Darrell Schlom, the Herbert Fisk Johnson Professor of Industrial Chemistry in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature,” as well as to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology,” according to the academy.
Schlom has dedicated much of his career to discovering new materials that possess properties of great value to the electronics industry. In the mid-1990s he and his senior thesis student were the first in the world to suggest the thermodynamic stability of the interface between halfnium oxide and silicon. The replacement of silicon dioxide in all modern silicon-based transistors with halfnium oxide enabled faster and more energy-efficient transistors – a breakthrough that contributed to the materials revolution championed by companies like Intel, IBM and Global Foundries.
More recently, Schlom and his collaborators demonstrated how a new material – a layered combination of strontium, titanium and oxygen – is capable of extending cell phone technology from today’s approximately 1 GHz frequency range into the tens of GHz frequency range desired for fifth-generation cell phones.
The NAE praises Schlom’s “materials-by-design” approach in which he works closely with experts in theory, synthesis and characterization to discover materials with properties superior to those in existence. Schlom and his Cornell collaborators create these new materials with atomic-layer precision by a technique known as molecular-beam epitaxy, which Schlom likens to “atomic spray painting.” They also scrutinize the atomic structure of what they have created using powerful microscopes and techniques that can measure the band structure of the materials for direct comparison with theoretical predictions. This powerful, targeted approach to materials discovery has enabled Schlom and collaborators to invent multiple materials with unparalleled performance.
“This recognition by the NAE is really a testament to the talented students, postdocs and collaborators with whom I have had the pleasure of interacting,” said Schlom. “Our progress comes from jamming together daily to better understand the intricate inner workings of materials at the atomic level. A critical element of our successful team approach to accelerating materials discovery is direct, honest interactions that cross scientific disciplines, within an atmosphere of respect and trust. The combination of scientific excellence and collegiality makes Cornell ideal for the discovery of atomically engineered materials that will revolutionize electronics.”
Today, Schlom is empowering others from around the country to discover new materials through a new national user facility called PARADIM – the Platform for the Accelerated Realization, Analysis and Discovery of Interface Materials. He founded and leads the platform, which is using a $25 million grant from the National Science Foundation to make facilities and expertise from Cornell and its partner institutions available to materials innovators from industry, academia and national labs across the country.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to hear the news about Darrell,” said Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering. “It was his leadership that led to PARADIM, which will enable the discovery of new materials for applications ranging from energy storage to water purification. And the brilliant discoveries that come out of Darrell’s lab help keep Cornell at the forefront of advanced materials worldwide.”
After earning his Ph.D. from Stanford University, Schlom worked under two Nobel Prize winners as a postdoc at IBM Research’s lab in Zurich, Switzerland. He then joined the faculty at Penn State where he spent 16 years before coming to Cornell in 2008. He’s published more than 500 research papers and holds eight patents.
Schlom will be inducted into the NAE during a ceremony at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8.
Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.