Elastic Strain Engineering of Functional Materials for Energy Conversion
We hypothesize that thermal and electrical transport phenomena underpinning direct energy conversion efficiency can be significantly tuned by exploiting mechanical strain and the unprecedented failure tolerance found in nanostructured materials. Our goal is to synergistically exploit emergent phenomena in mechanical behavior, heat conduction, and electronic charge transport that arise in materials when length scales associated with the physical dimensions or intrinsic structure approach the nanoscale. For instance, defect ensemble interactions and poor mechanical strength give way to discrete plasticity and ultra high strength in elemental nanostructures; facile thermal transport gives way to abundant phonon scattering in nanomaterials; and electronic band structure becomes altered in mechanically-confined systems. Despite novel structural and transport physics discovered in many inorganic nanostructures, the interconnections between these various fields to exploit further property enhancements have received only recent attention.
Our vision is to increase and tailor the figure of merit of thermoelectric, elastocaloric, and magnetocaloric materials, potentially leading to a new and tunable class of waste heat capture and thermal management systems.