Tammi Freehling | December 16, 2017
For nearly thirty years, Professor Jacek Furdyna’s Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) lab at Notre Dame has been providing crystals and materials to students and scientists across the world. In continuous operation since its beginning in 1987, more than 10,000 crystals have been grown in the lab, most in the form of “designer-materials” such as new crystal phases, quantum wells, quantum dots, and other forms that do not occur in nature.
Growing such crystal structures requires specific combinations of atoms from different elements. Molecular Beam Epitaxy accomplishes this by assembling these atoms into a single crystal on a substrate, atomic layer by atomic layer. Not surprisingly, this must be done under ultra-high vacuum conditions, ensuring ultra-high purity of the resulting material, with no unwanted foreign atoms present.
“The process of MBE allows us to create materials by assembling the atoms one-by-one, ‘on demand’. Thus we are able to form entirely new crystal phases and, more importantly, to obtain materials with entirely new atomic configurations (such as quantum wells, superlattices, quantum wires, and quantum dots) that perform specific optical, electrical, or magnetic functions that can be applied in solid state devices,” said Margaret Dobrowolska, the Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C. Professor of Physics and associate dean for undergraduate studies, College of Science, who works with Furdyna in the MBE lab (and happens to be his wife). The resulting materials are highly precise films that are widely used in the manufacture of semiconductor devices, such as semiconductor transistors of various forms, light emitting diodes (LEDs), semiconductor lasers, and a myriad other components for modern-day electronics.