Designing materials nature never intended
General Overview: The semiconductors used in devices ranging from cellphones to laptops are based on a very small number of thermally stable materials. To address this limitation and create a much broader array of semiconductor materials, researchers at the Wisconsin MRSEC, along with collaborators from Bari, Italy, have invented new methods for growing semiconductors that involve precise control of the motion and placement of atoms on a growing surface at low temperature. In this process, the atoms become ‘frozen in’ place at room temperature, thus enabling access to a much broader range of semiconductor compositions than can be accessed using thermally stable materials. The group has shown that key properties of the semiconductors – such as the so-called bandgap – can be engineered in ways that were previously not possible. These new metastable materials are being explored for use in communications, sensing and solar power.