Film icon: Eom receives Vannevar Bush faculty fellowship to study new class of thin films

Photo of Chang-Beom Eom

Chang-Beom Eom. Photo credit: UW-Madison College of Engineering.

The Department of Defense has selected Chang-Beom Eom, a professor of materials science and engineering and physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to receive a 2020 Vannevar Bush faculty fellowship. The five-year, single-investigator award includes $3 million in funding to support basic research with the potential for transformative impact.

The fellowship will allow Eom to investigate the flip side of perovskite oxides, the materials he’s worked with over the last decade. Perovskite materials have a specific crystal structure or placement of atoms. Eom has pioneered methods to layer different types of perovskite oxides with other materials to produce thin-film heterostructures that have unique electrical and magnetic properties at the interfaces of those layers. These types of layered structures could lead to major leaps in electronics, data storage devices and other applications.

In this new work, Eom plans to investigate antiperovskite materials, in which the placement of positively and negatively charged ions in the crystal structure are the opposite of those in perovskites. He plans to produce thin films and complex heterostructures of these materials.

Eom’s initial investigations into the growth and properties of antiperovskite thin films indicate several exciting directions that promise discoveries in materials physics rivaling those from perovskites.

“This is a new family of quantum materials,” Eom says. “There are clear directions, but several unknowns; the Vannevar Bush faculty fellowship provides a solid framework enabling exploration and discovery in these systems.”

It’s hard to say which properties of the new materials will be most promising, but Eom believes they offer immediate new opportunities for spintronics. While electronics deals with the charge of electrons moving through a circuit, spintronics is based on a fundamental quantum property of electrons called spin. By measuring and manipulating the spin state of electrons, which can either be “up” or “down,” it’s possible to improve on the silicon transistors that currently power most of the digital world.

The large award will allow Eom to recruit multiple researchers to work solely on this project. It will also allow him to invest in equipment to synthesize the antiperovskite material, as well as tools that will enable him to characterize and image the unique crystals. “It’s a five-year term, so it means that we can make a plan for pursuing bigger and longer-term ideas,” says Eom.

While he’s excited to embark on this new branch of research, Eom is equally enthusiastic about getting a new generation of engineers involved in the work. “Hopefully this project will lead to a lot of interesting discoveries over the next five years,” he says. “I also hope this will be a good project for my students and postdocs, and they can use the training, experience, knowledge and whatever we discover to benefit their careers, too.”

Eom is the Raymond R. Holton Chair for Engineering and Theodore H. Geballe Professor at UW-Madison.

Author: Jason Daley