Project description

In this renewal proposal we will expand our investigation on conducting, semiconducting and ferroelectric polymers (electro-active polymers) and their composites in the form of nanofibers. Our focus is to understand fundamental charge transport/charge storage processes in these polymers with the goal of fabricating better devices and also to motivate students to pursue graduate studies in STEM fields.

We propose to use an inexpensive and simple technique called electrospinning to prepare nanofibers of electro-active polymers and their composites, and to use them as the active material in the fabrication of devices and sensors. Prior to this, we will study the fundamental mechanisms of charge transport and charge storage in these polymer nanofibers via temperature dependent conductivity and dielectric permittivity measurements. Nanofibers naturally possess a confined environment for charge flow, thus the presence of defects can lead to changes in charge transport and  gives us a handle on how best prepare a defect free nano-fiber. Dielectric permittivity measurements on nanofibers will also shed light on charge relaxation processes in a confined environment.  Due to their small diameter, nanofibers have a large surface to volume ratio and hence they have the potential to be used in the fabrication of low power consumption devices and supersensitive and rapid response sensors. The intellectual merit of this proposal is also to find new ways of combining these materials that possess very different electronic, mechanical and optical properties, and then use them in the form of nanofibers in devices and sensors. For example, a composite of a semiconducting and a ferroelectric polymer will be used to fabricate a ferroelectric field effect transistor (FE-FET) that is more versatile than a traditional semiconducting FET, and also to fabricate gas, light and temperature sensors with faster response times. Our approach to making polymer nanofibers via electrospinning is unique and differs from the research done by others, who typically use templates or other complex methods. The proposed research includes polymer science, physics, nanoscience and electronics, and is multidisciplinary, giving students a sound and direct research experience that will train them in the scientific method and help them in graduate school and in job searches.

The broader features of this proposal lie in the impact that it will have in the field of polymers and the positive contribution to scientific research. A better understanding of charge transport and charge storage in conducting, semiconducting and ferroelectric polymers can be exported to other macromolecules that exhibit similar physical properties. Modified experiments based on the proposed research will be included into the Senior Laboratory thereby integrating research and education. The instruments requested in this proposal will strengthen institutional infrastructure, increase faculty collaboration and also have a broader impact of improving the research facilities in the southeastern region of the Island. New results will be published in a timely manner and an up-to-date web page will be maintained, thereby broadening the dissemination of results from this proposal. This proposal will also increase the number of undergraduate students that participate in scientific research and who are currently underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering. It will also motivate them to pursue graduate study. Staying active in research has also helped the PI establish new collaborations outside the US and this will surely broaden his research interests.
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