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High-Throughput Experimental Approach Capabilities

An image of a triangular diagram with cobalt oxide at the top vertex, zinc oxide at the lower left vertex, and nickel oxide at the lower right vertex. Colored section in upper half indicates conductivity of materials at constant oxygen partial pressure and temperature. Highest conductivity is represented by yellow and is for materials in the upper right sector.

NREL's high-throughput experimental approach is based on the extensive set of combinatorial synthesis, spatially resolved characterization, and automated data analysis capabilities developed by NREL over the past decade.

Combinatorial Thin-Film Synthesis

An illustration of deposition of square thin-film sample on a heated circular stage. Deposition is from two overhead sources: blue source is marked as AX and red source is marked as BX. Sample shows gradient of blue to red on surface that indicates variation in composition and depositional temperature across the sample.

We have several physical vapor deposition chambers, and for each we can create intentional, well-controlled gradients in chemical composition, substrate temperature, film thickness, and other synthesis parameters across the substrate, resulting in a material library.

  • Combi-1: Oxide- and intermetallic sputtering
  • Combi-3: Oxide- and intermetallic pulsed laser deposition
  • Combi-4: Chalcogenide (S,Se,Te) and oxysulfide sputtering
  • Combi-5: Nitrides and oxynitride sputtering

We also have several non-combinatorial physical vapor deposition chambers, to follow up on targeted synthesis of the most promising materials identified by combinatorial synthesis.

Spatially Resolved Characterization

An illustration showing a square sample with blue to red gradient on a square stage. The sample is moved systematically in the x and y directions while an overhead incoming beam hits the sample and produces outgoing particles that are measured by an overhead detector.

Each measurement instrument below has an automatically controlled X-Y motion stage that enables mapping of the materials libraries as a function of position, and hence, composition/temperature and other gradients that the material libraries have.

  • Composition (X-ray fluorescence, Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy)
  • Crystal structure (X-ray diffraction, Raman spectroscopy)
  • Optical properties (UV-VIS, FTIR, ellipsometry, photoluminescence)
  • Transport properties (4-point probe, Hall effect, Seebeck effect)
  • Morphology/microstructure (atomic force microscopy)
  • Surface and interface properties (photoemission spectroscopy, Kelvin prove, surface photovoltage, atmospheric photoemission)
  • Device performance (J-V measurement under solar simulator)

In addition to these spatially resolved measurement capabilities, we also have access to a larger number of single-point specialized characterization instruments, to study the most interesting points on the combinatorial libraries in more detail.

Automated Data Processing, Analysis, and Visualization

An image with a desktop computer with keyboard and mouse and the words Data analysis and visualization.

Enormous amounts of data are created by combinatorial synthesis and spatially resolved characterization of the material libraries. So we have developed both local and network-based analysis capabilities to turn these data into knowledge.

  • Local computer analysis (project-based custom software package implemented in Igor-PRO and installed on user computers)
  • Network accessible database (automated data harvesting, processing and visualization from the deposition and characterization instruments)

Currently, we have data for more than 100,000 individual materials compositions or different processing conditions, reflecting the scale of NREL's Materials Discovery effort.


Photo of Andriy Zakutayev

Andriy Zakutayev

Staff Scientist

Dr. Zakutayev specializes in design of novel semiconductor materials for energy applications using high-throughput combinatorial research methods.

Email | 303-384-6467