Shoemaker receives DOE Early Career Research award

Daniel Shoemaker, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been chosen to receive a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Early Career Research Program grant for his research proposal, “In Situ Thermodynamics and Kinetics of Mixed-Valence Inorganic Crystal Formation.”

Assistant Professor Daniel Shoemaker
Assistant Professor Daniel Shoemaker

“Efficient synthesis of materials with tailored properties is a grand challenge in the physical sciences,” Shoemaker explained. “This project will enable controlled formation of new crystalline materials by establishing a toolkit of experimental and computational methods for probing reactions out of equilibrium.

“As materials scientists, we seek to discover new materials and engineer their function by altering their atomic structure,” he added. “Each new material is a platform for creating a new technology: perhaps a battery electrode, a new solar absorbing material, a new structural alloy, or other useful component. This project explores the synthesis reactions where new dense materials are first nucleated and formed. We can watch the atomic arrangements in real time using a special furnace that has ports for X-rays to pass through small, dense mixtures of elements about the size of a grain of rice, while heating them up to 1000 degrees Celsius.

“Combining the X-ray techniques with measurements of heat flow (calorimetry) helps to unravel the thermodynamic and kinetic details in these reactions. These results are integrated into a database that helps us understand how to access materials that we predict from computational algorithms. We can also assess how far one material can be altered (engineered) from its starting point.

Shoemaker prepares a sample for in-situ x-ray diffraction in the Materials Research Laboratory
Shoemaker prepares a sample for in-situ x-ray diffraction in the Materials Research Laboratory

“Finding these starting points has traditionally been a slow process, with much trial and error, guided by intuition and empirical rules about how atoms pack into crystals,” Shoemaker remarked. “One of the great things about being at Illinois is that our work speed up this field of research while collaborating with groups from computational physics, inorganic chemistry, and semiconductor devices.”

Shoemaker earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois, and his PhD in materials from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2011 he began a postdoctoral appointment in the Materials Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory where he investigated the synthesis of superconductors and semiconductors with a focus on in situ spectroscopy and x-ray diffraction. Shoemaker joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Illinois in August 2013.