Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Structure-Property Relationships in Transition Metal Pnictides Confined to Nanoscale Dimensions

PI: Stephanie L. Brock, Department of Chemistry, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202

The unique properties attained when solids are prepared with dimensions of just 10-1000 times the diameter of an individual atom (nanomaterials) promise to revolutionize a wide range of technologies from data storage to energy conversion. However, the exploitation of nanomaterials in actual devices is limited by progress in a number of fundamental areas, including established methods for making functional nanomaterials and a developed understanding of how properties change when the size is varied in this critical regime. 

This NSF Solid State and Materials Chemistry funded project will establish how size, structure, and chemical composition affect the magnetic or superconducting properties of a series of phases called transition metal pnictides. In the course of the research, key factors that underpin material preparation on this lengthscale will be discovered. The development of a rationale for the synthesis of transition metal pnictides on the nanoscale has potential to impact fields such as catalysis, energy conversion, and energy storage (batteries).  Moreover, insight gained from the study of materials proposed here is expected to impact use of these phases in magnetic recording, refrigeration, and so-called “spintronic” devices. In the course of the project, graduate and undergraduate students will develop the necessary critical thinking and technical skills, as well as hands-on experience with cutting-edge techniques, for developing the next generation of advanced technologies. 

The project will also introduce Detroit-area middle and high school girls, many of which are minorities, to nano- and materials science through the GO-GIRL (Gaining Options-Girls Investigate Real Life) outreach project.  This program addresses perennially underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Education, and Math (STEM) fields and seeks to develop these untapped assets by empowering them with positive STEM experiences and by providing them (and their parents) with the resources and information needed to ensure they get the most out of the educational system.