Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Materials Science

Research

We seek to understand and control the world of solids, liquids, and gases around us. Traditional materials science has a focus on "engineering materials" of technological importance such as ion conductors or doped silicon. At Caltech we also develop engineering materials and devices as we see opportunities, but we also try to control the stability of crystals under pressure or temperature, for example. A rigorous emphasis on basic science and mathematics backs up what we do.

Research Areas

Ceramics and Composites

  • Researching ceramics that maintain strength and robustness to temperatures in excess of 1500°C. (Faber)

Computational Materials Science

  • Investigating electrons in materials with Angstrom space and femtosecond time resolutions, with applications in energy conversion, novel electronics and optoelectronics, and ultrafast spectroscopy. (Bernardi)
  • Creating new materials and the optimization of materials processing. (Bhattacharya)
  • Computing the free energy of materials at the level of atoms and electrons. Calculating the stabilities of material phases, and properties such as thermal expansion, elastic moduli and thermal conductivity. (Fultz)

Energy Materials and Storage

  • In collaboration with the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, we are researching how to build an efficient, fully-integrated photoelectrochemical (PEC) device for the production of renewable fuels including hydrogen (near term) and hydrocarbons (long term). (Atwater)
  • Developing thermal and environmental barrier coatings for power generation components to enhance engine efficiency via characterization of plasma-sprayed coatings. (Faber)
  • Generating new materials that store hydrogen by surface physisorption or internal chemisorption, with an eye towards applications in rechargeable batteries, fuel cell vehicles, and a collaboration with JPL on a possible future mission to the planet Venus. (Fultz)

Metamaterials and Metasurfaces

  • Investigating electromagnetic metamaterials which are artificial materials comprised of nanostructures, with special interest in two of the most famous theoretically predicted optical functionalities of metamaterials: epsilon-near-zero and negative index metamaterials. (Atwater)

Nanostructures

  • Studying the quantum properties of surface plasmons both for fundamental insights into their physics as well as for applications in quantum information science. (Atwater)
  • Investigating microwire solar fuel devices which have the potential to replace fossil fuels. (Atwater)
  • Creating extremely strong yet ultra-light materials by capitalizing on the hierarchical design of 3-dimensional nano-architectures. (Greer)

Photovoltaic Materials and Devices

  • Designing and building a spectrum-splitting photovoltaic module that will achieve unprecedentedly high efficiency, as well as investigating several alternative materials that can potentially replace or complement traditional silicon photovoltaics. (Atwater)

Thermodynamics and Phase Transformations

  • Conducting neutron and x-ray inelastic scattering experiments to understand how entropy changes with pressure and temperature, and for measuring local atom distortions during the diffusive jumps of hydrogen atoms in materials. (Fultz)