The materials scientist Alex Werz visited The University this month to discuss emerging technology in his field of research. Upon invitation from the Institute for Electrical and Electronics engineers, Werz, an employee of SCHOTT Glass, discussed developments with interested students. The field of materials science is expanding rapidly in our modern society. The principles of materials science are used for a variety of purposes in consumer products. They are used in everything from cell phones to telescopes and even to new emerging technology, which aims to use sensors as diagnostic tools. As with many fields, the only factor limiting development is our imagination and ingenuity to create new solutions to old problems.
One of the topics that Werz addressed concerned quantum well focal detectors. The technology works by layering different materials on top of each other in different ways. This allows a single detector to pick up a variety of wavelengths. The detector could work from ultraviolet light all the way to infrared. The advantage of this technology is that a large amount of data can be collected from a single image. Some of the data provided by the detector includes temperature and the composition of the photographed image. This technology could have profound implications in a variety of fields ranging from farming to military to healthcare.
Another topic broached by Werz was the evolution of microprocessors over the last few years. He approached the topic from the perspective of a materials scientist. Werz discussed the advancement of materials in microprocessors as it relates to the speed of the processor. Most of the chips seen today use a high-grade silicon. These chips tend to be the ones found in common consumer products such as cell phones and laptop computers. Werz explained that research is currently being done using gallium as an alternative to silicon. This change in material is already on the market but seen only in high-end computers. The exclusivity of gallium chips is due to the cost of gallium on the market. As a compromise to the price, Werz notes that in a few years microprocessors will have moved away from using silicon to using gallium arsenide.
The varied uses of specialized glasses emerged throughout the talk as well. After touching upon the few graduate programs across the nation that specialize in optics, Werz steered his talk to explain means of chemically altering glass. First, Werz explained the process by which industries make glass: from an inorganic chemistry perspective, heating of silica with limestone allows calcium ions to disrupt the silicon dioxide lattices. He then transitioned to modern techniques of manipulating glass, including the doping of ions such as neodymium, erbium or lithium into the material. Doping glass essentially replaces one atom for another in a substance, and the process increases the efficiency and number of uses of lasers.
The lecture gave students a taste of the ever-expanding and evolving field of materials science. Other topics discussed in the lecture include the history of SCHOTT Glass and the changes that have occurred in the company to complement the changing needs of industry.
Werz concluded by encouraging students to pay close attention to their undergraduate sciences courses.
“All the physics is right there, too. And the necessary math, like derivatives, it never goes away,” Werz said.
March 27, 2015.