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Courtesy: Jagdish Narayan
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Interview of Jagdish Narayan by David Zierler on March 17, 2021,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Jagdish (Jay) Narayan, John C.C. Fan Family Distinguished Chair Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University. Narayan explains his approach to materials science from the vantage point of understanding how materials create and advance technology. He explains his longstanding affiliation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and he recounts his childhood in Kanpur, northern India. Narayan describes his studies at IIT Kanpur in physics, math, and engineering, and he explains his decision to pursue a PhD at UC Berkeley in materials science under the direction of Jack Washburn. He discusses his thesis research on introducing defects in oxides using electron microscopy, and he describes his postdoctoral studies at Berkeley Lab before forming the Thin Film and Electron Microscopy Group at Oak Ridge. Narayan explains the discovery of laser annealing and rapid thermal processing of semiconductors and its many applications, and he describes his close collaboration with the Division of Materials Science at the DOE. He narrates the discovery of Q-carbon and he explains what it means to find a new material in nature and what the potential commercial applications are, including the creation of synthetic diamonds. Narayan explains his decision to join the faculty at NC State, and his partnership with the state government to develop the Microelectronics Center. He reflects on his contributions as an inventor, particularly relating to the formation of supersaturated semiconductor allows via ion implantation for semiconductor device fabrication. At the end of the interview, Narayan explains how physics drives his research sensibilities, why he is devoted to improving the resolution of electron microscopes, and why he is excited for the future of diamond and c-BN based high-power devices.
Okay. This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is March 17th, 2021. I'm so happy to be here with Professor Jagdish Narayan. Jay, great to see you. Thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you, David. Thank you.
To start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?
So, my title is John C. C. Fan Family Distinguished Chair Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University.
When were you named in honor of John Fan? When did you get that endowed chair?
In 2002, and I was distinguished university professor prior to that. This allowed me take students from other departments, like physics, electrical engineering, and even nuclear engineering.
Jay, a very broad question for both your home department and your academic orientation. Where do you see your research with regard to physics and mechanical engineering and electrical engineering? Where do all of these disciplines come together, both for you and the kinds of students that you teach? Both undergraduate and graduate?
Yeah, that is a very important question. I see materials science from the point of view of how materials are key to every technology. If you look at the human history, advances in our civilization have always depended upon materials from the Stone Age, to the Bronze Age, to the Iron Age, and now, the information age, nanoscience, and nanotechnology. Always, the materials have defined us and taken us to a next level. And so, when you look at disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering, you will see that they have materials as a common theme. These disciplines are joined together by materials, for example, chemistry focuses on materials synthesis, physics on characterization and modeling, electrical engineering on devices, mechanical engineering on heat transfer and strength of materials. Materials science and engineering integrates all this into one discipline. So today, if you look at a typical department outside MSE, often thirty to fifty percent of the faculty really are working on materials-related research, which is really amazing. In fact, the largest divisions in the funding agencies are materials research divisions. I had developed this philosophy some time ago, while serving NSF as director of Division of Materials Research (1990-92). And so, I can share with you this philosophy, if you want.
Let's see if I can go to- so, if you see this? [Shares computer screen].
This chart shows a systematic transition from science to technology to new products, in other words, science to technology to society. This paradigm excites me even today. My personal goal is to transition science to technology to society. So, if you look at this octahedron. The base of this octahedron is science. It could be nanoscience. So, when you look at any new technology and system, they all require new and improved materials. These materials need to be synthesized first in small quantities and processed later in large quantities. These materials of different structures and compositions need to be characterized in detail. You need to find out where the atoms are so that people can calculate where the electrons are. You need to carry out structure-property correlations for optimization and reliability of materials. The defects play a very important role in all of this. And then there is modeling. From this base, we go to devices and systems. Then finally, we go to new and improved product manufacturing, benefitting the society. So, my goal has been to follow this octahedron philosophy both in teaching as well as research. In fact, National Science Foundation has adopted this philosophy, more or less, where they want to unify different disciplines in this way. If you're a chemist, you are in this corner (synthesis and processing), physicist in (characterization and modeling), and materials scientist (processing and structure-property correlations), where all these components need to gel to create better devices and systems which then can be manufactured reliably using all engineering disciplines. That’ what I preach and practice in my research as well as teaching. National Science Foundation asked me to come and head their Division of Materials Research, which has all materials, solid-state physics, chemistry, and engineering sciences. I implemented this philosophy, which became part of a big presidential initiative on Advanced Materials and Processing, in which materials scientists, physicists, chemists, and people from engineering disciplines participated, and made a successful initiative back in 1990s.
Jay, another very broad, philosophical question with regard to your approach to materials science, would you say overall you take a more applied perspective where you have specific products or applications in mind? Or a more basic science approach where you're working in material science for the sake of understanding nature better? Or does it really depend with regard to your approach on the particular project that you're working on?
My approach is to start with basic materials research and dig deep to create new and improved materials and processes. To do this right, you may have to go to new regimes of thermodynamics, kinetics, phase transformation, defects and interfaces, while keeping in mind the technological impact. How can you create new materials for quantum computing, secure communication, and nanosensing at room temperature? For this, you need a material like diamond, for example, in which you can put one nitrogen, one vacancy, in a five-nanometer size nanodiamonds with a precise orientation control. This requires a tremendous innovation in synthesis and processing and doping of diamond related materials. After that, you enter into atomic-scale characterization to see where the atoms and defects are. And then only you can do the calculation and predict more efficient configurations. So, my approach is to go from basic research to processing of new materials needed for new devices and systems. I patent these ideas and protect intellectual property through the university. After that it goes to companies through patent licensing, where university plays a critical role. My job is to take from basic science to devices to patent. And after that, let the university do the rest of it.
Jay, tell me about your affiliation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. When did you start with them?
I graduated from Berkeley in '71, and I worked there at Lawrence Berkeley Lab for a year as a Research Metallurgist, which I thought, was a cool title for a fresh PhD. And then in 1972, I joined Solid State Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a Member of Research Staff (Solid State Physicist). They were looking for somebody to study defects in materials and do structure-property correlations with a focus on radiation damage from fission and fusion neutrons. And so, I joined ORNL in '72, and I stayed there until '84, and it was a very interesting experience. I met Professor Eugene Wigner because he was quite interested in radiation damage in graphite, the Wigner Energy or Wigner effect. That is how the energy accumulates in solids due to radiation damage as a result of neutron irradiation. He was also concerned about the radiation damage from fusion neutrons, which are fourteen times more energetic than average energy of fission neutrons. How the nature of damage from fusion neutrons will be different from fission neutrons, and how those neutrons will affect properties of materials. So, I was doing radiation damage studies in solids, including graphite, and he wanted to see what kind of defects are they? With my expertise in electron microscopy, I was studying directly those defects as a result of radiation damage. So, we had a lot of very interesting conversations because then we could correlate with his theory of Wigner effect and so forth. But without that, without me determining what the defects are, how do they cluster, we were not able to do that. One of the principal conclusions from my studies was that radiation damage scaled with the number of atomic displacements, and the energetics of neutrons (fission and fusion) did not play a significant role. This made Wigner very happy and optimistic about the future of fusion energy back in early seventies.
Jay, a question we're all dealing with right now, particularly with you in material science and your research, how have you fared over the past year in the pandemic? Has social and physical isolation been difficult? To what extent are you able to continue collaborations over Zoom? And to what extent has being away from laboratories been difficult for you?
