A “Treasure Map” for Functional Materials




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RWTH physicists develop novel approach to designing materials with tailored properties


In their publication “Revisiting the Nature of Chemical Bonding in Chalcogenides to Explain and Design their Properties”, Carl-Friedrich Schön, Jakob Lötfering, and Professor Matthias Wuttig from the Institute of Physics I at RWTH Aachen University, together with colleagues from the universities in Liège, Milan, and Prague, describe their innovative approach to the design of special functional materials. Being able to design materials with tailored properties is one of the major goals in the natural sciences.

The international research group has now succeeded in developing a treasure map that separates different chemical bonding mechanisms. The chosen bonding descriptors - the mechanisms of chemical bonding taught at school - can be employed to successfully separate ionic, covalent, and metallic bonding. Experiments have shown that the materials they studied have a distinctively different chemical bonding mechanism, which they call “metavalent bonding”. This bonding mechanism is responsible for the unique property portfolio of chalcogenides (compounds of oxygen, sulfur, selenium or tellurium).

Such materials are used, among other areas, in photovoltaics, for example for the conversion of sunlight into electrical energy or in thermoelectric materials for the conversion of waste heat into electrical energy. The “treasure map” also enables predictions of material properties and interesting property trends. It thus provides an important step on the way to the targeted design of material properties and the discovery of new high-performance materials.

The work of the Aachen physicists has appeared in the Hall of Fame series of the prestigious journal Advanced Materials: Revisiting the Nature of Chemical Bonding in Chalcogenides to Explain and Design their Properties