Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OU Acquires Next-Generation Device to Study Electrons in Semiconductors

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OU Acquires Next-Generation Device to Study Electrons in Semiconductors

Article excerpt

The only appropriate remark when first introduced to the new molecular beam epitaxy machine at the University of Oklahoma is "Wow!"

The sprawling $1.2 million machine, along with its accompanying bank of instruments and maze of connecting cables, takes up an entire room in the basement of Nielsen Hall, home of the OU Department of Physics and Astronomy. Even without knowing exactly what the massive maze of stainless steel is for, there can be no question that this apparatus is state-of-the-art.

Michael Santos, assistant professor of physics, is the faculty member in charge of the futuristic MBE machine, which would look right at home aboard "Star Trek's" Starship Enterprise. Speaking over the mechanical rumble that fills the room, Santos enthusiastically talks about the potential of the machine as he circles it, peeking into its portholes, asking the computer to check on its status.

One waits anxiously for the MBE machine to do something. To perform. For something to move. For lights to flash. For a beep or buzz. The only visible movement is a wisp of vapor coming out of a pipe near the ceiling. What is the machine doing as it sits there rumbling?

In two growth chambers, the MBE system is making tiny crystals _ crystals so thin that it would take a high-powered microscope to see them _ semiconducting crystals that will be studied by OU's Laboratory for Electronic Properties of Materials. This interdisciplinary effort involves collaborators from physics, chemistry, electrical engineering and chemical engineering.

Only about 500 such machines exist in the world, Santos says, and OU's next-generation MBE system is uniquely equipped with an array of special features that allow novel crystals to be studied in new ways.

Santos was brought to OU to be the faculty member in charge of the MBE laboratory. The youthful physicist feels very fortunate to have an opportunity to oversee its operation. Because of the MBE machine, OU faculty members can take their research to greater limits. OU undergraduate and graduate students will have invaluable educational experiences available at only a few institutions of higher education. The state of Oklahoma will be in a better position to attract new industry.

The word "epitaxy" in the machine's name refers to the ordered growth of a solid onto a crystalline surface. Inside the MBE growth chambers, the surface of a seed crystal _ silicon, for example _ provides a template for new atoms arriving on the surface to find preferred positions.

Almost all the air has been pumped out of the MBE machine's interior chamber, making the pressure lower than normal atmosphere by a factor of 10 trillion.

"In this ultra-high vacuum environment, we deposit thin layers of semiconductor films," Santos explained. "With these thin layers, we can make lasers or do studies of the way electrons behave in semiconductors."

The MBE machine is designed to produce different kinds of crystals in each of two growth chambers. One chamber is being used by OU electrical engineers under the supervision of Patrick McCann, assistant professor of electrical engineering. McCann explains that the chamber will be used to grow new semiconductor material for fabrication of miniature lasers.

"These lasers will be similar to those in a CD player but emit light at a much longer wavelength," McCann said. …

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