Comprehensive Energy and Environment Research

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$2 Million NSF Grant Funds New Materials Research Collaboration

Joshua Goldberger, assistant professor, chemistry and biochemistry, is principal investigator (PI) on a $2 million project funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI). Joseph Heremans, professor, mechanical and aerospace engineering; and physics, is co-PI. 

The four-year study, “Enhancing Electronic and Thermal Properties in Epitopotaxial Ge/Sn Graphane Heterostructures,” looks at controlling and modulating the thermal conductance and thermoelectric properties of germanium and tin by manipulating the materials’ thermal properties on the atomic level.

“Our focus,” Goldberger said, “is to create and understand a new class of materials. These two-dimensional (2D) derivatives of germanium and tin, in which the germanium and tin atoms are bonded in a puckered honeycomb network, feature an additional surface terminating group bonded—alternatingly—above and below every atom.

“By manipulating and controlling the bond on the surface, we can profoundly affect the properties of the honeycomb network, including how it conducts heat. Research such as this pushes the study of heat transport to the atomic-size scale.”

The work also is expected to net new engineering tools for thermal processes including the control of heat flows. Heremans said, “That's both enticing and compelling when you realize that roughly 93 percent of the energy we use comes from thermal processes.”

Goldberger’s expertise in constructing synthetic chemicals at the atomic-size is critical to the research team’s ability to verify, predict and establish how the bonded mechanisms might very well become the next generation of electronic and thermoelectric devices.

Actually, an undergraduate researcher in Goldberger's lab—chemistry major Elisabeth Bianco—first created a single layer of germanium atoms terminated with hydrogen atoms. The crystalline version of the material is known as germanane.

Those efforts by the lone chemist among the six other finalists made big news in October 2012, when she won a national nanoscience and nanoengineering competition.

The work of Bianco, now a graduate student at Rice University, has led to further research of the ultrathin material by five of the most senior researchers in the fields of measurements and calculations.

A paper written by Goldberger and Bianco about the creation of germanane was published by the journal ACS Nano last year. 

Read the full article here.

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