Materials research is an interdisciplinary field which involves study of the synthesis, properties and structure of a wide range of materials, many of practical or technological importance. The field draws contributions from condensed matter physics, chemistry and engineering and, more recently, from biology. Condensed matter physics studies the "condensed" phases that appear whenever the number of constituents in a system is extremely large and the interactions between them are strong. Condensed phases range from normal solids and to the Bose-Einstein condensate found in certain atomic systems at very low temperatures. Also included are the superconducting phase exhibited by conduction electrons in certain materials, or the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic phases of electron spins on atomic lattices. Solid-state physics is now considered to be one of the main sub-disciplines of condensed matter physics.
Complex fluids include systems such as colloids, foams, slurries, emulsions, membranes, and polymer melts. Researchers at ISAT Hall are studying such questions as how inter-particle interactions influence the rheological properties of such fluids, and the dynamics and lateral structure of model biological membranes.
|Inelastic neutron scattering in Xerogel.|
The Low Energy Neutron Source (LENS) is a major asset for conducting condensed matter research at ISAT Hall. When neutrons are scattered from matter, the resulting angular and velocity distributions of the scattered neutrons can be interpreted to determine where atoms are located and how they move. Neutrons interact with matter in a unique manner that allows them to identify hydrogen and other light atoms among heavy atoms, making them very useful for the study of biological macromolecules and man-made polymers, both of which contain substantial amounts of hydrogen. This feature also made it possible for neutrons to make the first determination of the crystal structure of yttrium-barium-copper oxide (YBCO), the first of the so-called "high-temperature" superconducting ceramics". YBCO wires may someday be used to increase the energy efficiency of electric motors, generators, transmission lines, transformers, and magnet-containing devices, such as particle accelerators for research, medical diagnostic machines, and levitated, high-speed trains. Most of what we know about the atomic level magnetic structure of materials has also been obtained using neutron scattering.
At LENS, neutron scattering will be used primarily to study large-scale (1 -1000nm) structure of materials. Paul Sokol uses neutron scattering in several studies including the collective excitations in confined quantum liquids, the momentum distribution of hydrogen on surfaces, the microscopic structure of confined solids, wetting on nonstructural surfaces, the dynamics of hydrogen in reduced dimensionality, and the properties of hydrogen storage materials.
Thin and multi-layered films represent prototypical examples of nano-structured materials whose structure and properties can be easily controlled through layer-by-layer growth through vacuum, chemical, or electro-deposition processes. The growth can be used to tune the composition of the material at length scales comparable to the fundamental physical lengths that determine a material's properties. For instance, in the Giant Magnetoresistance (GMR) effect, it is possible to make a magnetic field sensor by separating two magnetic materials by a non-magnetic layer that is thin enough for electrons traveling between the two magnetic layers to maintain memory of their quantum mechanical phase and momentum. The GMR effect has provided a rich variety of phenomena to unravel, and the magnetic recording industry is now completely dominated by GMR technology for its read heads. Researchers at ISAT Hall are interested in such questions as how you can quantify the disorder at interfaces in these materials (and how that disorder is correlated from one interface to the next), as well as how that disorder influences the properties of the material.