Yeah, it has affected all of us greatly, because I was a hands-on professor. I like to go to the lab and teach students. And now you have to go through the Zoom meetings, and I cannot show them how to do it directly. So, it's slower and different! And the students miss it and I miss it. There are similar problems with teaching. At the graduate level, I teach a course on defects in solids, and one on materials science and devices, and advanced concepts. If you are there in person, the knowledge transfer is better, and students learn and feel better. But with this Zoom, I have to answer a lot of emails, students miss this, miss that. But it has worked out okay overall. We have survived. And things are getting better every day now.
Jay, let's take it all the way back to the beginning. First, I'd like to ask about your parents. Tell me a little bit about them and where they're from.
So, I was born in the district Kanpur, which is in northern India. A small farm about ten miles from the city. And we had this modest farm, so we're not rich, but it was quite adequate. But the interesting thing was that I was homeschooled until third grade. We (my three cousins and me) were taught by a retired, old Army veteran. He was very nice person, who taught us discipline and value of hard work, but he didn't follow the curriculum of the school. So, we suddenly entered into the primary school in the fourth grade, it was very tough, because we didn't know much about the stuff in the school curriculum. We knew things which didn't matter. And so, we (me and my cousin who was a year older in the same grade) did very poorly in the fourth grade. And those days, corporal punishment was legal, unfortunately, in India. Since I was kind of a little chatty kid (know it all) and I got punished hard, because I thought I knew things, and probably I didn't know. But my cousin was quite kind, so he survived fine. The punishment in the fourth grade changed my life. One day, I got so beaten up in the school, I came home and straight went to bed. Usually, I'd eat, play, do homework and then go to bed. But that day, I was so tired and bruised up, I went straight to bed. And then my older cousin came to see my mother, while I was partially asleep. This was a joint family. We lived in a compound with two houses, one for my uncle and one for ourselves. Basically, he told my mother that his little brother thinks he knows everything, and teacher gets very upset, and for each wrong answer he gets a big whack. He has to stretch out his palm and this guy takes a big stick and he beats him on the palm. While he was telling this entire story to my mother, I had woken up and listened to some of this. So, after some time, when he was gone, my mother woke me up and she was profusely crying. She was saying that she cannot shut me up. That would change the personality of her little boy, but then what's the solution? And after about half an hour, I told my mother that I'm sorry that I let her down. I'm going to work hard, and she doesn't have to worry about changing my personality to be quiet. I can still stay the way I am, but I'm going to work hard. Things started getting better, in fourth grade I improved a little bit. But that summer between fourth and fifth grade I really worked hard on my own and entered fifth grade top of the class. To keep my promise to my mother, I have never relinquished number one position in any class all the way from middle school to graduate school at Berkeley.
Jay, what languages were spoken in your household growing up?
It was Hindi. It's closer to Sanskrit, so we spoke mostly Hindi with some English words.
Where did you pick up English?
Well, English is our second language, it started from fifth grade. I didn't speak any English until fifth, and slowly picked up until I got to junior high. It's still half English, half Hindi but then in the senior high, it's seventy-five percent English, twenty-five percent Hindi and then I go to college, which is one of the IITs, the famed Indian Institutes of Technologies. There it was all English. And so, by the time I graduated from undergraduate, I was good to go in anywhere for higher studies.
Now, in the Indian system, you have to declare a major right from the beginning. What did you want to study as you were thinking about going to undergraduate?
Yeah, you're right that after tenth grade you have to decide whether you want to go into physical sciences (which included math and engineering), biological sciences or social sciences. I decided to go into physical sciences, which means I had to take physics, chemistry, and math. Since math changes after tenth grade, it goes from the traditional math to trigonometry and dynamics. And that's like American junior high, eleventh grade. And that decides whether you would end up as a medical doctor, engineer, physical scientist or social scientist.
What did you want to study? What was your declared major?
I wanted to be an engineer or a physicist, so it started with physics, chemistry, and math. With that I entered into engineering after high school. After tenth grade, it was known that most kids didn't do very well in eleventh grade because of this new math. So similar to the period between fourth and fifth grades, I worked very hard that summer between tenth and eleventh, and you wouldn't believe it that when I went to the eleventh grade in this top high school in Kanpur district, which is a pretty big district, like five million people. It is almost like a state. And there’s this college (BNSD College, rated the top high school in UP), and it turned out, I was pretty good at math, near the top of the class. But something remarkable happened in eleventh and twelfth grades. Because I was ahead of other kids in math, I got a special name in eleventh grade (Loney). If you talked to any of my friends from high school and IIT, they would know me only by Loney. They named me after Sidney Loney (the famous British mathematical and professor at Cambridge University) who has authored many books math books used worldwide. And so, math and physics were two of my favorite subjects, and that's what I wanted to be, either a physicist or engineer. It turns out engineering had more charm, all these IITs were coming with a lot of excitement and opportunity to go abroad. This was especially true for IIT, Kanpur, which was U.S. supported and rated number one in sixties. And if you could get into engineering, your social value increased tremendously compared to physics. So, I got into engineering.
Jay, in terms of your undergraduate curriculum, how well were you exposed to the world of experimentation in physics, and the world of theory in physics?
Yeah, so at IIT, three years of the five years were common. So, you take physics, chemistry, math, English and social science courses in the undergraduate curriculum. In fact, you take three courses. There is level one, level two, level three, and by the time you take level three, they become pretty difficult and sophisticated. The experiments were associated with level two and three. You specialize in engineering last two years. The IIT Kanpur was actually sponsored by ten U.S. universities, including Berkeley, MIT, Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon and so on. And so, there were a lot of visiting professors from these universities at IIT Kanpur, who helped and advised on higher education abroad. And so, these visiting professors were teaching courses in physics, chemistry, and engineering, which were pretty advanced and very interesting. From math and physics, you get some taste that what you have to do some modeling, which is very useful when you get to the graduate school. During electron microscopy and atomic scale characterization at Berkeley, I had to do the modeling. Because once you see the atoms, where the atoms are, you want to understand why they are there. You have seen experimentally and can calculate the structure theoretically? The theory is based upon locating the atoms so that you can do the electron distribution, you can do the property that is needed for devices. For new materials, using electron microscope, if you can do the location of atoms, then you put the whole field in a very solid foundation. A lot of the theories are not in a very solid foundation. That's what's called garbage in, garbage out. Because they don't know where the atoms are. They either guess from the structure, or if there are defects, then the atom location changes, and they don't know that. They try to do it from energy minimization principles. But if you can directly determine from the electron microscope those atomic positions, particularly near defects, and then you can do really first-rate theory and then compare with your experiments. So that has been my goal, how to go from atoms to the electrons and determine properties. Sometimes I do my own little theory and then I can feel comfortable that I am on a right track.
Jay, what advice might you have gotten either from professors or others that your interests, your research would be best served studying abroad, and specifically in the United States?
Yeah, we interacted with visiting professors and other faculty members who guided us for higher studies aboard, considering our strengths and weaknesses. Since I was more interested in fundamentals of materials science and physics, Berkeley was definitely the best place for me.
And what year was that? What year did you graduate?
