|Boye's Thin Films Sabbatical Project Places in R&D Magazine's Annual Top 100 List
August 03, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
|Prof. Dan Boye has taught at Davidson since 1989.
Professor of Physics Dan Boye wasn't thinking about those ubiquitous "top this-or-that" lists while on sabbatical working with five fellow scientists on thin films. But the innovative process for applying thin films that they developed has been named as a "Top 100" most technologically significant project of the year by R&D Magazine.
R&D Magazine has bestowed Top 100 awards annually since 1963 for projects conducted at industrial enterprises, government laboratories, and university research facilities around the world. Many winning projects through the years have become common items in everyday life, including the flashcube (1965), the automated teller machine (1973), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm anti-smoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), and HDTV (1998).
The designation was an unexpected bonus, Boye said. The real thrill was his enriching, exciting collaboration with other scientists for 14 months at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. "As a professor at Davidson, I work on fundamental concepts in material science, optical properties of new materials," he said. "Working with chemists and chemical engineers to take a project to an industrial application was something new to me. It's a very creative atmosphere and a lot of fun."
His team's project was the only winner in R&D Magazine's "thin film" category. Boye got involved through a previous collaboration with the project's principal investigator, Hongyou Fan, a staff scientist at the Sandia facility. Boye conducted the work during his 2008-09 sabbatical, which he was able to extend from the usual semester length to an entire school year through receipt of a Boswell Family Fellowship from Davidson.
Thin optical films are widely used in the manufacture of consumer electronics, semiconductor devices, and high-performance glass and ceramic materials. But most can only be manufactured using complicated and costly processes which require a high-temperature, high-vacuum chamber.
Boye's team developed a simple, relatively inexpensive process that works at room temperature and pressure. It is far less costly, more easily applied, and more versatile than traditional thin film application technologies.
The process blends commercially available polymers with common solvents. The solvents evaporate as the mixture is sprayed on a surface, and the polymers self-assemble to form films of non-toxic, hollow nanostructures. The films can be applied in ambient conditions through simple spin, dip or spray techniques. Since it uses conventional application methods, films can be directly applied to the coating of large or complex parts such as a fighter airplane canopy, which previously was not possible.
The three-dimensional, ordered nanostructure of the film can support a variety of materials to create different properties in the film to meet different industrial needs. For instance, when optimized for anti-reflective properties, coatings over photovoltaic devices will allow more light to pass into them, thereby increasing their efficiency. Likewise, coatings can be created to let more light pass through household windows, reducing the need for artificial lighting. The nanostructures could even be functionalized to hold a material for detection of a particular gas or vapor, or a phosphor that glows in ultraviolet light.
Furthermore, the hydrophobic nature of films eliminates drying stress that can cause cracking in conventional films, and prevents moisture such as rainwater or high humidity from deteriorating the film's optical performance.
Boye explained that anti-reflective coatings on eyeglasses might be one common application. He said, "To apply the coating previously, you had to put the uncoated lenses in a chamber, then pump out all the air and heat it before evaporating the material onto the lenses. With our technique, you can basically do it like you would spray paint a piece of furniture in your garage. You can even repair coatings in the field."
Boye was the only physicist on the team of chemists and chemical engineers. His primary contribution was developing comprehensible means of predicting and measuring the properties of the nanostructured materials. "When you're working with new materials, the standard protocols for measurements may no longer be valid," he said.
Boye is not aware of any commercial products derived yet from the technology, but notes that Lockheed-Martin was an investor and participant in the project, and might be working on applications without his knowledge.
Though that research project is complete, Boye is now working at Davidson on a three-year project involving spectroscopy of rare earth-doped sol gel glass. It has been financed by a $185,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.