Exploring and manipulating matter and energy on the nanometer, molecular, and atomic scales are critical elements for basic energy science and technology and for ORNL research strategies in energy, materials, and biology. As famously stated by Richard Feynman, “there is plenty of room at the bottom,” - but it is the capability to see and manipulate in this space that makes it truly useful.
The Scanning Probe Microscopy effort at ORNL is aimed at fundamental understanding of physical, chemical and electrochemical phenomena, imaged in real space and real time. For example, understanding the power densities and life times of energy storage and conversion devices requires probing electrochemical processes and ionic transport at the nanometer scale of individual grain or extended defect. Similarly, optimization of photovoltaic technologies, magnetic data storage, and beyond-CMOS neuromorphic electronics alike require probing energy transformation pathways and dissipation on the nanometer level. Ultimately, building comprehensive pictures of physical and chemical behavior at surfaces requires information surface structure, bond length and bond angles – visualized at the level of a single atom and molecule.
These and other advances are made possible through comprehensive strategy including design and construction of new generations of high-stability, low-noise SPMs for atomic- and molecular imaging and manipulation, development of multi-modal tools addressing multiple functionalities in space and time simultaneously, and establishing the framework to link these behaviors to predictive modeling and materials discoveries. This effort is intrinsically linked with capabilities for in-situ synthesis and environmental imaging for exploring the materials under realistic reaction environments. To study what matters, when it matters, and why it matters on the nanometer and atomic scale is the ultimate goal of this program.
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