At this IIT, there were at least a dozen professors from top schools in this country. One of them was Professor Marshall Merriam visiting professor from UC Berkeley. And the goal was to get- especially for top student, to go abroad and get a PhD from one of the top schools. That was the mantra. So being at the top of the class. I got into Berkeley and a few other U.S. schools, and University of Cambridge (UK). Berkeley and Cambridge were the top two schools finally I narrowed down my choice, that I would like to go to. I was planning to go to Berkeley, but when I told my father about two schools and my choice, he said there is no doubt that you need to go to Cambridge. He said he never heard of this place called Berkeley (laughter). And he said, "Cambridge! That's where Newton went. That's where Nehru--" Nehru, you know our Prime Minister?
The first Prime Minister of India, and my father was his big fan. And he said, "That's where Nehru went, that's where Newton went. That's where Narayan needs to go. There's absolutely no doubt." And he was so proud, he told all his buddies that, "My son got fellowship from Cambridge." It was really special fellowship. But I had a similar one from Berkeley. So, I wrote about my dilemma to the graduate school at Berkeley, that I'd like to come to Berkeley, but my father wants me to go to Cambridge (UK). I couldn't believe it. They wrote back a very nice, very persuasive letter saying there are three reasons you may want to come to Berkeley. "Number one, Berkeley has been just rated number one school in the world. Number two; you are the only student from the whole of Asia who has been awarded this special fellowship. Number three; there are Berkelium and Californium in the Cambridge dictionary." The last point about Berkelium and Californium in the Cambridge dictionary really impressed my father and he started telling his friends about America, and he told them "Look, the Americans are putting a man on the moon, and you know, and Berkeley is rated number one, better than Cambridge. That's where my son should go."
Jay, did you have any family in the United States? Did you have any idea what you'd be getting yourself into?
No, I didn't have any family members in U.S., and you wouldn't believe it, those days, the government of India only could give ten dollars per student if they got a fellowship to come to this country. So, I take those ten dollars, and there was a layover in Hong Kong. I blow $9.31 in buying a watch, and land in San Francisco with 69 cents in 1969. (Pun unintended, laughs) Now, with 69 cents, you would think I would be worried. No, I was so excited about this opportunity. Professor Merriam and his family were back to Berkeley, and they had offered me as a house guest for a few weeks. They even promised to advance $400 as a loan, which I would pay with my fellowship. It was ten o'clock at night. And you know, from San Francisco to Berkeley, there is not a good connection. So, I take this taxi, and this taxi driver didn't even ask how I would pay for all this. Even today, I would hesitate to take taxi from San Francisco to Berkeley. It would cost me probably $300. Those days, it was about $50. That was a lot of money back then. While driving, he asked me, "You must be a rich guy." I say, "Yeah, I've got 69 cents." (Both laugh) We had a big laugh. And he said, "How are you going to pay for all this?" I told him about this promise that I have $400 sitting when I reach there, I will be a house guest for a while. And he said, "When did you write to your host?" And I told him I wrote to him about five weeks ago. And he said, "Did you hear back anything?" I said no (laughter). Now the taxi driver was not worried about his $50. He was worried more about me. He said, "How are you going to manage, if they are not there? They don't want you? How would you survive, you know?" And I said, "No, no, things will work out. I trust in God." And sure enough, we reach there, and he said, "I'm not going to unload anything until you come back, see whether they will take you in." So, I go there, you wouldn't believe it. They had $400 cash in an envelope. They had my room ready. And I come back within a few minutes, give the taxi driver his $50. And he thought, that's miracle! (laughter) He didn't believe that he would collect any money. At Berkeley I was so happy to have this opportunity, being part of the school like Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which was a fantastic place for doing research. Actually, I was a fellow at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where I could cook up any experiments and stay all night. Those days, Lawrence Berkeley Lab provided a free taxi service, so four o'clock in the morning, I could get a free taxi to come home. And there was a special research division housed in a nice building, where materials scientists, physicists, and chemists worked together. We had common facilities all over the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. You could use different research facilities; they were all open 24/7. If you were certified to use them, you could use all those instruments any time. And to me, it was just great, I was like a kid in the candy shop, you know? I was so fascinated with all the facilities and wonderful opportunities for research. And I want to avail every second of this opportunity. This was the beginning of my research career in materials science and physics.
Jay, on the social side of things, did you have any idea that Berkeley in the late 1960s, that you would be coming to a campus that was convulsed in anti-war protests and the civil rights movement? Did you have any idea?
No, I did not have any idea about such activities at Berkeley. First day, I was passing through the Sather Gate. You know, that's where a lot of these activities were happening. And I was all tied up, like a properly dressed student, and here I see all these people demonstrating and chanting. So, for a while, I was anguished whether I made the right choice. But as soon as I started taking the classes, I was so impressed with those kids with long hair and not such buttoned-up clothes. They were so smart (laughter). So, I was satisfied that it was the right choice.
Jay, who were some of the professors that you became close with at UC, Berkeley?
I did a major in materials science, and minor in physics and electrical engineering. My major professor was Jack Washburn, who assigned me a project on defects in oxides in view of my interests. I also interacted with Arthur Kip, Charles Kittel, and Marvin Cohen in physics, and Ted Van Duzer in ECE. I took physics and ECE courses from them. It was fascinating to see how they dealt with fundamental concepts in such an elegant manner. However, all these basic concepts dealt with materials without defects, but real materials have defects, which control their properties and applications. Silicon, which is the backbone of microelectronics, is not very interesting unless you put a small amount of dopants/impurities in it. And silicon transistors can be destroyed if there are undesirable defects such as dislocations. They can short-circuit the transistors and disable it. So, when I was taking these classes, Kittel asked me, "What are you working on?" I told him about defects, vacancies, interstitials, and dislocations in oxides. He was so fascinated that I could see these defects by transmission electron microscopy and determine their formation (how many?) and migration (how fast do they move?) energies. In fact, if you look at Kittel’s book, Introduction to Solid State Physics, the last two chapters are on point defects and dislocations. Kittel emphasized the importance of defects in solid state materials. I finished my first experiment on diffusion of vacancies and interstitials along dislocations and compared that with bulk diffusion. Kittel was so impressed that he started telling my professor that he should get a PhD for this work. And that's how, I finished my MS in one year, PhD next year, and published a dozen journal papers from my theses. That's the fastest PhD at Berkeley. This was a very exciting period for me at Berkeley. I also met Hans Einstein, Einstein’s son, who was Professor of Civil Engineering at Berkeley, while working on stereomicroscopy lab in the Civil Engineering Department.
Jay, did you ever give thought to leaving Berkeley and doing a PhD somewhere else?
