From Tiny Crystals to the Microchips of the Future

The European Synchotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble
Researchers at the Institute of Experimental Physics (IEP) at TU Bergakademie Freiberg have developed a novel approach for the determination of the structures of crystals, and are now able to localize tiny atoms with the utmost precision.

This is particularly important for materials research in the semiconductor industry, as well as in data storage and the storage of electrochemical energy. The innovative approach, which Dr. Carsten Richter explains in his dissertation, was presented on January 12, 2018 in one of the scientific community's most prestigious journals: Nature Communications. 

The new method utilizes so-called resonant X-ray diffraction methods. The diffraction properties of the X-ray beams enable the Bergakademie’s research team to determine atomic positions with unprecedented accuracy. This new approach offers unique perspectives for investigating the composition of crystalline solids. In the future, these findings may be helpful in the design of innovative microchips, for example.

The researchers have tested their approach at the facilities and accelerators of the Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron center (DESY) in Hamburg and the European Synchotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble. “We were able to perform measurements there of well below one picometer. One billion picometers corresponds to just one millimeter. In this way, our method facilitates the highly precise analysis of crystal structures,” explained Dr. Matthias Zschornak, who coordinates the synchrotron activities of the IEP at TU Bergakademie Freiberg under the direction of Prof. Dirk C. Meyer.

A synchrotron is a particle accelerator in which charged elementary particles are held in circular orbits by strong magnets. These particles are deflected, whereupon they emit intense X-ray radiation. In particular, a synchrotron can be used to provide precisely adjustable radiation over a wide spectral range. Over the last 30 years, billions of dollars have been invested worldwide in the development and construction of such particle accelerators in order to explore new dimensions of spatial and temporal resolution. With their work, the researchers from TU Bergakademie Freiberg have now taken another important step toward this goal.

With funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG), the REXSuppress project was launched at the IEP last year to further develop the method. In addition to chemical crystallography, the focus of the planned research will be on the materials sciences, geosciences, biosciences and environmental sciences. At the Center for Efficient High-Temperature Material Conversion (Zentrum für effiziente Hochtemperatur-Stoffwandlung), which is currently under construction in Freiberg, physicists will also investigate how structures change under the influence of high pressure and extreme temperatures. 

Further information: Link to the article in Nature Communications    

Contact person: Dr. Matthias Zschornak, Institute for Experimental Physics, Tel: +49(0)3731/39-3333