Sustainable energy technologies play an important role in paving the way to a future in which the society has clean, secure and affordable energy. This project advances our understanding of the mechano-chemical coupling in oxides to tune their transport and reactivity properties and contribute to the development of diverse energy systems. By knowing how mechanical strain alters the material behavior at the atomic level, the reaction and transport kinetics can be accelerated for more efficient solid oxide fuel cells to produce electricity, to split water and CO2 for synthetic fuels production; or can be decelerated to suppress corrosion of key structural materials, for example, in nuclear plants or concentrated solar plants. An international collaboration with Professor Juergen Fleig at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria will extend the PI's and students' scientific capabilities and help gain complementary research experience. The multidisciplinary education and research efforts of the project will strengthen the knowledge-base in the curriculum for energy challenges. An outreach program from K-12 youth to undergraduates with individual mentoring and long-term tracking by the PI is intended to broaden the participation of especially female and Hispanic students in science and engineering careers. The results from research will be disseminated at the MIT museum to educate the public on the importance of research targeted at materials for clean and affordable energy.

TECHNICAL DETAILS: The goal of this CAREER project is to advance our understanding of the mechano-chemical coupling on surfaces of functional oxides for energy, by developing new research and educational approaches that integrate multidisciplinary principles. The knowledge that will be gained on the atomic-level structural, chemical, and electronic nature of the oxide surfaces is central to the longstanding fundamental aspects of fast oxygen transport and electrocatalytic activity at moderate temperatures. The science objectives of the project tie the mechanistic and quantitative effects of lattice strain to: 1) surface chemistry and atomic structure, 2) surface electronic structure, 3) oxygen surface exchange kinetics, and 4) oxygen diffusion kinetics. The project's approach integrates novel surface sensitive platforms with first principles-based simulations to provide an atomic level view of the epitaxially-strained thin film oxide surfaces. Major intellectual contributions are: 1) coupling of mechanics and surface chemistry to control the kinetics of transport and reactivity at the molecular level on transition metal oxides, and 2) new experimental probes to reveal the dynamic nature of surfaces at high temperatures and pressures. In particular, the advancements of scanning tunneling microscopy and spectroscopy at elevated temperatures and in reactive gas conditions is an important capability not only for this project, but also for serving as a general surface science platform to examine materials in harsh environments. This project enables the education and research experience of graduate and undergraduate students in advanced experimental and computational techniques, including in international settings, targeted at materials science for energy.

This grant is co-funded by the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE)'s Europe and Eurasia Program.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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Lynnette Madsen
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology
United States
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