Never, this was the best place for me to do research. I had friends at Stanford, MIT, Illinois and so forth, and they wished they could come to Berkeley. At that time, Berkeley was ahead of other schools, including Stanford, MIT, Caltech, and others which were playing catchup. Let me tell you a little story about Caltech? Linus Pauling couldn't get into Berkeley, so he entered Caltech. In 1995, we invited Linus Pauling to deliver NC State’s LH Thomas Lecture. He had also seen our work on five-fold twinning in diamond in Applied Physics Letters, which he liked very much to support his model for the formation of quasicrystals, which contained five-fold symmetry. His lecture at NC State focused on quasicrystals, as a separate phase (allotrope) or just formed by five-fold twinning, which Pauling proposed. Pauling believed that quasicrystals resulted from twinning, and therefore were not new phases (allotropes) of materials. Pauling was against quasicrystal discoverer Dan Shechtman and his mentor John Cahn and others who believed in the new phase (allotrope). It was so amusing that Linus Pauling (in his LH Thomas lecture) devoted first two minutes about his story how he could get into only Caltech for graduate work and was not good enough for Berkeley. He was trying to dig at his opposition (John Cahn) who went to Berkeley. I explained it to him that this ambiguity in interpretation arises if you do only diffraction (x-ray or electron diffraction). If you do both atomic imaging and electron diffraction (which we had done in our five-fold diamond twinning studies), then there is no ambiguity. But most of the work on quasicrystals until then was based only on electron diffraction (Shectman) or x-ray diffraction (Pauling and others). I had known John Cahn very well through our work on formation of supersaturated semiconductor via solute trapping, which John had introduced in metallic alloys. Shectman discovered quasicrystals having five-fold symmetry Al-Mn alloys, which were formed as result of solute trapping of Mn in aluminum. Shectman was awarded 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry for quasicrystals, only after Pauling passed away in 1994. I called John and told how Linus Pauling thinks all the Berkeley guys are against him. "You know, John, Linus Pauling devoted first two minutes of his LH Thomas Lecture on how he couldn't get into Berkeley." "And he was saying people from Berkeley still oppose his viewpoint." And John said, "He mentioned that? Little me, and him?" (laughter) So Berkeley was a very special place, and I really didn't regret. In fact, I went to Cambridge after a few years, while I was at Oak Ridge National Lab, and then I really realized what a wonderful choice I had made to go to Berkeley.
Jay, what were some of the principle conclusions of your PhD thesis?
Okay, the major part of my thesis was that I could introduce defects in oxides in a controlled way and study their characteristics and properties. Using electron microscopy, I could image and study defects in oxides, like vacancies, interstitials, and dislocations. Vacancy is a missing atom, and interstitial is an extra atom. In oxides, I found that there are positive and negative vacancies and interstitials, and identified a new defect with two interstitials together, which was not found before. Then I could measure their activation energy for migration. How fast vacancies move, how fast interstitials move. All this work involved extensive modeling and correlations with experimental results. But the most important thing was, I showed how fast these defects move along the dislocations, which is the key to all the materials processing, particularly semiconductor processing. And so, with all that, I had published twelve journal papers from my MS and PhD theses. Berkeley was very nice, but I wanted to explore other opportunities in other national labs. After one year as a Research Metallurgist’s job at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, I left to take the job of Research Scientist in the Solid-State Division at Oak Ridge National Lab.
Jay, what was your work at Berkeley Lab? That first year after you defended. What did you work on then?
Right after my PhD, I got the job with a title of Research Metallurgist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where I continued some of our work on defects in oxides with Professor Jack Washburn. Interestingly, Jack had gone for a sabbatical to Cambridge University right after I graduated, so I ended up taking care of his group for a year. I met Andy Grove, who had taught a course at Berkeley and just founded Intel Corporation in 1968. Also, during that time, I changed my research from defects in oxides to defects in semiconductors, as defects in semiconductors were holding this field back.
In what way? Why were they holding it back?
Because a single defect like a dislocation could kill a transistor. These defects could act like trap and combination center for carriers. So, trap means a defect holds the electron for a while until the hole comes in, and then you lose both of them once they recombine. That’s how these defects provide trap and recombination centers. Doping by ion implantation created defects through displacing atoms in the lattice. Each dopant created hundreds of undesirable defects like vacancies and interstitials, which you have to manage to minimize their harmful effects to fabricate an efficient transistor. Understanding of defects and their control led me to this job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which focused on radiation damage in solids. Thus, defect physics provided a unifying theme in electronics and nuclear industry. Radiation damage and defects connected me with Eugene Wigner and the Wigner effect. With defects and interfaces and their influence on properties as a unifying theme, I graduated five PhDs one year at NC State, one from nuclear, one from physics, one from electrical engineering, and two from materials science and engineering. It surprised many when Intel hired its first nuclear engineer. He had BS in physics and MS in nuclear engineering, dealing with plasma physics and materials. I had a research project on correlations of thin film properties with plasma characteristics. This turned out to be of great interest to Intel, because they wanted to have a better control on film properties with shrinking device feature. They really appreciated that I trained a student at the interfaces of plasma physics and materials properties.
Jay, did you join the thin film and electron microscopy group right away at Oak Ridge, or that came later on?
No, this group didn't exist at that time. In fact, Oak Ridge made it for me after some time (laughter). So, I joined the radiation damage group, and I was trying to plead that they should make an electron microscopy and thin film group. Electron microscopy was an emerging field, but there were no electron microscopy groups in any of the national labs, Argonne, Brookhaven and others. This was also the case in industrial labs, including Bell Labs, IBM, Xerox etc. The electron microscopists were often lumped with X-ray physicists. There was this perception that electron microscopy is not quantitative enough. My job was to show that we can do first rate quantitative physics using electron microscopy techniques. Once I convinced DOE at the annual Review meetings that we can do good physics with electron microscopy, DOE Materials Sciences Division created a group. This was the first group, not only in this country, but in the whole world. I found out that even in England they did not have electron microscopy group. This was the first group at Oak Ridge National Lab, where I hired top electron microscopists around the world. This group enjoyed many accolades and it still exits after all the reorganizations at ORNL.
Jay, what was your affiliation from the beginning? Was it a postdoc that transitioned into staff scientist? Or you became a full-time employee right away?
I joined ORNL as a staff scientist after my job of Research Metallurgist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. So, I never did a postdoc. In fact, somebody from ORNL the other day asked me, you're the only guy who never had a postdoc and directly went to a staff scientist?
And when did the thin film and electron microscopy group get started, actually?
Once Division of Materials Sciences agreed (DOE) agreed to create a group, you get scope of research approved, including the budget and the number of staff scientists and other technical positions. After that, group performance is evaluated annually, budgets set accordingly. This group was highly productive and innovative with many accolades, such as DOE Outstanding Research Award, numerous US Patents, and three R&D-100 Awards (recognized as Oscars of Innovation), which DOE appreciated very much. In 1977, we discovered laser annealing and rapid thermal processing of semiconductors, which led to high-efficiency laser diffused solar cells, supersaturated semiconductor alloys, and metal-ceramic nanocomposites. All these patents were licensed and formed the backbone of semiconductor industry. All semiconductor devices today involve defect engineering and rapid thermal processing to reduce thermal budget, a critical consideration, as devices are getting smaller.
Jay, in the creation of this group, did you work directly with the DOE in terms of funding and the overall research agenda?
Yeah. As a group leader, you had to do that. So, I worked with the Division of Materials Sciences (DOE) directly, and you have to justify your funding. But my group was very productive. So, I did not have much problem with getting funding from them, compared to other groups. In fact, the story goes when I left Oak Ridge, Solid State Division dropped from most productive to average within a couple of years. As a result, DOE decided to split the Solid-State Division and combine some with Metals and Ceramics Division and the rest with Neutron Scattering at the ORNL Neutron Spallation Source. This I regretted very much, because I thought solid-state division played a very important role in maintaining our edge in solid-state physics and materials.
Jay, to go back to the question about basic science versus applied science, how did those parameters work at Oak Ridge, both in terms of the kinds of people you wanted to bring in and the kinds of products that you wanted to bring to fruition?
