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Strategic Research Initiatives

Fast Electron Beam Technology for Interfacial Materials Science

Jian-Min Zuo, Qian Chen:  Materials Science and Engineering

Hong Yang: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Renske van der Veen: Chemistry

The search for future clean energy with a minimal ecosystem footprint relies on a myriad of technologies, such as catalysis, filtration, electronics powering, and grid storage of renewable energy. In each case, the performance is determined to a large part by the materials interfaces where energy, light, reaction, and mechanics are intricately coupled. Thus, the design of functional interfaces is critical to the advancement of technology. Achieving such a goal requires the molecular-level knowledge of materials interfaces and their dynamics. However, attaining such knowledge requires new breakthroughs in how we probe the interfaces. Traditional electron and X-ray interfacial imaging uses a continuous beam for illumination. This places a severe limit on the time duration where the interface can be observed, and thus our knowledge of dynamical interfaces. To overcome this limit, this Strategic Research Initiative proposed by an interdisciplinary team of scientists at University of Illinois will develop “on-demand” and “smart” electron microscopy technologies with unprecedented spatial- and time-precision and resolution power. The initiative is based on the premise of the pulsed-electron beam technology, where a laser stimulated photocathode is used to deliver the fast electron beams (FEB) where and when it is needed, and the rapid progress of artificial intelligence (AI), which can be designed to predict events when electron imaging is most critical. Together these two technologies will enable the design of intelligent in-situ and in-operando experiments to revolutionize how we understand interfaces and how we discover new materials and new functions. In moving forward, the team seeks to leverage the campus funding to develop strategic academic and industrial partnerships for the demonstration of the feasibility of FEB-AI technology, to elucidate mechanisms at nano-bio interfaces, to discover new interfacial materials with superior properties for electronic, chemical and energy applications, and ultimately to provide novel solutions for pressing societal needs on human health, clean water, advanced devices, and energy.