Using a $1 million grant awarded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the University of Houston researchers are involved in the discovery of novel materials.
The novel materials include better superconducting materials capable of revolutionizing electricity generation, transmission and storage, new thermoelectric materials holding promise for greenhouse gas reduction, and a new class of materials called super-thermal-conductors to make more robust micro- and nano-electronics.
This could have a major impact on modern technology and will move material research to a higher level.
Paul Chu, a co-principal investigator of the grant. Chus is also the T.L.L. Temple Chair of Science and founding director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH).
Another co-principal investigator of the grant is Bing Lv, who serves as a research assistant professor at TcSUH. Lv will take the position of a tenure-track assistant professor of physics at the University of Texas at Dallas this fall. A unique instrument developed by Chu and UH colleagues using a 2014 grant from the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program at the Department of Defense (DOD) and other TcSUH-developed instrument will play a key role in this research work.
Around $1.8 million was collected, including the DOD grant and money from private endowments, to design and develop the instrument capable of synthesizing and investigating different properties of various materials in situ microscopically. The design is over and Chu stated that a build order will be submitted at the earliest.
The three-pronged effort for advanced materials includes:
- A new class of material called super-thermal-conductors - The research team will work on the development of a cost-effective material exhibiting a thermal conductivity similar to diamonds, using boron arsenide.
- More powerful and efficient thermoelectric materials that can generate electricity by making use of the current flow from a warmer area to a cooler area. These materials capture “waste” heat generated by electronic, industrial and other processes and produce electricity, thereby reducing the dependency on fossil fuels or any other energy source.
- Innovative superconductors exhibiting higher critical current densities (Tc) and higher transition temperatures (Jc). These materials show superconducting properties at elevated temperatures. The work will be based on the recent discoveries of other researchers on non-bulk superconductivity with Tc up to 100K in iron-based superconductors such as FeSe ultrathin films and rare-earth doped CaFe2As2(Cal22) single crystals. The researchers will also explore recently reported possible superconductivity beyond 200K.
Although the reliability of existing thermoelectric materials is not under question, their efficiency is a concern in certain applications. The research team plans on producing single crystals of intermetallic magnesium alloy Mg2(Sn,Ge) and other associated compounds with improved efficiency and power, and exploring the interfacial effect and underlying causes.
Using computational analysis, researchers at UH and Boston College theoretically predicted the applicability of boron arsenide for creating super-thermal-conductors. As part of the effort, boron arsenide crystals were grown by Lv. Improving the thermal conductivity of boron arsenide and other associated compounds to reach the theoretical levels will be the focus point of the new research.
This could transform both micro- and nano-electronics owing to the fact of generation of dangerous levels of heat by the microelectronic chips in miniature devices, said Chu. A material capable of drawing away the heat rapidly paves the way for packing powerful electronic chips together, thereby optimizing power and function. Chu went on to say that if the research on these novel materials succeeds, it could revolutionize science, and civilian and military life.
“It will revolutionize the industry,” Chu said. “Whatever you do with electricity, it would get better.”