  |  Email to a friend

Domenico Pacifici hopes his research will be transcendent.

The Italian-born researcher earned a Ph.D. in physics but decided to embark on a career in engineering because he wanted to put into practice what he observed in nature.

“At some point, if you want to change the world, you have to apply those cool devices to make an impact, to change society,” he said.

An incoming assistant professor of engineering, Pacifici has concentrated his intellectual prowess in the emerging field of surface plasmonics. The discipline, which studies the direct connection between electrical devices (those that use charge) and photonic devices (those that use light), has been described as important because it potentially offers the speed and bandwidth of optics at the nanosize scale of electronics.

Pacifici’s research interests cover three subject areas: biochemical sensing, solar energy harvesting, and optical communications. With solar power, Pacifici is studying how to make solar panel surfaces thinner yet still able to capture and efficiently convert the gathered sunlight into usable electricity. Currently, the panels are generally about 100 microns thick. Pacifici’s goal is to reduce that by 1000 times (to 100 nanometers thickness).

He has proposed boring tiny holes in the panels to scatter the incoming light, thus maintaining the panel’s capacity to fully absorb sunlight while allowing it to be ultra-thin.

“The question I’m trying to answer is what is the best arrangement of holes in this metallic field?” Pacifici said. “It’s still open.”

Optical communications holds its own promises and challenges. The goal, Pacifici said, is to use photons (light) instead of electrons to carry information. This becomes important in electronic circuits, such as those contained in a chip, which are being asked to transmit growing burdens of information on tinier networks.

“Think about what fiber optics have brought us,” Pacifici explained. “Now scale it down to the dimension of a microprocessor. Now, you can use all the cool features of fiber optics and take advantage of the nice properties of photons at the nanoscale to transfer information at shorter distances, at micro- or millimeters, rather than kilometers.”

The 33-year-old Pacifici and his wife, Claudia Leotta, look forward to joining the community at Brown. A native of Catania, a town in Sicily, Pacifici and his wife are keen on visiting Federal Hill. They’ve heard about the Italian fare.