NSF funds national user facility for $17.8 million to develop 2-D crystals

Artistic representation of growth and characterization of 2D materials -- tungsten disulfide on graphene Image: Terrones Lab / Penn State
Walt Mills

The National Science Foundation announced today (March 4) the award of $17.8 million over five years to Penn State to fund one of only two Materials Innovation Platform national user facilities in the country. These MIP awards are the first of what will become a national infrastructure to support key scientific research areas.

The funds will be used to acquire or build specialized equipment used to grow bulk and ultrathin crystalline chalcogenide materials; to staff the user facility with crystal growth and theory/simulation experts; and to support the use of the platform by both internal Penn State researchers and external users from across the U.S. Called the Two-Dimensional Crystal Consortium (2DCC), the new facility at Penn State will foster the growth of a national community of users who develop new materials for next-generation electronics -- devices that are faster, use less energy, and can be built on flexible substrates, as well as other applications.

"This major award from NSF provides further proof of Penn State's continuing leadership in materials research," said Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey. "That our Materials Research Institute was chosen to house one of only two national MIP platforms speaks to the innovative skills of our faculty and the robust infrastructure for materials research at Penn State. This new platform demonstrates the confidence NSF has in our ability to develop novel 2D materials at scale, with the ultimate aim of deployment in devices not yet imagined. Congratulations to Professors Redwing, Samarth and Crespi whose effort and vision epitomize the mission of a land grant university in 2016."

Joan Redwing, professor of materials science and engineeringchemical engineering and electrical engineering, Penn State, will lead the 2DCC with a goal to advance the state-of-the art in the crystal growth of atomically thin two-dimensional materials over wafer-scale areas by employing in-situ characterization techniques to study the crystal growth process and material properties in real time. This kind of crystal growth expertise has been largely lost in the U.S. in recent decades, therefore the need for a national user facility such as the 2DCC-MIP at Penn State and a related MIP led by Cornell University.

"At Penn State, our focus will be on two-dimensional materials that are only a few atoms thick, and specifically on materials called chalcogenides, which are layered compounds that contain elements such as sulfur, selenium and tellurium," Redwing said. "By controlling the growth of these materials on an atomic scale, we will create materials with unique properties and exotic quantum states that offer the potential to revolutionize future electronic technologies. Once we solve the science problems of learning how to deposit these materials over large areas, we will work with industry to commercialize the technology and spark innovation."

MIPs seek to substantially increase the rate at which new materials and new materials phenomena are discovered. The 2DCC at Penn State will follow the "materials by design" concept, combining synthesis, characterization and theory/simulation applied to targeted outcomes to speed up new discoveries. Co-PI Nitin Samarth, professor and George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough department head in physics, will lead the characterization effort, while co-PI Vincent Crespi, distinguished professor of physics, materials science and engineering and chemistry, will lead the theory team, with Redwing leading the synthesis thrust. Joshua A. Robinson, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and associate director of the Center for 2D and Layered Materials, will direct the 2DCC user program, and Eric Hudson, associate professor of physics, will spearhead the 2DCC's efforts in outreach to a broad and diverse community. In all, some 20 Penn State faculty across 6 departments will provide scientific support to users of the facility. A distinguished External Advisory Committee of scientific and industrial leaders, including Chris Palmstrøm, Greg Boebinger, Stefano Curtarolo, Keith Evans and Anupama Kaul, will provide key links to the broader community.

"A truly unique aspect of the 2DCC is that it will offer a user-oriented facility that tightly integrates the state-of-the-art in all three critical areas: synthesis, characterization and modeling," said Samarth. "We aim to provide an environment where a user with compelling ideas, but lacking the appropriate crystal growth capabilities in her own lab, can advance the scientific frontiers of 2D materials. Penn State is well-positioned to deliver such a user experience because the 2DCC is supported by world-class expertise in 2D materials, built up through stellar faculty hires over the past two decades."

The MIP 2DCC's current capabilities for crystal growth will enable it to begin to immediately deliver samples to the wider community of crystal researchers. Within a year, according to Redwing, the facility will be open to train external users. As with other national facilities, access to 2DCC will be based on competitive proposals judged by an external team of experts.

For more information, see www.mri.psu.edu/materials-innovation-platform