Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are currently looking into designing metal oxide thin film that can be connected to generate clean energy and eventually function as more than just a layer within electronics.

A PhysOrg report specified that minus thin films, there would be no modern electronics, neither high-quality mirrors.  

The semiconductor chips applied in mobile phones and computers depend on thin films made of different materials, including metal oxides that have a least a single metal and oxygen.

Such chips have applications in sensing, catalysis, as well as energy storage. Developing thin films that can have the liquid layers in batteries replaced or certain chemical transformations promoted necessitates understanding the materials at an atomic level.

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Science Times - Atomic ‘Spray Painting’ Used for Controlling Thin Films; An Approach Essential for Clean Energy Production
(Photo: Magnunor on Wikimedia Commons)
This shows an atomic resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy image of a perovskite oxide thin-film system.

The Spray Painting Approach

UrallnewS report said, according to Scott Chambers, PNNL material scientist, and Laboratory Fellow, he likes to think of what they do as "spray painting target with atoms."

His team applies a technique, also known as molecular beam epitaxy, for having elements deposited atom by atom atop a solid crystal.

This approach allows researchers to make high-quality, crystalline thin films with accurate control over their structure and composition.

For instance, some thin films frequently conduct electricity while others do not. By piling different films, researchers can change the manner they are responding to an electrical current.

PNNL materials scientist Peter Sushko, on the other hand, said the ability to develop advanced energy technologies is reliant on how well think layers of materials can be made.

Thin Oxide Films

Devising very thin oxide films with high accuracy needs advanced synthesis equipment. Such equipment is moving to a bigger laboratory in the Energy Sciences Center or ESC of PNNL.

Additionally, the Atomically Precise Materials currently being used by the team utilizes a pair of molecular beam epitaxy systems and one pulsed laser disposition instrument.

The planned addition of one more pulsed laser deposition mechanism will expand the capacity of the team to generate more and different investigational thin films. Essentially, slight changes in thin films can have substantial effects.

PNNL material scientist Le Wang led recent research that attached atomically precise thin films to make stable, high-performance catalysts.

As a result, they found that varying the lanthanum nickel-iron oxide thin films' composition impacts their ability to transform water into oxygen.

Such a reaction is essential for the production of clean energy. More so, LNFO has the potential to lessen the need for or replace costly precious metal-based catalysts.

What Lies Ahead of the Thin Films?

This study published in Nano Letters will carry on at the ESC, where large windows will focus on new high-visibility lab space.

Any individual coming into the ESC lobby can see the researchers making new samples. According to Sushko, they are excited for the window into the science the move will offer visitors to the ESC.

Additionally, in the larger laboratory, on top of instrumentation, everyone in the field is looking forward to being together in just one building.

Next, the scientists are planning to partly replace lanthanum with strontium in similar film systems, developing an oxide with four different metals.

This will help the research group further understand changes in the properties and structures of the complex oxide film. Understanding such processes will lead to new synthesis initiatives to design even better catalysts.

Related information about thin films is shown on Ch-18 Mathematics, Physics, Metallurgy subjects' YouTube video below:


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