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Chen and Drabold receive $500K National Science Foundation grant for materials research

Andrea Gibson | Sep 11, 2015
Ohio University physicists David Drabold, left, and Gang Chen, right, have worked together for almost a decade to understand new technology materials.
Ohio University physicists David Drabold, left, and Gang Chen, right, have worked together for almost a decade to understand new technology materials. Photo credit: Andrea Gibson/Ohio University.

A new flash memory technology is emerging in the marketplace that is three times faster and more energy efficient than current devices. The technology is based on a material called a solid electrolyte glass that has several advantages over the silicon materials used in electronics to date, according to Ohio University physicists Gang Chen and David Drabold.

“It’s incredibly stable and incredibly fast—that’s why it’s also very useful,” Drabold says.

The material holds one mystery, however, which is exactly how it conducts its electric charge. Scientists have discovered that if they place positive and negative electrodes on either side of a sample of the glass, it appears that a pathway of silver atoms creates a conductive channel for electricity.

But Chen and Drabold aren’t convinced that this model is correct.

The physicists have secured a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to characterize the structure and properties of the conducting pathway in solid electrolyte glasses in order to better understand these promising materials.

“People already have made devices out of this material, but how does the technology work and how can basic scientists make improvements on it?” Drabold asks.

Chen and Drabold have worked together for almost a decade to explore similar questions about phase-change materials, a competitor to the solid electrolyte glasses in the technology materials field. One of their strengths is their ability to move back and forth between Drabold’s modeling of the material structure and Chen’s lab experiments on the materials to advance discoveries.

The pair will experiment on a device they will make out of the material, which they will characterize further using microscopes at Ohio University and the X-ray nanobeam at the Argonne National Laboratory, Chen says.

Conducting research at a national laboratory will be an educational opportunity for the graduate and undergraduate students involved with the project, the scientists say. The grant also will fund two new undergraduate summer research internships to support the work.

In addition, starting in 2016 the award will fund a workshop for youth with special needs attending the Summer Fun for Special Kids Camp, organized by the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Athens City Schools, Athens-Meigs Educational Service Center, HAVAR, Inc., and Appalachian Family CADRE. The workshop will encourage kids with autism to explore and pursue information technology careers.