Caltech: Watson Lecture on April 21: Jonas Peters Explores the Science of “Sunlight to Everything”

This April, as part of Earth Week 2021, Caltech’s Watson Lecture Series will highlight groundbreaking research to capitalize on the inexhaustible energy of the sun. Jonas Peters, Bren Professor of Chemistry in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (CCE) and the director of Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute (RSI), will explain why the untapped potential of solar energy is crucial for reducing carbon emissions, decreasing waste, and lessening CO2 emissions; why these goals are essential to mitigating the worst effects of climate change; and how advances in chemistry can make this future possible.

Peters’s lecture, “Sunlight to Everything: Catalyzing a Sustainable Future,” continues the 2020–2021 Watson Lecture season on Wednesday, April 21, at 5 p.m. Pacific Time.

The transformative power of sunlight is why the RSI has created a “Sunlight to Everything” initiative as one of its four central research thrusts. Using sunlight, RSI researchers are imagining how to generate and manage electricity more efficiently; convert it to chemical fuels, materials, and fertilizers; and use it to power water purification. In this lecture, Peters will explain RSI’s research in that arena, including the chase for new catalysts that can convert sunlight into desired chemical feedstocks.

Peters received his BS from the University of Chicago in 1993 and was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Nottingham. He earned his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. Peters first came to Caltech in 1999. He relocated to the MIT Department of Chemistry in 2007 as the W. M. Keck Professor of Energy before returning to become a Caltech Bren Professor of Chemistry in 2010. He was named director of the RSI in 2015.

Peters is known for his work in the development of catalysts and photocatalysts with applications in renewable solar fuel technologies and new bond constructions for organic chemists developing pharmaceuticals. His research in nitrogen fixation for fertilizers and fuels, which involves capturing the abundant nitrogen in the atmosphere within useful chemical compounds, could help lead to the growing use of sustainably sourced, energy-rich ammonia as a liquid fuel to help decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Through the Resnick Sustainability Institute, which was established through support from the philanthropists and entrepreneurs Stewart and Lynda Resnick, Peters is leveraging Caltech’s unique strengths to innovate solutions for a more sustainable planet.

This event is free and open to the public. Advance registration is required. The lecture will begin at 5 p.m. and run approximately 45 minutes, followed by a live audience Q&A with Peters. After the live webinar, the lecture (without Q&A) will be available for on-demand viewing on Caltech’s YouTube channel.

Since 1922, The Earnest C. Watson Lectures have brought Caltech’s most innovative scientific research to the public. The series is named for Earnest C. Watson, a professor of physics at Caltech from 1919 until 1959. Spotlighting a small selection of the pioneering research Caltech’s professors are currently conducting, the Watson Lectures are geared toward a general audience as part of the Institute’s ongoing commitment to benefiting the local community through education and outreach. Through a gift from the estate of Richard C. Biedebach, the lecture series has expanded to also highlight one assistant professor’s research each season.

The Watson Lectures are part of the Caltech Signature Lecture Series, presented by Caltech Public Programming, which offers a deep dive into the groundbreaking research and scientific breakthroughs at Caltech and JPL. For information please visit

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