A physics professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant for research on the physical structure and electronic properties of organic semiconductor crystals. The five-year award to Wake Forest’s Oana Jurchescu was made under NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program.
Organic semiconductors are hydrocarbon substances like those used in plastics with at least some ability to conduct electricity. Their properties seem useful in transparent solar cells on building windows, car roofs and bus stations, as well as electronic displays in previously inaccessible spaces. They can also be devised for wearable electronics, since organic plastics are often thin, lightweight, and can attach and conform to the shape of other objects.
Today’s semiconductors are generally made of inorganic silicon, which must be processed in a vacuum and at high temperatures. Organic semiconductors are inexpensive, considered easy to process, and can be fashioned into transparent and flexible devices, which can be applied to substrates like metal, plastic, and even human skin. Despite these advantages, organic semiconductors tend to be fragile and not superior conductors of electricity.
Jurchescu’s team will investigate the properties of crystalline organic materials suitable for semiconductors to help develop electronics and thin-film devices. The aim is to find the characteristics of these crystals that will allow them to be applied with uniform consistency using high-speed or industrial methods like spray painters or ink-jet printing.
“Fast deposition at up to a hundred feet per second,” says Jurchescu, “may allow their production in large volumes and at low cost per unit area, an introduction of ‘electronics everywhere’.”
NSF CAREER awards support research by junior faculty who demonstrate excellence as teacher-scholars. Jurchescu plans to give demonstrations on nanotechnology to children at a science and environmental center in Winston-Salem, and host research projects in her lab for motivated students in high school and from nearby Forsyth Tech Community College.
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