The Solid-State Division appreciated and facilitated transition of basic research, which was our primary goal, to patenting and licensing. I encouraged group members to do first rate basic research, there was no compromise on that, but keep eyes on applications that can benefit the society. Steve Pennycook and I developed STEM-Z (scanning transmission electron microscopy sensitive to atomic number Z) microscopy where we could determine atomic structure and do chemistry simultaneously. This turned out to be the most powerful technique for structure-property correlations. These techniques also allowed direct correlations with theory and modeling. As a result, we had very productive and fruitful collaborations with theorists, like Dick Wood and his group in the Solid-State Division. These collaborations with theorists led to unraveling of laser-solid interactions and formation of new materials.
Did you have graduate students or postdocs at Oak Ridge at all?
Yeah. We had undergraduate, graduate and postdoc in the mix. The undergraduates came mostly during the summertime for about ten weeks. Often these students will get excited about research and adjust their thinking and career path. The research can be very boring or very exciting, depending upon your approach.
Did you do any teaching? Were there any opportunities to do teaching while you were at Oak Ridge?
No, there was no teaching at ORNL at that time. However, later on things changed, as ORNL management changed from Martin Marietta to the University of Tennessee in collaboration with NC State, Duke, and few others. Now, there are more joint faculty appointments, for example, I have Distinguished Visiting Scientist appointment, where my students can work with ORNL scientists and use their facilities.
What would you say is a good example of the instrumentation or the advances of the laboratory environment, working in a National Laboratory that might not be replicated anywhere else?
Some of these facilities are very unique, such as, cutting-edge electron microscopes and neutron scattering facilities. So, when we need higher resolution than what we have at NC State, we work with them. Neutron scattering facility at ORNL is very unique and a national treasure. In addition, ORNL has fastest computing facilities, ideal for materials modeling, such as high-temperature superconductivity in Q-carbon. So, all these cutting-edge facilities are critical as you go toward atoms and electrons. So that's how all these national labs play a very important role.
Tell me a little bit more about the discovery of Q-carbon. When exactly did that happen and what were your goals that preceded this research or this discovery?
Okay, so the Q-carbon research originated from our interest in laser processing of materials, which started in '77 and in '79 we published this famous science paper entitled, Laser Annealing in Semiconductors. So, we could use lasers to manipulate, move and anneal defects in silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide and metals. But laser annealing in carbon faced many challenges. Scientists from MIT (led by Millie Dresselhaus), Bell Labs (Venky Venkatesan), and NC State tried hard but could not control the under-cooling, and so carbon just went back to graphite after quenching. So, laser annealing of carbon simmered for a while until 1991, when we reported conversion of carbon into diamond with a lot of excitement in Science. Still, we needed to a better control on the under-cooling. It was almost twenty-five years later, we were able to control undercooling convert amorphous carbon into graphene, diamond, or new phase of carbon (Q-carbon) by increasing the undercooling before quenching.
What was so difficult about controlling the under-cooling?
We use nanosecond (billionth of a second) laser pulses, you have to control the heat flow and confinement. If the heat flows out rapidly, then you don't have under-cooling. So, you have to understand the details of laser-solid interactions taking into account temperature-dependent thermal and optical properties of the films and the substrates. We developed the laser-solid interaction model with the help of a very bright PhD student Rajiv Singh, who is a professor at the University of Florida. And then in 2015 when I started thinking that there is one little phase space where something interesting could happen, and I can convert carbon into diamond or perhaps some new material. But at that time, all our computer programs were in old computers, TRS-80. And so, we were kind of stuck. So, one day, while I was babysitting my grandson, Roger. I said, "Roger, can you help us turning these programs into Windows?" And he said, "Yes, Grandpa, I can do it in one hour." And you know, there were three PhD students working on this project. They are struggling. And Roger, sure enough, within an hour, turned them into Windows. And you wouldn't believe it, within twenty-four hours we did the calculations, and found the sweet spot we needed for the conversion of carbon into diamond. And within a week, we had our Eureka moment and we saw direct conversion of carbon into diamond at ambient temperature and pressure in air. And then, we found something even more interesting, a new phase glowing under secondary electron imaging. This new phase was formed at a higher undercooling than needed for diamond. And so, when we submitted the paper, some reviewers felt I should name it Narayan carbon. My wife, Ratna, who was quite familiar with our experiments, said, "No, no, you need to call this Q-carbon and dedicate to Millie (Dresselhaus, queen of carbon and our beloved family friend)." Q-carbon was more appropriate, as it was formed after quenching. And so, we named this new phase Q-carbon. This new phase showed extraordinary properties, it was harder than diamond, ferromagnetic in pure form, high field emission, and showed record high-temperature superconductivity upon doping with boron.
Jay, I wonder if you can explain, when you say you found a new material, how do you know that? At the molecular level? Just by its properties? How do you determine what a new material is?
Yeah, that's a very important question, as it relates to the two last Nobel Prizes on carbon (laughter). See, a new material should have a unique atomic structure with unique entropy and free energy. It is also called allotrope. Using electron diffraction, we determined that Q-carbon has a unique atomic structure and determined its unique bonding characteristics using electron energy loss spectroscopy and Raman scattering techniques. Thus Q-carbon with different structure and bonding has novel properties. Now let us consider two recent carbon Nobel prizes on different allotropes of carbon. First, 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Curl, Kroto and Smalley) is on discovery of fullerenes. The citation reads fullerene is an allotrope of carbon in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, tube, and many other shapes. Spherical fullerenes, also referred to as Buckminsterfullerenes or buckyballs, resemble the balls used in association football. Cylindrical fullerenes are also called carbon nanotubes (buckytubes). Second, 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics (Geim and Novoselov) is on discovery of Graphene. The citation reads graphene is an allotrope (form) of carbon consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Neither fullerenes nor graphene can be claimed as an allotrope or a different phase of carbon, as they have the same atomic structure of the graphitic sheet with different shapes. The related structures of fullerenes and graphene do not have distinct free-energy minima. This has profound thermodynamic challenges for synthesis and processing of uniform and reliable structures. This aspect represents a major impediment for applications, where identical features are needed, such as in nanoelectronics.
Jay, as a senior scientist at a National Laboratory, what options do you have if you want to patent something, or you see a commercial, viable opportunity? Are you allowed to work with private industry? Are you allowed to take the research you've done within a national laboratory and monetize it, or work with private investors? What options might be available to you, if any?
At these National Labs, you are not working directly for U.S. government. The USDOE gives lab operating contracts to different entities, so you work for those operating contractors. It was the University of California for the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and it was Martin Marietta for ORNL. For patenting our discoveries, we worked with patent and commercialization offices of the Labs. You have to convince patent attorneys that you've found something new, and if they're convinced, they will patent it. And then they will try to commercialize it, but you don't participate in commercialization and revenue negotiations. You can be a consultant, but you don't share any revenue. But universities are different. If you get a patent and if it's licensed, then you share the revenue.
These issues notwithstanding, what did you see as some of the potential commercial applications for Q-carbon? Or QBN-related materials?
