$4M gift will propel quantum materials studies


A revolutionary instrument that will expedite the discovery of new, artificial forms of matter with unprecedented electronic and magnetic properties will be funded by a $4.13 million gift from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The new instrument, to be called the Moore CONQUEST (Creation and Observation of Novel Quantum Electronic Structures) facility, will integrate three separate pieces of cutting-edge technology for synthesizing and studying such materials.

The facility will consist of an oxide molecular-beam epitaxy machine for making new materials with high structural quality and unparalleled layering control at the atomic level, combined with the world’s most advanced spectroscopic imaging scanning tunneling (SI-STM) microscope, and with an ultra-high-resolution angle-resolved photoemission (ARPES) system for probing how electrons move in the newly created materials.

The instrument will combine the expertise of three Cornell scientists, who will work together to design and build it over the next three years.

J.C. Seamus Davis, the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences, has already developed the most precise SI-STM in the world, the newest of which is housed in a low-vibration, low-temperature facility on campus. Darrell Schlom, the Herbert Fisk Johnson Professor of Industrial Chemistry, is expert in growing precisely designed oxide thin films using molecular beam epitaxy; and Kyle Shen, associate professor of physics, is expert in the spectroscopic imaging technique ARPES.

"The Moore CONQUEST facility will provide crucial feedback connecting how atoms are arranged - the atomic structure - with how electrons in the material created move, or its electronic structure. It will be a paradigm shift for the design and understanding of quantum materials," Schlom said.

The $4.13 million gift, given over three years, will allow the researchers to build an oxide MBE and an ARPES in one lab in the Physical Sciences Building, and to connect them via a horizontal ultra-high vacuum manifold with Davis’ recently constructed SI-STM located in the Physical Sciences Building.

The Moore CONQUEST facility has the potential to give researchers the most precise understanding to date of unique materials such as electronic oxides that do not exist in nature but display characteristics like ferromagnetism and superconductivity because they are designed atom by atom with sharp interfaces.

The scientists’ approach will be to create complex oxide structures using Schlom’s MBE. Then, the samples will be transferred into the neighboring ARPES and SI-STM systems, which will image their electronic structures. The key to probing these materials is keeping their surfaces completely free of contamination, which is why it is difficult to study these materials without a seamless transfer system in an ultra-high vacuum like the Cornell researchers will build.

The transfer of epitaxial thin films to ARPES has already been demonstrated successfully by Schlom and Shen, who since 2009 have conducted research using a combined MBE-ARPES instrument housed in Duffield Hall.

The grant was given through the Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems initiative, which is focusing more than $90 million over a five-year period in the field of condensed matter physics to explore "exotic and unexpected properties of quantum materials."

The Moore Foundation is a private philanthropic organization that supports "bold ideas that create enduring impact in the areas of environmental conservation, patient care and science." Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, established the foundation to create positive change around the world.