Advanced Materials

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Advanced Materials

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ORNL has the nation’s most comprehensive materials research program and is a world leader in research that supports the development of advanced materials for energy generation, storage, and use. We have core strengths in three main areas: materials synthesis, characterization, and theory. In other words, we discover and make new materials, we study their structure, dynamics and functionality, and we use computation to understand and predict how they will behave in various applications.

From its beginnings in World War II’s Manhattan Project, ORNL has had a distinctive materials science program. Today, materials science research benefits from ORNL’s integration of basic and applied research programs and strong ties among computational science, chemical science, nuclear science and technology, neutron science, engineering, and national security. This broad approach to research is allowing ORNL to develop a variety of new materials for energy applications and transfer these new materials to industry. For example, an understanding of how defects form at the atomic level allows creation of improved materials that approach their theoretical strength, such as radiation-resistant steels for next-generation nuclear reactors and lightweight materials for energy-efficient transportation. In electrical energy storage, we are studying how chemical processes occur at the interface of electrodes and electrolytes and using supercomputers to predict how battery systems will perform. We develop “soft” materials, including polymers and carbon-based materials, used as membranes for batteries, fuel cells, and carbon capture, solar cells, and as precursors for the carbon fiber used in lighter cars and planes. We’ve also discovered ways to improve materials processing, using photon, microwave and magnetic field-assisted processing to increase the performance of new materials while reducing processing costs.   These advances have resulted in a broad portfolio of ORNL materials and technologies in the nuclear, automotive, and structural materials industry.

ORNL researchers are improving analytical tools used to characterize the structure and function of advanced materials, including electron microscopy, scanning probes, chemical imaging, and a variety of neutron scattering capabilities. Many of these capabilities are available through DOE user programs at ORNL, including the two neutron user facilities (the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor), the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, and our microscopy user facility (the Shared Research Equipment User Facility—which will be incorporated in the CNMS later this year). Complementing our experimental research is one of the nation’s largest collections of materials theorists who take full advantage of ORNL’s leadership computational facility to understand and design new materials, as well as processes that occur at materials interfaces. Together, these research capabilities in materials synthesis, characterization, and theory contribute to our leadership in basic and applied materials science that ultimately will lead to new technologies for meeting tomorrow’s energy needs. 

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Latest News

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Rubber meets the road with new ORNL carbon, battery technologies
— OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 27, 2014 – Recycled tires could see new life in lithium-ion batteries that provide power to plug-in electric vehicles and store energy produced by wind and solar, say researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

ORNL scientists uncover clues to role of magnetism in iron-based superconductors
— OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 21, 2014—New measurements of atomic-scale magnetic behavior in iron-based superconductors by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt University are challenging conventional wisdom about superconductivity and magnetism.

Five ORNL scientists rated among world’s most influential
— OAK RIDGE, Tenn., August 1, 2014 – Five Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory physicists, including Deputy for Science and Technology Ramamoorthy Ramesh, have been named by Thomson Reuters as some of the best and brightest of our time.

 
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Recent Research Highlights

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Direct observation of ferroelectric field effect and oxygen vacancy screening at ferroelectric–metal interface
— Scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) studies of ferroelectric–metal interfaces revealed two distinct polarization charge screening mechanisms, with oxygen vacancies compensating negative charge and electrons compensating positive charge.

Magnetic fluctuations are good for superconductivity
— Atomic scale measurements of the strength of the magnetic fluctuations in a series of iron-based superconductors were made using high- resolution electron spectroscopy. Surprisingly, the superconducting transition temperature was higher when the magnitude of the fluctuating iron magnetic moment or “spin” was larger.

Thermopower Enhancement in Designer Oxide Superlattices
— A layer-by-layer design of 2D oxide superlattices with precisely controlled interface compositions has improved the thermopower of oxide thermoelectrics by 300% compared to that of bulk counterparts. Controlling the 2D carrier density through a new materials design strategy is critical for developing highly efficient thermoelectrics.

 
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