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Chemists’ New Effort Aims to Optimize Materials by Exploiting their Defects

Chemists’ New Effort Aims to Optimize Materials by Exploiting their Defects

A multi-university team involving Sean Roberts of The University of Texas at Austin will receive National Science Foundation support to establish the NSF Phase 1 Center for Adapting Flaws into Features (CAFF) at Rice University. The Center's goal is to exploit chemical defects that show the potential for unique reactivity to optimize the structural and electronic properties of materials.

The new effort will involve research collaborations to investigate nanoscale chemical phenomena and optimize the structures and electronic properties of materials. In its first phase, the three-year award will allow Rice's Christy Landes, UT Austin's Sean Roberts, former UT Austin faculty member Peter Rossky (a theorist now at Rice) and other members of the team to make their case for a longer-term Phase II award to explore "high-risk" ideas and new approaches toward transformative technologies. Scientists from Stanford University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Stony Brook University and the University of Wisconsin are also involved.

The center intends to take advantage of what the researchers call "the messy reality" of microscopic flaws in materials to make better catalysts and coatings and more efficient electronics. Flaws can be as simple as a missing atom in a 2D lattice that allows small molecules through, or a mismatched arrangement of atoms at the interface of two materials that affects how electricity flows between them.

"Speaking as a materials chemist, it's rare to make a material that lacks flaws on the nanoscale level," Roberts said. "Often, these flaws can fully be responsible for a material's unique function. I'm really excited that my lab will be partnering with others to come up with new techniques for imaging flaws and determining how they impact how materials perform as catalysts and light-harvesting devices. With that improved understanding, we can work to tweak our synthetic approaches for developing materials that can truly adapt flaws into intentional design features."

The team's expertise in advanced microscopy and spectroscopy makes its members uniquely suited to characterize molecular reactions with an eye toward optimization.

The Phase 1 grant for $1.8 million was provided through the NSF's Centers for Chemical Innovation Program.

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Saturday, 18 September 2021

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