Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy

Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy
Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy

Chance and Consequence: How Atomistic Randomness Creates Complexity and New Materials

Kevin Robbie
Department of Physics, Queen's University

Date: Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Time: 3:30 PM
Location: Stirling A


Assemblages of small numbers of atoms exhibit extraordinary properties not readily apparent in 'bulk' quantities of the same atoms. When matter is structured at the scale of atoms, many marvels are revealed that display the uniqueness of this 'nano' world. Quantum dots, for example, exhibit unique and useful optical and electrical properties due to quantum effects in their tiny structures, and atomic-scale engineering in magnetoresistance devices enables detection of the minuscule magnetic fields in modern disk drives. Understanding how atoms interact and form structured materials is key to enabling advances in all fields of nanotechnology, from semiconductor electronics to genetics, cosmetics, and photovoltaics. The inherent granularity of systems of small numbers of atoms, combined with a fundamental indeterminacy of their behaviour, can create complex 'fractal' atomic-scale structures that are challenging to analyse, and ultimately impossible to exactly predict. In the form of atomically-porous thin film coatings, they can also be very technologically important. In this colloquium I will discuss the role of randomness in creating complexity, and show how coins, dice, and atoms create complicated patterns when the consequences of their random choices become correlated. I will present our studies of structure and roughening of thin film coatings, and discuss several nanotechnologies that have emerged from these nano-engineered materials.

Refreshments will be served at 3:25 pm.