Manufacturing Bits: Sept. 8

World’s pressure record; new glass type; flexible electronics hub.

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World’s pressure record
The University of Bayreuth and the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) have set another world’s record for the highest static pressure ever achieved in a lab.

Researchers were able to demonstrate metal osmium at pressures of up to 770 Gigapascals (GPa). Osmium is one of the world’s most incompressible metals. The 770 GPa figure is about 130 GPa higher than the previous world record set by the same group. This is also more than twice the pressure in the inner core of the Earth, according to researchers.

Osmium, a chemical element with the atomic number of 76, has the highest known density of all elements. It also has a high cohesive energy and melting temperature. The hardness of osmium makes it ideal for several applications, such as electrical contacts, wear-resistant machine parts and tips for high-quality ink pens.

The research from Bayreuth and DESY provides more information about highly compressed matter. It can enable the design of materials for use in extreme conditions, according to researchers.

For the experiment, researchers used a device for generating ultra-high static pressure. The device uses micro-anvils at 10 to 20 micrometers in diameter. The micro-anvils are made of nanocrystalline diamond.

A schematic of a pressure chamber, which is a double-stage diamond anvil cell. The osmium sample is 3 microns small and sits between two semi-balls made of nanocristalline diamond. (Credit: Elena Bykova/University of Bayreuth)

A schematic of a pressure chamber, which is a double-stage diamond anvil cell. The osmium sample is 3 microns small and sits between two semi-balls made of nanocristalline diamond. (Credit: Elena Bykova/University of Bayreuth)

When applied in the micro-anvils, osmium does not change its crystal structure even at the highest pressures. But the core electrons of the atoms come so close to each other that they can interact, according to researchers.

For probing the samples, researchers used X-rays from the synchrotron sources PETRA III at DESY, ESRF in France and APS in the U.S. “This work demonstrates that ultra-high static pressures can force the core electrons to interplay,” said Leonid Dubrovinsky, on DESY’s Web site. “The ability to affect the core electrons even in such incompressible metals as osmium in static high-pressure experiments opens up exciting opportunities in searching for new states of matter.”

New glass type
Glass is an amorphous or non-crystalline solid. Most types of glass are based on silica. It is transparent and used for window panes, tableware, optoelectronics and other applications.

The University of Chicago has produced a new kind of glass. Researchers produced glass with an organized molecular structure, a material previously thought to be entirely amorphous and random. The technology could improve the efficiency of LEDs, optical fibers and solar cells.

Researchers produced glass with an organized molecular structure. (Source: University of Chicago)

Researchers produced glass with an organized molecular structure. (Source: University of Chicago)

Physical vapor deposition (PVD) is commonly used to prepare organic glass. Organic glass serves as the active layers in LEDs, solar cells and other devices.

The molecular orientation of glass is controlled by the substrate temperature during PVD. By orienting three molecules in the PVD process, researchers enhanced the performance of glass. Researchers developed the glass by vaporizing large organic molecules in a high vacuum. Then, they deposited them layer by layer on a substrate at a controlled temperature.

Using spectroscopic ellipsometry, researchers found that the molecular orientation in the glass is tunable. The three molecules, in turn, produce anisotropic glass. “Randomness is almost the defining feature of glasses. At least we used to think so. What we have done is to demonstrate that one can create glasses where there is some well-defined organization. And now that we understand the origin of such effects, we can try to control that organization by manipulating the way we prepare these glasses,” said Juan de Pablo, a professor at the University of Chicago.

“Glasses are one of the least understood classes of materials,” de Pablo said. “They have the structure of a liquid—disorder—but they’re solids. And that’s a concept that has mystified people for many decades. So the fact that we can now control the orientation of these disordered materials is something that could have profound theoretical and technological implications. We don’t know what they are yet—this is a new field of research and a class of materials that didn’t exist before. So we’re just at the beginning.”

Flexible electronics hub
The FlexTech Alliance has received a $75 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to create and manage a new flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing facility/hub in San Jose, Calif.

The FlexTech Alliance, a research consortium and trade association, will establish the Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) for Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE MII). Flexible hybrid electronics enables the integration of thin silicon electronic devices, sensing elements, communications, and power on non-traditional flexible substrates.

The award, which is for $75 million in federal funding over a five-year period, is being matched by more than $96 million in cost sharing from non-federal sources. The FHE MII will include 96 companies, 11 laboratories and non-profits, 42 universities, and 14 state and regional organizations.

The FHE MII will provide overall direction of the program. It will be the integrator of components and will create prototypes. And it will establish manufacturing readiness. So-called “fast start” projects for equipment, materials, devices and other vital components will make use of existing node facilities and key personnel from around the country.

“The intent of the MII is to draw in the country’s ‘best of the best’ scientists, engineers, manufacturing experts and business development professionals in the field of flexible hybrid electronics,” said Malcolm Thompson, executive director-designate of the FHE MII, on the FlexTech Alliance Web site.

The new institute is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation program (NNMI). The FHE MII is the seventh MII announced—the fifth under DoD management. The NNMI program is an initiative of the Obama Administration to support advanced manufacturing in the U.S.