By Marc Speir
University News Service
August 22, 2007
In the study of material sciences, researchers traditionally choose from three federal agencies to solicit grant money. First, there is the National Science Foundation, which has suffered major budget reductions in recent years. There is also the Department of Energy, which drives the direction of energy resources but often channels its monies to industrial firms instead of universities.
Rounding out the trio is the Department of Defense (DOD), composed primarily of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Driven by mission needs, the goals of the DOD usually end up inadvertently benefiting commercial interests by improving technology that makes many comforts and luxuries of modern life less expensive.
“There is a lot of criticism given to the DOD and its military spending,” said Terry Golding, the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Chair in Materials Science and Engineering at Texas State University-San Marcos. “But it also creates all kinds of new technology that wouldn’t be here if driven only by commercial forces.”
Golding, a professor of physics at
Starting out after receiving his doctorate in 1989 from
Golding’s current work, funded by a $360,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research, investigates how silicon can be used in electronic devices for military applications. The equipment Golding is in the process of creating is designed to detect particles of light, chemicals and magnetic fields. The advancement would give soldiers improved ability to detect enemy movements or action, such as a tank changing positions or the capability to identify terrorists hiding in a building.
This requires Golding to explore the possibilities of silicon by adjusting the versatile properties inherent in the material for use in multiple applications. Already found in computers, cell phones and numerous other electronic components, silicon is a varied and resourceful substance.
“Silicon is the driving material for 99 percent of electronic devices,” Golding said. “But it has its limitations--it’s not optically active.”
Golding said with further research, it could be shaped and molded for use in light and vision capabilities, also opening up its use for more consumer products.
“We want to do things with silicon that allows it to be even more multifunctional,” Golding said. “If we can make silicon homogenous in the products we use, then the less complicated and expensive the products become.”
This would ultimately include complex devices such as plasma televisions that are highly priced and use a number of processes to operate.
“This is all part of nanotechnology and a class of materials that can transform what they can do to become multifunctional,” Golding said. “This technology can be used in all sorts of applications.”
His other ongoing research is funded by a $190,000 grant from the U.S. Army’s branch of the DOD. It involves sharpening infrared night vision capabilities through the artificial structuring of atoms. Golding said the
“This is the seed of what I hope will be a larger program on infrared materials research at
Golding said that the growing or synthesizing of atoms for night vision purposes could be compared to how children’s Legos are stacked and built upon in succession.
“We arrange the atoms and customize them for use in a specific application,” Golding said. “It’s just like with Legos--if the pieces fit, then you can build the structure and improve on its ability to work.”
This advancement in “molecular beam efficacy” allows soldiers the precision to see through rain, fog and water, and can be engineered to see specific wavelengths of light. This, in turn, will provide improvement in technologies for a host of consumer goods that develop active and “smart” materials for sensor and electronic systems.
Golding maintains that materials technology will ultimately drive market forces in cycles of progress spurred by agencies such as the DOD.
“It must happen, in my opinion,” Golding said. “And I’d like us to be ahead of the curve at