Strobel Lab awarded $630,000 DOE grant for transformative materials
In late 2020, EPL’s Timothy Strobel was awarded a $630,000 grant from the Department of Energy to predict and synthesize new materials that could transform the energy sector. His lab pioneered a method that combines computational and experimental research to establish an exciting new class of diamond-like, carbon-boron “clathrates”—molecule-sized cages that can contain other atoms.
“There is a huge gap between the theorized materials of the future and the materials we know and understand right now,” Strobel said. “In order to bridge it, we need novel strategies and principles.”
A material’s properties are determined by how its atoms are bonded and the structural arrangements that these bonds create. Clathrates comprised of other elements and molecules are common and have been synthesized in the lab or found in nature. However, diamond-like, carbon-based clathrates were synthesized for the first time in Strobel’s lab last year.
Carbon is the fourth-most-abundant element in the universe and is fundamental to life as we know it. It is unrivaled in its ability to form stable structures, both alone and with other elements. Studying the physical parameters that dictate the stability of carbon clathrates could enable Strobel and his team to establish an entirely new suite of materials with different useful applications, including the creation of new materials with glass-like thermal conductivity that are also light-weight, super-strong, super-hard, superconducting, and electronically tunable.
“In addition to the fundamental insights to materials chemistry and physics, the versatility of this new class of materials may yield transformative impacts across a range of technologies,” Strobel said.
He and his collaborators continue to break new ground in this exciting field, leading the creation of a new class of useful materials.
A year ago, Strobel and his team published new research in announcing their prediction and synthesis of a carbon-boron clathrate cages with diamond-like bonds and strontium trapped inside them. This captive atom made the compound metallic, meaning it is capable of conducting an electric current, with potential for superconductivity at high temperatures.
In November, Strobel and his colleagues—including current and former Carnegie researchers Li Zhu, Piotr Guńka, Gustav Borstad, and Michael Guerette—published the discovery of a second carbon-boron clathrate in Angewandte Chemie, with lanthanum as the caged molecule this time. This particular clathrate is a semiconductor with an indirect band gap, highlighting the versatile electronic structures of these materials.
Working with EPL’s Ronald Cohen, Strobel and Zhu have also predicted the existence of a carbon-boron clathrate with ferroelectric properties—polarization that can be reversed with the application of an electric field, making them highly tunable for complex computing, sensing, and opto-electronic devices. If synthesized, this could be a major game-changer, because many ferroelectrics are brittle and susceptible to cracking, so despite their usefulness, there are limits on their applications. This work was published in Physical Review Letters.
“The addition of tunable carbon-based clathrates to the family of polar materials could result in a much richer landscape of highly advanced ferroelectrics,” Cohen concluded.
The DOE grant will allow Strobel and his colleagues to continue pushing the boundaries of advanced, next-generation materials with tunable, application-specific properties.