Nontechnical abstract: The Penn State Materials Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) - Center for Nanoscale Science pursues new materials platforms, aspiring to deliver the materials of the future. Advancement of these platforms requires a cross-disciplinary Center-scale effort, one that fosters a widening gyre of innovation and discovery in emerging research areas of compelling opportunity. This MRSECâ€™s interdisciplinary research group (IRG) Two-Dimensional Polar Metals and Heterostructures studies ultrathin sheets of metals covered by an atomically thin sheet of carbon â€“ graphene â€“ which protects the metal from rusting. These structures provide a ground-breaking way to form combinations of materials whose individual quantum properties may come together to enable new materials for quantum computing as well as new sensor technologies. The IRG Crystalline Oxides with High Entropy also pioneers a new frontier of materials discovery, in this case crystalline materials composed of a multitude of chemical elements. Out of this huge compositional diversity it is possible to design materials with attributes that are valuable in energy or defense applications, such as transparent metals or materials capable of withstanding extreme environments. The Centerâ€™s multifaceted educational program introduces a core professional development theme of Sustainability in research practice and outcomes, expands educational offerings that increase access to STEM for disabled populations, and further deepens and expands two Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) through pervasive mentoring. In addition, knowledge transfer and the instilling of industry-valued leadership and team-building skills amongst Penn State MRSEC researchers at all levels amplify impact nationwide.
The air-stable two-dimensional metals studied by IRG1 are bonded covalently below and non-bonded above: such symmetry breaking activates novel electronic, spintronic, and optical phenomena such as strongly nonlinear optics, ultralow-background Raman enhancement, and the types of spin-dependent bandstructures critical to polar and topological superconductivity; these transformative properties promise impacts in biosensing, quantum heterostructures, and nonlinear metasurfaces. IRG2 seeks to define the crystal chemistry principles that guide data-informed material design in a high-configurational-entropy landscape, in which the rich diversity of crystal environments defines an â€œentropy bankâ€ from which a material can make â€œwithdrawalsâ€ to achieve ground-breaking properties not otherwise possible; these unique features anticipate broad impacts in ion conduction, transparent conductors, electrocaloric materials, and correlated oxides. Key equipment acquisitions expand access to specialized tools while systematic support for innovation and entrepreneurship across all career stages amplifies the impact of fundamental science innovation, all supported by targeted international research connections.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.