We have Q-Carbon, LLC, which las licensed our ten U.S. patents covering various applications of Q-Carbon. In addition, NOV out of Houston licensed the US patent on hard Q-carbon coatings on tools for deep sea drilling applications. They are very much interested in putting Q-carbon coating on their longer-lasting tools while they're doing deep sea drilling. This Q-carbon is harder than diamond, tougher than diamond, and less prone to cracking, as well as quite adherent. Next thing you could think of all the biomedical applications related to hip and knee joints. If they could be coated by this Q-carbon, then those parts would be longer, much longer lasting. Upon doping with boron, Q-carbon has shown record BCS superconducting transition temperatures and critical current densities. The superconductivity and nitrogen color centers in diamond open new frontier in quantum computing and communication. The Q-carbon is ferromagnetic and can be used for targeted drug delivery applications. For biomedical applications, I am working with my son, who is an MD/PhD professor of biomedical engineering at the University North Carolina, Chapel Hill. But the most important application is that this carbon can turn into now diamond, which can be doped both p-type and n-type with dopant concentrations far exceeding the thermodynamic solubility limits. So far, diamond could be doped only with p-type. Now with our technique, we are able to create efficient p-n junctions for a variety of high-power, high frequency and high-temperature solid state devices. Diamond and c-BN are ultimate semiconductor materials. If you look at the figures of merit, they are somehow depending upon the device diamond and c-BN are 10, to 100, to 1000 times better than silicon-based devices.
Jay, what about in electronics? In what ways is Q-carbon really exciting for electronic applications?
Q-carbon is key to seeding diamond it can be converted into diamond with additional pulse. Diamond related electronics would lead to high-speed, high-power, and high frequency devices, which can operate at higher temperatures than current silicon devices. In addition, diamond devices will be radiation resistant and will be able to operate reliably in space and nuclear systems. Diamond-based high-power devices will lead to smart grids, leading to creation of power highway, parallel to information highway, where power input and output can be handled by tiny diamond high-power devices instead of bulky transformers. For 5-G and higher, you need diamond transistors, which can be fabricated now with these discoveries.
What are other applications to diamond and Q-carbon? Are there collaborators who have ideas that didn't think of-- that you didn't think of initially?
Another application relates to creation of nanodiamonds doped with NV (nitrogen-vacancy) and SiV (silicon-vacancy) for nanosensing at the cellular level, quantum communication and computing at ambient temperatures. For quantum computing, you need to create a diamond nanodot, which has a one nitrogen atom and one vacancy. And now we can create with this technique, we can put one nitrogen atom and one vacancy, and orient it properly. So far, we were doing with ion implantation where for one nitrogen atom ad one vacancy, we produced 200 to 300 undesirable defects. Now, we don't have to do that. And if you want, I can show you the picture. We have created these nanodiamond structures, where we can achieve quantum entanglement for quantum computing at room temperature. Finally, jewelry, where we can create unique structures at a lower cost, one example is solid diamond ring. We take a solid carbon fiber and turn into a diamond ring. This can’t be done by current methods.
Jay, are you ever concerned that De Beers is going to come after you because you're threatening their core business?
De Beers are very interested in unique jewelry, such as solid diamond rings. They want to work with us through our company Q-Carbon, LLC, which has licensed all our patents.
Jay, what were the circumstances of you leaving Oak Ridge and coming to North Carolina? Were you recruited? Did you specifically want to work in a more university, academic environment?
Yeah, it was a difficult decision, our group was doing very well at the peak in terms research productivity. When I brought this issue with Mike Wilkinson, Director of Solid-State Division, he told me how I was only person promoted and highly rewarded this year. Yeah, I was heavily recruited by NC State and by other universities as well. I was invited for a colloquium actually in the physics department at NC State, but it turned out to be more than. Governor Hunt had launched Microelectronics Initiative of North Carolina in collaboration with all the universities. The State of North Carolina was known for visionary initiatives, particularly under Governor Hunt’s administration. They were looking for a director of the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina located in the Research Triangle Park, and microelectronics professor. After two days of intense meetings with faculty and department heads, I saw the dean of engineering, Larry Monteith, who had worked under Walter Brown at Bell Labs. Walter and I were appointed Materials Research Society Meeting Chairs for 1983, which impressed Larry immensely. After all the discussions, he told me, "Well, you fit our requirements." But I told him, I'm not looking for a job, it would be very hard for me to leave Oak Ridge this time. The more I said no I cannot, they keep sweetening the pot. They offered me the job of MCNC director and professor of microelectronics with permanent tenure in '83, but I took another year before I could leave Oak Ridge. My family (wife Ratna and son Roger) liked Raleigh very much, little bigger town but similar to Berkeley and Oak Ridge. I also liked the proximity of Raleigh with Oak Ridge, where I kept some research going. I appreciated that ORNL kept my office for two years, thinking I might come back when faced with scarce research funding. I still remember, when Bill Appleton called me that there are some regulations and they can’t keep my office any longer. We agreed that they should pack my office and ship it to me. I could not believe when I received my office duly boxed and delivered in thirty-six packages. Today, after all these years, I have only opened half of these boxes!
But Jay, part of the recruitment at NC State was that they were going to support you to build your own lab, a new lab.
Yeah. I must say I negotiated well, Dean Larry Monteith, who became NCSU Chancellor, made sure that all the commitments were fully met. I had seven very difficult demands, it took some time, but they agreed to all of them. And at the top of that, they gave me the directorship of the center. So, it turned out to be very nice while I was the director, I could build my own lab. And as you know, I'm not a big fan of administration, so slowly I moved out of there. And it worked out very nicely in terms of transitioning to full time faculty and so my productivity didn't suffer.
Did you take anybody with you from Oak Ridge?
Yeah, I took two scientists from there. And they started calling us Oak Ridge Boys, you know? (laughter) And yeah, so they were (Wayne Holland and Darius Fathy).
Jay, building a new lab, it obviously gives you the opportunity to think about what you want to do. What instrumentation you want and the kinds of things, the kinds of research that you want to conduct in a new environment. So, at this time, what were you thinking about becoming more involved in?
I wanted to get into laser-solid interactions and non-equilibrium processing to create new materials with unique properties. So, I built a nice laser lab, in addition to Raman, electrical and structural characterization labs. I was fortunate to have NSF grants for setting up state-of-the-art electron microscopy facility, having analytical and high-resolution transmission electron microscopes. Professor Nicolaas Bloembergen, Laser Spectroscopy Nobel Laureate from Harvard, visited us in 1995. He was fascinated with our work Science 252, 416 (1991) on conversion of carbon into diamond thin films at ambient temperature and pressure by pulsed laser annealing. Professor Bloembergen expressed interest in retiring and locating in Raleigh after retirement from Harvard. I arranged nice visits with Chancellor Monteith, but he eventually chose Tucson over Raleigh.
Were you excited about the opportunity to interact with undergraduates and to teach them?
Yeah, because I want to inspire them and let get excited about research and innovations. There was a really interesting story, at Oak Ridge when one of the undergrads from Iowa State came, and said, "I just want to get over with my BS and just get married. I never want to go into academia and research. I just want to do a simple job and raise a family." That summer period, which lasted only ten weeks, I somehow was able to impress him, excite him in such a way, that you wouldn't believe it. When he started leaving, actually, he made an announcement. That he's not getting married right now and he wants to wait until he finished his PhD. So that example really stuck with me, that if I can inspire these kids to get as much education as you can while you're young, rather than feeling you're tired after four years and don't go beyond that, and so that has been my theme, even today. I excite kids so that they can reach as high as possible. I have produced some eighty-two PhDs, who are highly successful in academia, industry, and national labs.
(Laughter) Jay, to what extent did you work with the state government of North Carolina in developing the Microelectronics Center? I assume they were interested in making this center an engine of job creation in the long-term.
