Rudolf Tromp to receive the Davisson-Germer Prize

Recognized for his understanding of semiconductor surfaces and interfaces

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Yorktown Heights, NY, USA - 03 Mar 2003: Dr. Rudolf Tromp, the manager of molecular assemblies and devices at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, has been awarded the Davisson-Germer Prize by the American Physical Society. This biennial award is given to recognize and encourage outstanding work in surface physics. According to APS, Dr. Tromp was chosen as the 2003 recipient of this prize for his "pioneering work in understanding the structure and growth of semiconductor surfaces and interfaces."

The award will be presented to Dr. Tromp at the APS Awards Program in Austin, Texas on March 3. The society has awarded the prize since it was established in 1965 by AT&T Bell Laboratories as a means of recognizing outstanding scientific work in America.

Dr. Tromp's research interests include the structure and growth of surfaces and interfaces, surface phase transitions, modifications of crystal growth by organic and inorganic monolayers ("surfactants"), and the development of novel experimental techniques and methods.

In a recent interview, Dr. Tromp explained that he started his research career exploring questions such as "where are the atoms?" and "what do the bonds look like?" and other basic surface sciences questions. Once answers were found to those queries, he became interested in how the atoms actually got where they were.

To answer this question, his team began using Low Energy Electron Microscopy, an experimental technique, to make videomovies of crystal growth with a lateral resolution of five nanometers. "By filming these actions," he said, "you can see all sorts of wonderful things. You can even explore the thermodynamics of surfaces this way."

This thermodynamic framework appears to have very wide applicability. Until recently, it was believed that the basic mechanisms behind crystal growth occur under conditions far from equilibrium, which makes it extremely difficult to develop a quantitative and predictive understanding. But this work has shown growth happens very close to equilibrium for semiconductor surfaces, such as silicon and germanium, under practical conditions. This makes a detailed, quantitative analysis possible for the first time for simple quanitities, such as the energy costs of atomic steps and the rate at which atoms diffuse over surfaces. This analysis can be extended to control the size and shape distribution of quantum dots on silicon, for instance, or quantum wires on surfaces, and even the growth of seashells.

Studying the basic processes that govern crystal growth with Low Energy Electron Microscopy is just one of several parallel paths in this work. Another such path concerns the role of surfactants in thin film crystal growth. In many cases, such films do not grow with a smooth morphology, and the surface rapidly becomes rough and not useful for applications. Tromp likens this to "water beading on a freshly waxed car."

However, when a single atomic layer of a suitable element is absorbed on the surface first, then a smooth and often defect-free film can be grown without much trouble. This work was started in Ruud's lab in the late 80's, and there are now over a thousand of papers that have studied surfactants and used them to grow better materials for semiconductor applications, magnetics and solar cells.

Finally, over the last several years Ruud had started a new research program on the growth of organic semiconducting crystals such as pentacene. Previously, thin films grown for transistor applications displayed very small grain sizes, smaller than 1 micrometer. But Ruud has shown that carefully controlling the surface on which these films are grown can improve the grain size to almost 0.1 millimeter, large enough to contain entire transistor devices. It is believed that the performance of such devices will improve in these large grains. In addition, engineering organic thin film microstructure by careful design and control of the substrate-thin film interface may enable new types of devices and materials that are currently not possible.

Ruud Tromp received a degree of Physics Engineer in 1978 from the Twente University of Technology in the Netherlands. He obtained his PhD in Physics in 1982 from the University of Utrecht. He joined the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center as a Research Staff Member in 1983. Since then, he has held positions as manager of Interface Science and of Analytical Science, as consultant to the IBM Corporate Technology Council.

He was the recipient of the 1981 Wayne B. Nottingham Prize (Physical Electronics Conference), was elected a member of the Boehmische Physical Society in 1984, and APS Fellow in 1993. He received IBM Outstanding Innovation and Technical Achievement Awards in 1987, 1991 and 1992. He received the Materials Research Society Medal in 1995. He is a member of the American Physical Society, the AVS Science and Technology Society, the Materials Research Society and the Microscopy Society of America. Besides other professional activities, he serves as a member of the U.S. Department of Energy's Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee. He is the author of approximately 200 scientific papers and holds six United States patent.

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