DARPA seeks non-thermal approaches to thin-film deposition

Apr 27, 2012

When the Department of Defense (DoD) wants to build a jet engine, it doesn’t put a team of engineers in a hangar with a block of metal and some chisels.  Jet engines are made up of individual components that are carefully assembled into a finished product that possesses the desired performance capabilities.  In the case of thin-film deposition—a process in which coatings with special properties are bonded to materials and parts to enhance performance—current science addresses the process as though it is attempting to build a jet engine from a block of metal, focusing on the whole and ignoring the parts.  Like a jet engine, the thin-film deposition process could work better if it was addressed at the component level.

Thin-film deposition requires high levels of energy to achieve the individual chemical steps to deposit a coating on a substrate.  Under the current state of practice, that necessary energy is generated by applying very high temperatures—more than 900 degrees Celsius in some cases—at the surface of the substrate as part of a chemical vapor deposition process.  The problem with using the thermal energy hammer is that the minimum required processing temperatures exceed the maximum temperatures that many substrates of interest to DoD can withstand.  As a result, a wide range of capabilities remain out of reach.    

created the Local Control of Materials Synthesis (LoCo) program to overcome the reliance on high thermal energy input by addressing the process of thin-film deposition at the component level in areas such as reactant flux, surface mobility, reaction energy, nucleation and by-product removal, among others.  In so doing, LoCo will attempt to create new, low-temperature deposition processes and a new range of coating-substrate pairings for use in DoD technologies.         

“What really matters in thin-film deposition is energy, not heat,” said Brian Holloway, DARPA program manager.  “If we break down the thin-film deposition process into components, we should be able to achieve better results by looking at each piece individually and then merging those solutions into a new low-temperature process.  It’s going to be researchers in specialties like plasma chemistry, photophysics, surface acoustic spectroscopy and solid-state physics who make it possible.  DARPA seeks scientists who can contribute pieces of the puzzle so that the LoCo team can put them together.”

Breakthroughs in thin-film deposition could enhance performance and enable new capabilities across a range of DoD technologies, impacting areas as diverse as artificial arteries, corrosion-resistant paint and steel combinations, erosion-resistant rotor blades, photovoltaics and long-wavelength infrared missile domes, among others.  

As a second focus area, the LoCo program seeks performers to evaluate the cost and performance impacts of coating application to existing DoD parts and systems.  Through these assessments, DARPA hopes to identify a specific piece of equipment that would benefit from a novel coating to use as a test bed for any new thin-film deposition process.  Through this parallel effort, LoCo intends to move from initial research to practical application within three years.  

Explore further: Science to the rescue of art

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Antibacterial stainless steel created

Jul 19, 2011

Materials scientists at the University of Birmingham have devised a way of making stainless steel surfaces resistant to bacteria in a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council which culminated ...

Recommended for you

Chemical biologists find new halogenation enzyme

4 hours ago

Molecules containing carbon-halogen bonds are produced naturally across all kingdoms of life and constitute a large family of natural products with a broad range of biological activities. The presence of halogen substituents ...

Protein secrets of Ebola virus

9 hours ago

The current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 2000 lives, has highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the molecular biology of the virus that could be critical in ...

Protein courtship revealed through chemist's lens

9 hours ago

Staying clear of diseases requires that the proteins in our cells cooperate with one another. But, it has been a well-guarded secret how tens of thousands of different proteins find the correct dancing partners ...

Decoding 'sweet codes' that determine protein fates

11 hours ago

We often experience difficulties in identifying the accurate shape of dynamic and fluctuating objects. This is especially the case in the nanoscale world of biomolecules. The research group lead by Professor Koichi Kato of ...

Science to the rescue of art

Sep 14, 2014

Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" are losing their yellow cheer and the unsettling apricot horizon in Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is turning a dull ivory.

User comments : 0