Materials scientists study relationships between the properties of materials and their internal structure, and how this structure can be controlled. Our multidisciplinary faculty, students, and postdoctoral scholars create new materials and take rigorous approaches to understand and control the properties of materials and their internal structure. From batteries and solar cells, to electronic devices at the micro- and nano-scales, our department is at the forefront of scientific discovery and new technologies.
Areas of Research
The current areas of research by the materials science faculty include a broad range of materials, some far removed from their equilibrium thermodynamic states. Examples of such materials include metallic glasses, thin films, two-dimensional solids, quantum materials, porous and architected solids, energy-storage materials, nanostructured materials, and materials for photovoltaics and electronic devices. The physical characteristics of interest span a wide range of mechanical, thermodynamic, electrical, magnetic and electrochemical properties.
Research by the faculty, graduate students, and advanced undergraduates is conducted in the W. M. Keck Laboratory, the Harry G. Steele Laboratory, and frequently in the Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) Laboratory, a core cleanroom facility dedicated to nanofabrication and characterization. The KNI Lab and its technical staff provide training and access to advanced instrumentation that support the nano- and microfabrication process from beginning to end. This includes resources for electron and ion beam lithography; optical lithography; thin-film and chemical vapor deposition; metal and oxide evaporation; dry etching; metrology including a spectroscopic ellipsometer; a suite of microscopes, such as focused ion beams (FIB), scanning electron microscopes (SEM) with energy dispersive spectroscopy, and AFM. The KNI also manages a transmission electron microscopy (TEM) facility which houses a 300-keV scanning TEM instrument with high resolution and analytical capabilities.
Additional facilities for the characterization of materials include X-ray powder diffractometers with position-sensitive detectors. Material-preparation facilities include equipment for additive manufacturing, physical vapor deposition under ultra-high vacuum conditions, arc melting, induction melting, casting, rapid solidification, processing of ceramic powders, and high-energy ball milling. More specialized instruments include impedance spectrometers for transport and dielectric measurements, Mössbauer spectrometers, differential scanning calorimeters and differential thermal analyzers, thermogravimetric analyzers, and gas adsorption analyzers.
In addition to the general-use equipment within materials science, a wide range of mechanical and microstructural characterization facilities are available elsewhere at Caltech including a scanning electron microscope with electron backscatter detectors, an electron probe micro-analyzer, mechanical testing machines, nanoindenters, an in-situ mechanical deformation instrument, AFM, electrochemical instrumentation, and an electrical probe tester.