J-Lab merges exploratory experiments and computation with data-driven methods to define new theoretical foundations that better explain processes occurring away from equilibrium, like the behavior of groups of atoms under externally applied electric and electromagnetic fields. We apply this understanding to devise novel, energy-efficient methods to manufacture materials (like 3D printing of ceramics). Our long-term goal is to precisely engineer a broad palette of functional materials and architectures using external fields.
These inter-connected research thrusts are explained below:
THRUST 1: SYNTHESIS SCIENCE
The goal of this thrust is to achieve a better understanding of electromagnetic field-assisted synthesis. In particular, we develop x-ray synchrotron based techniques to precisely quantify local changes in atomic structure to understand if and how defects may influence these processes and stabilize structures away from thermodynamic equilibrium. Synthesis and field-assisted methods are inherently time-dependent, which can make it challenging to draw conclusions without dynamically monitoring atomic structure while the field is being applied. So, along with ex-situ experiments, we design “one of a kind” instrumentation to perform seminal in-situ experiments, which can monitor local atomic structure during nanoparticle synthesis, under field application.
Most relevant publications (all open access):
THRUST 2: ENERGY EFFICIENT CERAMIC MANUFACTURING
Ceramic growth and crystallization currently requires high temperatures (500-2500 °C) making these processes highly energy intensive. Additionally, current ceramic manufacturing processes emit particulate matter and toxic gases, several orders of magnitude over the national EPA average. We are currently applying electric and microwave fields to engineer a novel platform that additively manufactures or “3D prints” ceramics at low temperatures. Additive manufacturing of ceramic materials (e.g., metal oxides, metal carbides), is not as mature a technology as printing of polymers (plastics) and metals. Such 3D printed ceramics find use in areas as diverse as energy, environment, transportation, aerospace, telecommunications, and healthcare.
Most relevant publications:
THRUST 3: MATERIALS FOR ENERGY TECHNOLOGY
We engineer a broad palette of ceramic, polymer and hybrid (polymer-ceramic) nanoscale, hybrid films as interface modifiers in energy storage devices (lithium ion batteries). We deploy both in-situ and operando x-ray synchrotron tools to formulate a fundamental understanding of charge and heat transfer processes at heterojunctions within such devices, which is key for improving operational efficiency and stability. Regular and thin film (solid-state) batteries are two specific areas we are interested in.
Most relevant publications (some open-access):
THRUST 4: DATA-DRIVEN MATERIALS DISCOVERY & AUTONOMOUS SYNTHESIS
Despite recent advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and data science, much of the scientific research process (ubiquitous across fields) remains human-centered i.e., the human researcher plans, conducts, and analyzes experiments and resultant data. This is a labor-intensive, slow, and tedious process that pales in comparison to the integration of automation/technology in industry. In order to accelerate the pace of research and keep up with scientific and societal demand, we must leverage these advances in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), data science, compute power, etc. to invigorate scientific research productivity.
We have built a compact, modular AI-guided robot platform that is capable of simple-to-moderate complexity flow chemistry experiments to synthesize a range of nanomaterials (original design from Cronin Group at University of Glasgow). The robot is built almost entirely of of commercial off-the-shelf parts (McMaster, Amazon, Cole-Parmer, etc.). Select handful of custom parts are 3D printed or laser cut. It is designed to be a modular (with respect to both hardware and software), affordable, high throughput robot that offers a turnkey solution to automating chemical routines and experimentation in the lab. This offers an alternative to traditional approaches to automation in the research lab that have relied on expensive, proprietary hardware and software solutions and/or custom technology tailored to niche applications with consequently limited lifespans and utility. Modularity allows for a plug-and-play approach in modifying the robot to the specific needs of the material synthesis objective (e.g., type of crystal structure, composition, morphology) that offers flexibility, convenience, and cost-effectiveness.
Most relevant publications: