CAREER: Investigation of Sol-gel-derived Hybrid Colloids for New Silica-Germania Glasses

Project: Research project

Project Details


This award is funded in whole or in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).


Inorganic glass optical materials play a critical role in many technologies that improve everyday life. Nevertheless, conventional glass processing methods (i.e., melt quench fabrication) fundamentally limit many glass systems and hinder research development of novel applications. This research project, supported by the Ceramics and the Solid State and Materials Chemistry programs in the Division of Materials Research, investigates nanoscale germania and germania-silica particles (i.e., colloids) and their use as building blocks for fabricating non-crystalline (i.e., glass) materials by unconventional chemical methods, amenable to 3D printing. The principal investigator explores new routes for preparing non-crystalline mixed oxide materials by synthetically controlling colloid composition and morphology. This provides new design rules for tailored fabrication of glass materials by the method, with broad implications in glass science and optical material design. An integrated educational plan offers a seamless learning community by bringing modern materials science and discovery into the classroom and providing research training opportunities. Undergraduate students at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI) and local high school student researchers from diverse backgrounds learn essential research skills, use state-of-the-art equipment, and gain exposure to a broader community of researchers through collaboration and research-relevant travel. High school science teachers are recruited from Omaha public schools to participate in a summer program. The program connects teachers with local faculty mentors, provides hands-on materials and chemistry research experiences, and results in classroom activities to engage high school students in research concepts and increase awareness of STEM opportunities.


While the melt-quench approach typifies the traditional understanding of disordered, non-crystalline solids, it limits glass design. Hybrid colloids are attractive precursors for preparing non-crystalline materials with compositions and properties unachievable by conventional processes. By synthetically tuning colloid chemistry and morphology, novel, sol-gel-derived glasses can be made from the bottom up using cutting-edge technologies, such as additive manufacturing. With support from the Ceramics and the Solid State and Materials Chemistry programs in the Division of Materials Research, the principal investigator studies the fundamental chemistry and materials science driving colloid growth and subsequent glass network formation in silica-germania glasses. The two aims of this research plan are to explore the (1) chemical mechanisms that drive amorphous sol-gel germania colloid growth and (2) the relationships between hybrid germania-silica colloid structure and resulting glass-forming properties. The underlying central hypotheses are that (1) by probing sol-gel hydrolysis, synthetic chemical mechanisms leading to stable amorphous germania colloid growth can be discovered, mitigating subsequent in-solution crystallization kinetics, and (2) that hybrid colloid design can be used to form silica-germania glasses in new binary compositions. Bulk/ensemble and microscale time- and temperature-dependent analyses in solution and solid-state utilizing NMR, FTIR, and Raman spectroscopies, TGA/DSC, and XRD enable chemical and structural determination, and electron and scanning probe microscopies are used to elucidate complementary physical information including colloid size and structure, as well as morphological changes from the nano- to micro-scales. Systematic mapping of the kinetic and thermodynamic processes that govern germania colloid growth, the formation of silica-germania glass from hybrid colloids, silica-germania glass network structure, and its impact on glass optical properties are potential outcomes of the research. Additionally, this project provides high school and undergraduate researchers with training opportunities in modern materials research, and they learn methods and techniques related to the synthesis, fabrication, and analysis of glass and ceramic materials.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date4/1/223/31/27


  • National Science Foundation: $143,243.00


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