Melissa Santala, assistant professor of materials science, and doctoral student Ari Clauser.
Melissa Santala studies “bad” glasses. But in her mind, they’re not really bad, they’re just poorly understood. With a new grant from the National Science Foundation, she hopes to get to know them much better.
Santala, assistant professor of materials science at Oregon State University, recently won a Faculty Early Career Development Program, or CAREER, award from NSF for her proposal titled “Revealing the Crystallization Kinetics of Marginal Glass Formers through In Situ Microscopy and Nanocalorimetry Experiments.”
In material science terms, a glass is a type of amorphous solid — that is, something that has a random arrangement of atoms as opposed to an ordered structure. Bad glasses are ones that can crystallize into a highly ordered structure rapidly.
Santala is interested in a group of materials called phase change materials, or PCMs. PCMs generally consist of the elements antimony and tellurium, often alloyed with small additions of other elements like germanium, silver, and indium. While the structure of PCMs makes them bad glasses, it may make them good materials to create computer memory.
“The rapid crystallization that’s required for PCM-based memory also makes it difficult to understand the process,” Santala said. Using recent advances in electron microscopy and nanocalorimetry, she wants to acquire experimental data on the physical mechanisms of crystallization and on the flow of thermal energy during the process.
“These data are needed to test the models that form the basis of understanding of PCM behavior that enables the development of new technologically-useful materials,” she said.
The funding will enable Santala’s group to collaborate with scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an industrial partner, and three Department of Energy national labs. In addition to the electron microscopes here at Oregon State, Santala and her graduate students will access instruments with unique capabilities at NIST and the DOE labs to carry out this research.
CAREER awards support “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. Santala joins more than a dozen CAREER award recipients on the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing’s faculty.