Elegantly fabricated functional materials with reduced dimensions occupy a central stage of modern materials research. By uncovering fundamental enabling concepts in growth science and developing advanced synthesis techniques, materials scientists strive to tailor novel materials through dimensional control with the ultimate atomic precision. This scientific enterprise is driven by the realization that, by reducing the dimensionality of the systems, quantum effects within the systems are tuned to be more pronounced, potentially resulting in emergent physical properties of technological significance. This FRG program pioneered in the formulation and development of an innovative concept, termed "electronic growth", stressing the vital importance of quantum mechanically confined motion of the itinerant electrons in defining the overall stability as well as the preferred growth mode of a variety of metal films and nanostructures on different substrates. The far-reaching impact of this new concept lies in its enabling role: It provides the basis on which quantum size effects can be exploited to precisely control the formation of metallic structures; such structures formed in the quantum regime, in turn, are bound to serve as appealing platforms for elucidating intriguing quantum properties. The proposed research emphasis in the new phase will focus on exploration of new frontiers of quantum growth. The central objectives will be to gain property tunability of the metal systems tailored in the quantum regime, developed around three thrusts, each of profound fundamental and practical importance: (a) Superconductivity in Low Dimensional Electron Systems; (b) Tuning Plasmonic Properties in the in the Quantum Regime; and (c) Formation and Catalytic Properties of Quantum Metal Alloys.


This proposal is aimed at creating an inter-disciplinary research program focusing on the research area of metallic nanostructures where the physical properties are dominated by quantum size effects. The ultimate research goals are to use atomic scale control of materials synthesis to tune the physical properties in the quantum regime. The proposal focuses on the integration research and education to train internationally competitive students and postdocs. This setting is provided through the unique partnership of this FRG team with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Together, UT-Austin, UT-Knoxville, and ORNL provide a closely collaborative, inter-disciplinary research/educational platform for next generation of US leaders in materials research. The investigators are also committed to educational outreach to a broader audience at all levels. This will be accomplished with multi-prone approaches including (a) offering special topic courses which enrich the curriculum in Nanoscience and Technology that are also accessible to broader undergraduate students, (b) enhancing the outreach program of Summer Academy of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology for State-wide high school teachers and students in Texas, and (c) targeting high school students who are participating in the Tennessee Governor's school for the Sciences and Engineering by offering them research training. Finally, this program is fully committed to broadening participation of under-represented groups in graduate research with specific goals of increasing the percentage of graduate students that are woman or/and of Hispanic background.

Project Report

This Focused Research Group project has made important impacts on both research and educational fronts. By creating a highly synergetic research environment where theorists and experimentalists work hand-in-hand, this program has trained a number of young scientists. Our research results have been effectively disseminated through various invited and contributed talks given by the PI, co-PIs and their associates (graduate students and postdocs) in many conferences. The research activities carried out under this FRG support have yielded 91 publications. Many of these publications are ground breaking such as creating superconductor thin films that are only 2 atom thick [Science 324, p. 1314 (2009)] and creating the world smallest semiconductor laser [Science 337, 450 (2012)]. The PI and co-PI have created special courses such as Nanoscale Characterization Techniques and Fundamentals of Nanostructures which benefit campus wide graduate/undergraduate education in nanoscience and nanotechnology. The PIs have also made important efforts toward broadening participations of under-representative groups in graduate research. For example, 50% (4 out of 8) of graduate students in Shih’s research group are female. Education outreach activities include hosting three high school female students as summer interns in the PI’s lab. Shih has also led the outreach activities in Summer Academy of Nanosciences over the last five years, training over 150 high school teachers and students in the state of Texas.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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Z. Charles Ying
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University of Texas Austin
United States
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