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Frontiers in Crystalline Matter: From Discovery to Technology
now essential in medical and national security areas depends on high-quality single-crystal detectors. The search for ever better radiation detector materials is an important part of the new materials work that goes hand in hand with single-crystal growth. This is just a part of the broad search for functional new materials and the research and development that follow, which are vital to the competitive health of this nation’s high-technology industries.
The intent of the present study by the National Research Council’s Committee for an Assessment of and Outlook for New Materials Synthesis and Crystal Growth is to investigate whether an articulated agenda on the growth of crystalline materials would serve the national interest scientifically and technologically. The formal charge to the committee is presented in Appendix A.
The discovery and growth of crystalline materials (DGCM) encompass a broad range of activities involving both theory and experiment. One very substantial activity is the growth of large boules (synthetically grown single-crystal ingots), most notably defect-free silicon for the semiconductor industry. Silicon technology designed for flat-panel displays is now being adapted to produce large-area multicrystalline solar panels. Another significant activity is the development of laser materials, using both known and new materials, for novel communications applications. Various gamma-ray detection arrays in high-energy physics experiments depend on discovering new, or employing known, single-crystal materials. Single crystals are increasingly used in metallurgical settings, for example, as turbine blades in jet engines. Two-dimensional films of single crystals are increasingly used in the semiconductor industry, and the long-term projection is for even more use of such material. Diamond films are one example of an emerging technology with many applications, including wear-resistant coatings on cutting tools as well as high-power transistors. Crystalline material also promises to play an integral role in meeting homeland security needs, with semiconductors offering significant advantages in efforts to develop more-sensitive radiation detectors. Finally, crystallization of organic materials, highly important in biological and biochemical sciences, is receiving attention for its potential in application-based uses such as photovoltaics and electronics. All of the applications mentioned above are based on a physical functionality imbued by a material’s crystalline structure.
Crystal growth is a diverse field. Crystals can be grown using a remarkable variety of techniques. Many people are familiar with the growth of rock candy sugar crystals from aqueous solution. This method is a prototype for the growth of intermetallic compounds from molten metal solvents, hydrothermal growth of quartz crystals, and flux growth of oxides, for example.
In preparing this report the committee necessarily had to delineate the scope of the study, and in doing so it left out activities and research fields that arguably could have been included. The committee focused on crystalline materials, both bulk and thin-film, with unique physical properties. It did not seek to describe