Many modern technical applications rely on accurate and precise production of thin films. In current industrial applications, such films are generally deposited at low pressures, using metal evaporation or chemical vapor deposition. These processes require significant energy and equipment investments while coating only a small fraction of the intended surfaces. In solution-based processing methods, thin films can be produced under ambient conditions by directly applying an ink a substrate using simple spin, mist, or laminar-flow coating. Such processing can save energy and capital investment in expensive machinery, while also minimizing the waste associated with indiscriminate coating. By using cluster-based prompt inorganic condensation, (PIC), the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry is advancing the use of chemistry for the production of high-performance materials.

The Center is currently pursuing 9 projects that fall within the following 6 interconnected PIC-related themes:

  • Understanding the fundamental chemistry of inorganic solutions

    The fundamental chemistry of inorganic nanoscale clusters in solid and solution states drives CSMC film and patterning processes. Understanding these basic and essential properties allows for the design of syntheses and control of new precursors for the production of functional materials. This knowledge aids studies of condensation pathways by which films form.

  • Understanding the pathways of prompt inorganic condensation

    Greater understanding of the phenomena that affect the properties of thin films—such as mechanisms responsible for the transition from gel to solid oxide and the effect of counterion exchange on thin film properties—will further the CSMC's ability to tune material properties in a rational, controllable way.

  • Understanding how monovalent ions affect condensation processes

    The grand challenges of the Center motivate expanding CSMC chemistries to a wider range of compositions and pursuing chemical control over a wide range of material properties. To that end, understanding how monovalent ions affect condensation processes will provide greater control over the creation and adjustment of ion transport properties and chemical reactivity of monovalent-ion-containing oxide thin films.

  • Characterizing thin oxide films deposited from solution precursors

    The Center uses complementary electrical and physical/chemical characterization methods to assess the potential of films as alternatives to traditional vacuum processed oxides—as well as to investigate the impact of solution chemistry and processing on the film properties. The following three projects fall within the scope of the thin-films theme:

  • Exploring the use of oxide thin films as photolithographic resists

    The Center brings together numerous research techniques to study compositional and structural variations at near-atomic dimensions. By incorporating light and radiation-sensitive ligands into inorganic cluster solutions, we can induce cluster condensation via nonthermal methods. Such controlled, radiation-induced condensation leads to a change in material solubility that can be used to directly pattern inorganic structures at dimensions smaller than 10 nm.

  • Exploring the unique optical and electrical properties of thin film stacks

    A distinct feature of the films prepared from our aqueous precursors is that they remain chemically reactive, exchanging water and ions with solutions and reacting internally as condensation occurs with loss of water.