So, the Center was totally funded by the state of North Carolina, so you have to justify the budget to state legislatures. It was part of the UNC system, but it had a separate budget, and residual funds could roll over to next year, which gave us a lot of flexibility. Our job was to recruit microelectronics companies, in addition to train MS and PhD students in the state-of-the-art clean room and device fabrication facility. As a director, you had to be careful that I don’t favor one campus over the other. I had to be careful dealing with UNC system schools versus private like Duke. All this balancing act took a lot of your time, so I decided slowly to transition into my university job of microelectronics professor at NC State, where my research labs were already running full speed.
What accounts for that transition? What were your motivations there?
Because I wanted to engage in research and innovations and train students full time. Administration takes time, and you have only twenty-four hours per day!
Now, you took- did you take a leave of absence to go to NSF, or you resigned your position in North Carolina?
No, I took what is called an IPA assignment as Director of Division of Materials Research at the National Science Foundation. The DMR housed materials science, solid state physics, solid state chemistry, polymers, ceramics, engineering sciences and centers program. Under the NSF rules, you keep your job at North Carolina State, and do NSF job under inter-personal government assignment. So, my research group stayed intact. In fact, NCSU hired an associate professor to help with my research and teaching. I also was allowed one day every week to supervise my research group and teaching activities at NCSU. One of my courses was taped for Engineering Online distance education, so they could play my old lectures.
What were your impressions of the NSF opportunity? Both in terms of advancing the research that you were involved with and more generally, seeing this as a service to your field.
Since I was not looking for this job, as I had my hands full with NCSU job at the time. However, it was a special calling or request as service to the nation. So, I agreed, but I wanted NSF to put high priority on material research, while I am there. And so, there was this presidential initiative on advanced materials and processing. They gave me the lead role, and there was one hundred million dollars new money which I could support new research for materials scientists, physicists, chemists, and engineers, working on synthesis and processing of novel materials, characterization, structure-property correlations, modeling, novel devices and systems, and manufacturing. This was consistent with octahedron philosophy for transitioning science to technology to society. The Congress bought into this presidential initiative which made scientists and engineers work together for a common goal to benefit the society. They bought into that every technology needs new materials, which need be developed systematically by following elements of the octahedron philosophy. For example, in semiconductor device industry, where things are getting so small that a single atom or defect can make a difference, you really need to understand materials.
Jay, what did you learn about national science policy and government support of basic science that you may not have appreciated before your time at NSF?
What I really appreciated, that if I could connect with Congress on research of national importance with clear goals and impact on society, then they were willing to listen. And I could get support for new initiatives. On the other hand, there was community in physics which wanted me to seek more resources in chaos phenomena. This initiative did not get much attention until we packaged it right and clearly articulated its impact. I wanted to unify different disciplines of science and engineering and look at common grounds which can be nurtured together. In my view, knowledge eventually becomes one. For example, I work with my son, Roger Narayan, MD, PhD, professor in Biomedical Engineering at UNC and NCSU on laser applications in medicine and longer lasting diamond and Q-carbon related materials for artificial human body parts. Needless to say, it has been very fruitful and productive collaboration.
Jay, tell me about the conversations and considerations that went into you being named the John C. C. Fan Professor.
Okay, John wanted me to provide some materials expertise to his company, Kopin Corporation. So, I became a consultant, as consultancy is allowed one day per week at NCSU as long as it does not interfere with your normal duties. John is very smart materials scientist, as you know, he was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He worked with my students, and we generated many seminal papers and dozens of US patents. One of these patents deals with quantum nanostructuring of light emitting diodes (LEDs), which we named NanoPocket LEDs. This has become the most important patent to increase the efficiency of LEDs today. This research was duly recognized by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in their coverage of 2014 the Nobel Prize in Physics on High Efficiency Blue Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) made from Gallium Nitrides (III-nitrides) based materials. The AIP singled out our highly cited paper (J. Appl. Phys. 87, 965 (2000) with over fifteen hundred citations) on the development of GaN-based materials used in the Nobel Laureates’ work. Kopin wanted to license several of my patents related to domain matching epitaxy, and new LED materials for which John donated generously to NCSU and set up this chair. So, we worked it out in such way that I kept consulting with his company and working with him and other Kopin scientists and engineers. This was technically driven alliance, where we did some good to the company. And John did a lot more good to the university. I must say this was not an easy decision for John to establish chair at NC State leaving his alma mater Harvard, and his workplace MIT.
Let's bring the narrative all the way up to the present. What are some of the things that you've been working on more recently?
So now we are able to convert carbon into graphene, diamond and Q-carbon, similarly, BN into h-BN, c-BN and Q-carbon by using lasers at ambient temperature and pressure in air. Most importantly, we can achieve wafer-scale integration of these novel materials. Our current focus is on high-temperature superconductivity, as B-doped carbon provides an ideal platform for Holi grail of room-temperature superconductivity. Q-carbon is harder than diamond as much as seventy percent, where this ultra-hardness of Q-carbon is directly related to high-temperature superconductivity. Other areas of current interest include diamond and c-BN based integrated electronics, and color centers in diamond and c-BN which can be used for novel nanosensing, quantum communication and quantum computing. We are still finding and learning new things every week. The latest is that we can take Teflon and concert into nanodiamonds, which can be used for nanosensing and quantum computing related applications. The Teflon can be wrapped around and create ultrahard conformal coatings. Our emphasis is on commercialization for useful products, benefitting the society. There are other impacts of this discovery on humankind, for example, how we are protected from solar flares in the planet Earth. The answer is magnetic field! Where does the magnetism come? It may come from molten carbon and Q-carbon in the Earth’s core! We should also expect diamonds in those planets, where carbon is being melted and quenched. And we should also find Q-carbon and diamonds in meteorites, where carbon melting and quenching are involved. So, there are a lot of very, very profound implications of this discovery. As you know, carbon is one of the most abundant materials. So, you go from most inexpensive to the most expensive and useful material for industries ranging from semiconductor to cutting tools. And the last point I'm really excited, which just recently happened, which it dates back to Wigner's time. This Q-carbon is the most radiation-registrant material. So, for example, we did an experiment where we irradiated Q-carbon with ions, introducing damage equivalent to twenty years of neutron damage in a typical nuclear reactor. Usually, materials disintegrate at such high doses, but structure and bonding characteristics of Q-carbon stayed unaffected. We expect it can tolerate even higher damage. So, we are really excited that if we can create the most radiation-resistant material, it would impact a lot of space applications. It would impact definitely nuclear applications. I wish Professor Wigner were alive to see this, because as you know, graphite is quite damaging to the neutrons, and it has a lot of problems. And he wanted to know if we can create a material which would be less damaging.
Jay, I can't help but ask with a smile on my face, what did it feel like when The Chronicle of Higher Education called you the Michael Jordan of microelectronics?
I don't know how he came up with this idea. The Chronicle editor discussed about my wide-ranging contributions in microelectronics, starting from supersaturated semiconductor alloys and ion implantation doping to domain matching epitaxy and defect control in modern semiconductor devices. He also noted that rather a large number of my PhD students are working for microelectronics industry. So, he suddenly came up with this idea, but didn’t think he would put it in the print. Needless to say, Michael Jordan is revered in North Carolina!
Our research and patents are used very extensively in fabrication of microelectronic devices. As microelectronic devices are getting smaller and smaller, some of our ideas on doping, domain epitaxy, semiconductor heterostructures and defect engineering are playing a bigger and bigger role. Actually, I was surprised when I saw it in the print (laughter). It shocked me, but it was amusing to my family and friends within and outside the UNC system.
