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Baumgart Is Principal Investigator for Air Force Grant Involving Next Generation of Thermoelectric Devices

Helmut Baumgart, professor of electrical and computer engineering and the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium endowed chair at Old Dominion University's Applied Research Center in Newport News, is principal investigator on a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Air Force for his work on the next generation of thermoelectric devices.

On the grant, Baumgart is working with MicroXact Inc., a semiconductor and micro-electrical-mechanical systems (MEMS) design and manufacturing company whose customer base includes university laboratories and Fortune 500 companies.

Baumgart's share of the grant is $250,000. Under the project, an ODU research team will develop a revolutionary, ultra-efficient thermoelectric material - integrating a structure known as a quantum well "superlattice" into the three-dimensional surface of a porous silicon substrate - in an effort to create thermoelectric devices that are up to 20 percent more energy efficient.

The material, created from lead chalcogenide nanolaminates (composed of lead telluride, lead selenide and a combination of the two compounds) and based on completely new, nonconventional fabrication principles, will result in three-dimensional superlattice layers on the porous silicon substrates. These three-dimensional layers will be fabricated through depositing alternating superlattice layers of lead telluride and lead selenide, a process known as atomic layer deposition.

That structure should result in better performance of the thermoelectric device for temperature ranges up to 600 degrees Kelvin, due to its greater thermodynamic efficiency. This was confirmed theoretically in the lead telluride/lead selenide superlattices through modeling.

Thermoelectric devices can be found in a wide range of commercial, military and aerospace applications. Incorporation of thermoelectric devices into systems that inherently generate significant amounts of heat could dramatically increase the overall efficiency of energy production in these systems, and result in power-generating waste heat recovery.

Thermoelectric materials are suitable for applications in power generation and refrigeration, such as to convert waste heat from turbine engines into electrical energy. This technology will also potentially enable increased efficiency and smaller size thermoelectric coolers for various aerospace applications.

Due to the radiation hardness of thermoelectric materials, their long operational lifetimes, their lack of moving parts and the reduced need for maintenance, thermoelectric power generation is a particularly attractive prospect for society. The proposed novel, synthesized 3-D quantum well superlattice material system is expected to find a wide range of commercial and military applications in both power generation and cooling, on earth and in extraterrestrial applications in satellites.

Baumgart, a Fulbright Scholar who received a Ph.D. in semiconductor physics from the University of Stuttgart, held numerous R&D positions in the microelectronics industry before coming to ODU's Applied Research Center, located on the campus of the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

He recently received a Certificate of Excellence in Promoting Undergraduate Research from ODU for his work with Sushil Khadka, an undergraduate student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering whose research project, "Growth of ZnO Nanorods by Hydrothermal Method," has been selected as part of the ODU delegation to the Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Research Conference, to be hosted by the University of Delaware April 12-14.

ODU's Applied Research Center consists of an interdisciplinary team of researchers working on scientific and technological problems in the areas of thin films, MEMS technology, materials technology, organic and inorganic hybrid photovoltaic cells, laser and plasma applications, and the emerging fields of nanotechnology, biomedical engineering, sensor science and technology. Projects at the center are sponsored by federal agencies, the commonwealth of Virginia and various industries and national labs.