The scientific target of IRG-1, Electrostatic Control of Materials, is to control electronic properties in novel materials. Recently developed methods based on ionic liquids and solid electrolytes can generate unprecedented charge densities, up to an electron per unit cell, enabling dramatic property modification. Opportunities include reversible control of magnetic order, fine-tuning of insulator-metal and superconducting transitions, novel devices, discovery of new phases, and determination of transport limits in new materials. The focus of IRG-2, Sustainable Nanocrystal Materials, is the design, synthesis, processing, and thin film properties of environmentally benign nanocrystal-based electronic and optoelectronic materials. The field is constrained by reliance on toxic (Pb, Cd) and/or scarce (In, Te) elements, with serious environmental, health, and economic concerns. The team is targeting nanocrystal-based thin films made from nontoxic, abundant and sustainable materials (Si, Ge, Cu, Zn) using scalable, low-temperature processes such as plasma synthesis. The vision of IRG-3, Hierarchical Multifunctional Macromolecular Materials, is to develop a multiple interaction approach to polymer materials design that enables multifunctional applications by decoupling the optimization of two or more desired attributes. Three integrated thrusts target control of aqueous rheology and gelation with polymers containing cellulose ether blocks; control of structure and properties of block-polymer-based "amphiplexes", assemblies of polyanions with cationic copolymer micelles; and design and preparation of novel multiblock polymers featuring independent control of ordered-state symmetries and mechanical properties.
This project involves three Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs). The first team aims to develop new understanding of charge transport in solid-state materials, key to technologies such as plastic electronics and magnetic storage devices. The second team is developing nanocrystals made from non-toxic and earth abundant elements, for fabrication into thin films for solar energy and low energy lighting. The third team is developing new approaches to assembling polymeric materials with superior property combinations, for applications as diverse as water treatment, fuel cell membranes, gene therapy, and integrate circuit manufacturing. The senior investigators provide research experiences for promising undergraduates from a national network of four-year colleges, minority serving institutions, tribal colleges, and universities. Summer camps for high school students, from the Twin Cities and from Native American communities across the upper Midwest, involve senior investigators, students, and postdocs in hands-on activities. Entertaining demonstration shows to illustrate fundamental scientific principles, by faculty from all three IRGs, engage over 20,000 K-12 students each year. Close interaction with industry involves knowledge transfer in a pre-competitive collaboration with over 40 companies.