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The Sound of Nanoscale Materials

Schematic representing the atomic force microscopeSchematic represents the atomic force microscope interacting with the material surface in research on investigating phase changes in nanoscale materials.
Photo: Rama Vasudevan

Understanding where and how phase transitions occur is critical to developing new generations of materials for use in high-performance batteries, sensors, energy-harvesting devices, medical diagnostic equipment, and other applications. But there was no good way to study and simultaneously map these phenomena at the relevant length scales — until now.

Researchers from Georgia Tech and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a new, nondestructive technique for investigating these material changes by examining their acoustic response at the nanoscale. This approach has been used in ferroelectric materials but could also have applications in ferroelastics, solid protonic acids, and materials known as relaxors.

“We have developed a new characterization technique that allows us to study changes in the crystalline structure and in materials’ behavior at substantially smaller length scales with a relatively simple approach,” said Nazanin Bassiri-Gharb, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the research was reported in the journal Advanced Functional ­Materials.

 — John Toon

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John Toon

John Toon

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