With a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Stephen D. Wilson is on his way to finding the 21st century’s silicon, a key element used in the semiconductors of today’s electronics. His latest project aims to grow new exotic materials capable of driving technological and scientific advances to new levels.
“I was absolutely thrilled when I found out about the award,” said Wilson, an assistant professor in the materials department who joined the UCSB faculty last fall. “This project is built around ideas that have kept me up at night thinking for a very long time. So, personally, it’s an opportunity to realize an obsession, and it’s something that will influence my research far into the future. I’m honored to have the Keck Foundation’s support, and I’m excited about getting started.”
With the goal of designing a refined ultrahigh-purity crystal growth process once used for making silicon, Wilson and his team are building new hardware capable of using the same process to produce crystals of volatile and high-pressure stabilized oxides. These targeted compounds represent a new frontier of materials that theoretical research predicts will lead to a multitude of new quantum states. At the same time, however, scientific progress is limited by lack of access to new high-purity crystals.
According to Wilson, the ability to grow new high-purity crystals of inorganic materials has historically not only driven the development of materials underlying many current technologies but also fueled the engine of discovery at the frontiers of electronic/quantum phase behavior.
“What we propose to do is reimagine the concept of the floating zone furnace developed for the semiconductor industry more than 50 years ago,” Wilson said. “These furnaces were built for industrial applications and scientists have merely adapted them.”
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