While the supercomputer beckons to other faculty at NC State, it is ORNL’s powerful microcopes that appeal to Dr. Gerd Duscher, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State.

Duscher was the first to sign up for a joint faculty appointment with ORNL, and now splits his time between teaching and research in NC State’s materials science department and ORNL’s Solid State Division. “Oak Ridge has two of the three highest resolution microscopes in the world,” says Duscher. “We can look directly at interfaces between atoms.”

Employing a technique called “z-contrast imaging,” Duscher and graduate student Sergei Lopatin are using ORNL’s scanning tunneling electron microscope (STEM) and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) to look at the atomic interfaces between materials. The research centers on determining how two different materials order themselves and bond when they come together. The goal is to maximize conductivity, generating the least heat and greatest speed.

Duscher was the first to use the STEM-EELS combination to simulate and interpret chemical bonding. He hopes to eliminate experimental trial and error by understanding the principles behind bonding and electronic states at these interfaces. With this understanding, scientists could develop new materials and understand old ones better, with the ultimate benefit of making semiconductors faster, cheaper and with higher power.

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