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Frontiers in Crystalline Matter: From Discovery to Technology
the decrease in basic research at large industrial research laboratories, shifts in federal funding, and the organization of university research by discipline have all contributed to a marked decline in the availability of educational and training opportunities in the United States in this vital area; meanwhile, such opportunities elsewhere are increasingly available.
Before considering these causes and effects in more detail, it should be noted that the impact of DGCM extends well beyond the traditional fields of physics, chemistry, and materials science, influencing many diverse fields. In biology, for example, crystal growers seek to understand biomineralization and biological control of crystal growth, while in geochemistry researchers seek to understand molecular-scale processes as they relate to geological processes. However, this report focuses only on crystal growth and new materials discovery as they manifest in research in physics, chemistry, and materials science.
Impact of the Decline of Education and Training Opportunities in the Field
The extent of and reasons for the decrease in basic research at industrial laboratories are discussed later in this chapter. The impact of this decrease on the education and training of young researchers is significant. In the past, many graduates would spend a postdoctoral period at one of the large industrial research laboratories and receive intensive training in DGCM as part of an interdisciplinary team. For the most part, those opportunities are no longer available. Smaller companies that still grow crystals for the industrial or government markets typically do not have the capacity to provide such training. Selected national laboratories have significant efforts in the growth of specific materials, most notably the Ames Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (for very specialized materials needed for the National Ignition Facility [NIF]). However, few young people receive training in bulk-crystal growth at those facilities.
The lack of federal funding opportunities directed specifically to crystal growth has also taken its toll on efforts to educate and train future growers. As discussed in more detail later in this chapter, programs to investigate new electronic, magnetic, and optical properties of materials or to investigate crystal growth as it relates to challenging processes such as disease, biomineralization, or geochemistry do attract federal support, but support (and thus opportunities for graduate training) for the growth of the materials is much harder to obtain. In the past NASA provided significant support for crystal growth research through its Microgravity Research Program, but the program has been terminated, and many groups that depended on that source have disintegrated.
This lack of directed funding has limited the number of research groups in crystal growth. For a number of years, much attention was given in university laboratories to thin-film growth of silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and other