Molecules near to the surface of a glass move much faster than molecules on the inside – up to a billion times faster. Making glasses often involves adding new molecules from the surface, so high surface mobility is crucial for making materials for cell phone displays, organic solar cells, and drug delivery.
Coatings that prevent fouling are critical in commercial, industrial, and healthcare contexts. Wisconsin MRSEC researchers have developed new spray-based methods to make nanoporous water-repelling films and spray-on ‘slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces’ (SLIPS). These coatings are antifouling to a range of substances and microorganisms and can be produced using scalable, manufacturing-compatible methods. They also developed new antifouling ‘slippery nanoemulsion-infused porous’ (SNIPS) that use water-in-oil nanoemulsions to slowly release encapsulated cargo.
Concepts of topology recently have been brought to bear on materials designed to control sound waves. Sound wavelengths are much longer than light, making acoustic materials easier to synthesize and their behavior easier to measure. Wisconsin MRSEC researchers are using topological acoustic materials to explore topological physics and enable applications in sensing, communication, and energy transport.
The useful properties of chemical compounds are determined by the elements from which they are made and the arrangement of the atoms. However, there are often several ways atoms of the same elements can be arranged to form a solid. Wisconsin MRSEC researchers are particularly interested in a series of compounds formed from rare-earth elements and iridium. One phase, Pr2Ir2O7, is of particular interest because it exhibits novel magnetic phenomena and can open new opportunities in the field of quantum materials.
The creation of novel materials often involves the painstaking and time-consuming synthesis and characterization of a series of samples with small differences. This process is slow and slows the pace of materials innovation. For example, creating sequences of thin layers of metals is an important route to the discovery of new 2D materials for quantum electronics, but it is slowed by the need to explore a large range of thicknesses of the individual layers.
Preparing students for careers inside and outside academia is a key mission for the Wisconsin MRSEC and its Advanced Materials Industrial Consortium (AMIC). AMIC sponsors student-led seed research projects to help students learn essential skills. AMIC companies suggest project areas, then company engineers work with MRSEC students to develop research proposals that leverage the student’s expertise. The AMIC Board selects projects, and students lead the resulting research, managing the budget, junior personnel like undergraduates, and reporting. Company engineers mentor the student leaders.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin MRSEC developed and disseminated inclusive science activity kits. The project started in partnership with a local food pantry as an effort to engage with economically disadvantaged members of the Madison community. Food pantry staff and clients provided crucial insight to make the kits accessible and inclusive, such as including all the necessary materials including common household items like tape and including instructions in Spanish and English.
Jamie Lauer, a Wisconsin (WI) high school teacher, participated in the MRSEC’s cross-cultural Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program in 2019 and 2021. The program is run in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) to give teachers in WI and PR authentic research experiences in labs at UPRM and in MRSEC. During the 2019 RET capstone week, Jamie traveled to PR where she learned about the geography, culture and educational systems of the island. During the virtual 2021 program, Jamie learned about the native Taino people of PR.
The crystallization of complex oxides can be templated by a crystalline seed. Nanoscale crystallization environments lead to the possibility that this process can be employed to create precise arrays of nanoscale materials for electronic, magnetic, and optical applications.