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Two Auburn Physicists Investigate New Materials for Applications in Power Electronics to Increase Energy Efficiency

Published: 11/26/2018

By: Maria Gebhardt

Two physicists from Auburn University, Dr. Sarit Dhar and Dr. Marcelo Kuroda, are the recipients of a three-year $750,000 research grant (ARMY- W911NF-18-2-0160) from the United States Army Research Lab to explore new materials for applications to high voltage power electronics. The physicists will be exploring a class of dielectrics or insulating materials known as “high K” dielectrics for application to wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor electronic devices, to increase energy efficiency of WBG transistors. In addition to key defense related applications, such devices are critical for advanced applications such as power conversion circuitry in electric vehicles (HEV/EV) and solar energy farms.

“Given the broad range of applications, this project has the potential to not only benefit research at Auburn University, but also to advance the sustainable socio-economic development for the southeastern region and the United States by strengthening ties with industry partners,” explains Dr. Dhar.

This project adds a key theoretical research component to enhance existing research at Auburn. “I am excited because this work involves investigating fundamental properties of functional materials using state-of-the-art computational materials science as well as experimental fabrication and testing of prototype devices,” says Dr. Dhar.

“My expertise is focused on silicon carbide transistors and dielectric-semiconductor interface physics,” shares Dr. Dhar. His laboratories in Auburn’s Leach Science Center are equipped for various aspects of semiconductor science and technology research.

“Experimental device fabrication and nanoscale physical and electronic characterization of semiconductor materials can be conducted in our labs,” says Dr. Dhar.

“My research describes material properties accounting for atomistic details and quantum mechanical phenomena employing large-scale calculations” explains Dr. Kuroda.

He uses the high-performance computational resources available through the Hopper Cluster at Auburn University in addition to other regional and national resources. 

“Owing to their continuously improving predictive capabilities, these calculations offer critical insights of physical phenomena at the nanoscale level and serve as a guide for the experimental design.  As such, this collaborative effort can accelerate discovery,” says Dr. Kuroda.

“Suitable dielectrics are rare and must meet essential requirements including higher electronic bandgap than the semiconductor and an appropriate band-alignment for WBG device operation with adequate stability and reliability. In addition, it is important to characterize, understand, and control the properties of semiconductor/dielectric interfaces,” adds Dr. Kuroda.

To accomplish these goals, a partnership with Dr. Leonard Feldman at Rutgers University was developed.

“Our synergistic endeavor combines experiments and theory to produce a comprehensive characterization of these valuable materials,” shares Dr. Kuroda.  Research on other aspects of this subject has been previously supported by the United States Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, the II-VI Foundation, and industrial entities.

Dr. Dhar received his doctorate degree from Vanderbilt University and has been with Auburn University since 2012. He is the Thomas and Jean Walter Chair and associate professor in the Department of Physics. Dr. Kuroda received his doctorate degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and began with Auburn University in 2014. He is an assistant professor in the department.

 

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