An outstanding global challenge for the scientific community is to leverage the many recent advances in nano materials synthesis, simulation, and characterization to produce pronounced benefits to society in the form of increased energy efficiency and production. Plasmonic and excitonic collective effects in nano structured systems such as semiconductor quantum wells, semiconducting quantum dots, metallic nano crystals, and nano-composite conducting oxides provide a rich field of ingredients for tunable interaction between light and charge carriers in materials. A key component in selecting between the many rich properties available in photo responsive materials is to close the feedback loop between materials synthesis, characterization of the nanometer scale variations in chemical composition and physical morphology, and the emergent electronic and optical properties. During my talk, I will discuss my results designing and characterizing excitonic devices fabricated in semiconductor coupled quantum wells. I will also present recent measurements from the Molecular Foundry Nano Surfaces project characterizing the effects of nanocrystal size and interfacial binding environment on the properties of colloidally synthesized nano-particles and nano-composites. In particular, I will discuss the complementary benefits of time-resolved optical imaging spectroscopy, electrical scan probe techniques, x-ray spectroscopy, and scanning nano-Auger measurements when used to determine material composition and properties in two dimensional and one dimensional nano-structured materials. A thorough understanding of the physical properties illuminated by these techniques is critical in developing a materials synthesis rule book that connects the physical properties of the materials both as synthesized, as well as after cycling through real world use conditions, to the desirable bulk fabrication level properties that are required for massive scale reproducible results in energy related installations.