Jay, now that we've reached up to the present, I'd like to ask some broadly retrospective questions about your career, and then we'll end our conversation looking to the future. So, the first is, to return to one of my first questions about your philosophy and approach to basic science, and applied science. Applications of your research. Let's focus on the personal satisfaction that you felt in both realms. So, starting with the basic science, just science for the sake of understanding how nature works. What has been over the course of your career the most satisfying, the most intellectually satisfying discovery you've made about nature?
The most satisfying aspects of my research has been in-depth understanding of defects in solid-state materials, these defects control all the properties and hence their applications. How we have developed laser processing to manipulate and control these defects, thereby create unique structures and properties. We have created new materials through rapid phase transformation and quenching. Defect control and engineering is at the heart of new and improved solid-state devices and systems. Through rapid laser processing, which is kinetics, we may override thermodynamics. Thus, through kinetics, we can create new materials, new phases, and dope them with concentrations beyond the thermodynamic constraints, and keep them stable. Remember, diamond and cubic BN are metastable materials at ambient temperatures and pressures, but they are quite stable due to deep free-energy minima. So, we can create novel metastable materials and keep them in that state, and then you can use them for all kinds of interesting applications. So that's as fundamental as you can get. You know, Dan Shechtman got the Nobel Prize for manganese solute trapping in aluminum alloys in his quasicrystals. His quenching rate was only a million degrees per second. Using nanosecond lasers, we can achieve quenching rates all the way to ten billion per second, and create fascinating new materials, such as diamond and Q phases. So, I'm really excited how to use these non-equilibrium technique and non-equilibrium material processing based upon lasers, and create new materials with new properties, and open new technology frontiers for next-generation devices and systems. I am truly excited about record high-temperature superconductivity in B-doped Q-carbon. This is our conventional BCS superconductivity based upon electron-phonon interaction, where I see a clear path to room-temperature superconductivity by enhancing dopant concentration and the density of states near the Fermi level. This will create a great revolution in science and technology ranging from power transmission to quantum technologies. So, our research covers from very basic to applied research and technology, which is really satisfying to me.
On the applied side, given the fact that you're recognized as an inventor, what have been some of the discoveries that have given you the most personal satisfaction that your science, your research, really has contributed positively to society?
Our discoveries and basic concepts related to formation of supersaturated semiconductor alloys via ion implantation and rapid thermal processing are universally used in most semiconductor device fabrication. Our discoveries and concepts of domain matching epitaxy and defect control are used extensively in semiconductor heterostructures for integration of different functionalities on a chip. Our invention of NanoPocket LEDs through quantum nanostructuring and thickness variation is used in manufacturing of all high-efficiency LEDs today! All of our Q-carbon, diamond and c-BN related materials patents have been licensed to create next-generation of devices and systems.
Jay, what theories in physics, theoretical concepts, maybe that you even learned as an undergraduate, what are some of the theoretical concepts in physics that stay with you, that inform your approach to materials? That inform the kinds of questions you ask, or inform the kinds of things that you're looking for in the middle of materials science research?
See, I was fascinated by the role of solid-state materials in advanced technology. How the properties of these materials are controlled by a small fraction of defects and impurities. My undergraduate research thesis at IIT under Professor G.S. Murty focused on introduction of controlled amount of dislocation defects and their influence on mechanical properties. Professor Murty had received PhD from Berkeley, and his in-depth understanding of dislocation defects made a profound impact on my research at Berkeley. My research at Berkeley went deeper into point defects and their interactions with dislocations. How thermodynamics controls these defects? How charge states of defects affect their formation and migration energies in oxides and semiconductors. I wanted to study atomic structure of these defects, and correlate with their properties. I was pleasantly surprised, when I found out that a large fraction of research at the US national labs and industrial labs, such as Bell Labs and IBM, was devoted to materials.
Jay, over the course of your career, what have been some of the advances in technology, computational power, the quality of instrumentation that have really been obvious to you that have allowed you to do new things in materials science? And conversely, what ongoing limitations are there that may be holding back your research?
Improvements in the resolution of the electron microscopes to explore the atomic structure and bonding related to electron distribution continue to be very fascinating. So that you can look at the details of the structure, electron distribution and bonding characteristics, density of states near the Fermi level at the same time in a material, and correlate with properties directly. So far, we have been focusing on the atom location studies. The challenge is to map out the electron distribution. Can we map individual defects, like a vacancy or interstitial? Because then you can tell why a certain material becomes ferromagnetic. Because these defects are the ones who impart unique properties. Electron scattering and neutron scattering are powerful techniques to get the magnetic moment of individual spins. For the longest time, you had to have a thick material for neutron scattering investigations. No with higher fluxes, we can probe thinner films by neuron scattering techniques. With increasing computing power, we can do ab initio with larger and larger number of atoms as a function of temperature and correlate with theoretical calculations with meaningful interpretation. We can measure the density of states near the Fermi level and correlate directly with theoretical calculations and superconducting transition temperature in B-doped Q-carbon in the search for Holi grail of room-temperature superconductivity. These things will impact our future profoundly and improve the quality of life. Again, it is all related to new and improved materials, and how they are going to create new technology and how it is going to influence the society.
Jay, looking to the future, what excites you most in materials science? What are the things that you want to work on, and what are the areas where you think there's the greatest opportunity for ongoing fundamental discovery?
See, I would like to see diamond and c-BN based high-frequency, high-speed, high-power, and radiation-resistant devices, which can operate at high temperatures in adverse ambient. These devices would take us to a next level of technological advancement. Currently we have the internet of information highway. I would like to see an equivalent power highway with smart grids. This will create revolution in energy production and usage from environmentally safe alternative sources. For power highway, you need diamond and c-BN based high-power devices, which can replace current bulky and inefficient transformers. In this power highway, you will be able to put in power and take out power, whenever you want. High-temperature superconductivity will revolutionize power transmission and novel quantum technology. Diamond based NV and SiV devices will bring quantum computing to room temperature. The quantum computing and quantum communication based upon color center defects in diamond will be faster and considerably safer. Enhanced hardness and toughness of Q-phases will lead to new and improved coatings and systems. If we can get to efficient quantum computing, it will be very fast and secure and consume less power. So, I'm really excited that all of this is possible through this diamond and c-BN based electronics.
Jay, one of the big questions with quantum computing, regardless of whether or not it's actually going to be viable is a more existential question, which is what is quantum computing even going to be good for? From your vantage point, from your area of expertise, what might you contribute to those existential questions?
My interest is in using defects in materials where a single defect can create a robust qubit. For example, N-V (nitrogen-vacancy) and SiV (silicon-vacancy) defects in diamond are very stable and can provide a robust platform for efficient quantum computing and communication at ambient temperatures. Since qubits operate with overlapping logic, similar to human brain, they can take artificial intelligence to a next level if we can entangle these qubits. We can create quantum computers with unique functionalities. For example, if you have a name and want to find the phone number, it takes a few seconds. On the other hand, if you have the phone number and want to find out who it belongs to, it may make take hours for current computers based upon discrete 0101 logic. But a quantum computer will be do this in seconds!
Jay, it has been so fun spending this time with you. I'm so glad that we connected through our mutual friend John Fan, and I wish you all the best in completing all of this research that still remains before you. Thank you so much for doing this.
Thank you, David. It has been fun.