Mastering the synthesis of materials is a prerequisite for understanding fundamental mechanisms and processes as well as for the ultimate deployment of new materials in new energy technologies. Thus, synthesis is a key component of ORNL’s materials research programs and includes a broad range of synthetic capabilities such as designing materials with nanoscale features, producing specialized single crystals, and creating complex mesoscale assemblies. For nanoscale materials, bottom-up (self-assembly) as well as top-down (patterning) approaches are pursued, leading to functional nanomaterials for a wide array of applications, such as energy storage and photovoltaics. Block co-polymers can be designed to self-assemble into architectures that have layers, pores and other three-dimensional features. The ability to produce unique single crystals and epitaxial structures that are deposited with atomic-level precision is critical for many applications, such as thermoelectrics, superconductors, photovoltatics, scintillator materials, and complex alloys (including high-entropy alloys). Many of these materials are the basis for specialized characterization studies using neutron scattering, electron microscopy and other techniques.
The synthesis of materials with specifically designed composition and microstructure often involves multiple synthesis and processing steps and control at multiple length scales. Examples include the directional solidification of metals to form embedded assemblies of nanopillars, or approaches including mechanical alloying to obtain nanostructured ferritic alloys. A fundamental understanding of the effects of mechanical processes, ion implantation, and heat treatment on the resulting physical and mechanical properties is necessary to achieve the performance of the materials needed for numerous applications. Other areas of synthesis expertise include nanocomposite polymers, mesoporous carbons and graphene, ionic liquids, chelators, and ceramic materials; with applications that include production of high-performance and low-cost carbon fiber for light weight vehicles and insulation, battery electrolytes, highly efficient and specific separations, membranes, and insulators.
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