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Nanoscale "Club Sandwiches" Key to New Class of Ferroelectric Materials Designed by Drexel University Engineer

April 20, 2012

Drexel University’s Dr. James Rondinelli, an assistant professor in the department of Materials Science and Engineering, has developed a method of constructing new electrically switchable  materials through a form of atomic alchemy that resembles microscopic sandwich making. The resultant material could find use in a variety of applications including video game consoles, transit passes and medical imaging technology.

Rondinelli, in collaboration with Dr. Craig Fennie, an assistant professor of applied engineering at Cornell University, has designed this new class of ferroelectric materials by making nanoscale composites of two chemically different oxides. These atomic scale “club sandwiches” are formed by combining two compounds, neither of which initially display ferroelectric behavior, and combining them to produce a new hybrid material that shows that property.

“Take two compounds, mix them together and arrange the atomic layering of the structure in an ordered fashion,” Rondinelli said.  “In this way we can create artificial materials – new compounds – that display an emergent property that neither of them possessed originally.”

This particular ferroelectric research is being implemented in a wide array of memory technologies, where data bits are stored in the switchable electric dipoles that distinguish ferroelectric materials from other material families, including video game consoles. Similar materials have already been integrated into the radio-frequency identification tags on transit passes and they are used in ultrasound medical imaging technologies.

Rondinelli’s design guidelines offer the experimental and industrial scientific communities a step-by-step prescription to create these compounds, resulting in new materials.

“The idea is that we have relatively inexpensive computational tools which are powerful enough to guide the synthesis of new materials. In essence, we have significantly cut the time that it would take to make these materials discoveries using traditional experimental approaches.”

The results of this progressive research are presented to the scientific community through a publication in the journal Advanced Materials to help further materials discoveries. Rondinelli’s research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences and Drexel University’s Office of the Provost.