Record setting high in-plane thermal conductivity of AlN thin films enabled by SSTR measurements – Paper publishes in ACS Nano – Congrats Shafkat!

Congrats to Shafkat bin Hoque for your recent first author paper in ACS Nano reporting on the exceptionally high in-plane thermal conductivity of AlN thin films. We used SSTR to measure the in plane thermal conductivity of thin AlN films, and demonstrated that the in plane thermal conductivities of these AlN films are record setting, exceeding the heat spreading ability of even diamond.

Hoque, Md.S.B., Koh, Y.R., Braun, J.L., Mamun, A., Liu, Z., Huynh, K., Liao, M.E., Hussain, K., Cheng, Z., Hoglund, E.R., Olson, D.H., Tomko, J.A., Aryana, K., Galib, R., Gaskins, J.T., Elahi, M.M.M., Leseman, Z.C., Howe, J.M., Luo, T., Graham, S., Goorsky, M.S., Khan, A., Hopkins, P.E., “High in-plane thermal conductivity of aluminum nitride thin films,” ACS Nano 15, 9588-9599 (2021). PDF (Supporting Information).

Abstract: High thermal conductivity materials show promise for thermal mitigation and heat removal in devices. However, shrinking the length scales of these materials often leads to significant reductions in thermal conductivities, thus invalidating their applicability to functional devices. In this work, we report on high in-plane thermal conductivities of 3.05, 3.75, and 6 μm thick aluminum nitride (AlN) films measured via steady-state thermoreflectance. At room temperature, the AlN films possess an in-plane thermal conductivity of ∼260 ± 40 W m−1 K−1, one of the highest reported to date for any thin film material of equivalent thickness. At low temperatures, the in-plane thermal conductivities of the AlN films surpass even those of diamond thin films. Phonon−phonon scattering drives the in-plane thermal transport of these AlN thin films, leading to an increase in thermal conductivity as temperature decreases. This is opposite of what is observed in traditional high thermal conductivity thin films, where boundaries and defects that arise from film growth cause a thermal conductivity reduction with decreasing temperature. This study provides insight into the interplay among boundary, defect, and phonon−phonon scattering that drives the high in-plane thermal conductivity of the AlN thin films and demonstrates that these AlN films are promising materials for heat spreaders in electronic devices.

Two first author Nature Communications papers published on interface effects on thermal resistances of thin film GST and ultralow thermal conductivity of SiTe – Congrats Kiumars Aryana!

Congratulations Kiumars Aryana for your two first author Nature Communication papers. These recent work by Kiumars, in collaboration with our colleagues at Western Digital, have revealed critical nanoscale heat transfer processes that are directly influencing the performance of phase change memory. These works report on 1) the role of thermal boundary resistance on the electron and phonon heat transfer processes of ultra thin film GST across GST’s phase transition and 2) the fundamental vibrational thermal transport mechanisms driving the thermal conductivity of SiTe (a prototypical materials used in OTSs) to “ultralow” values.

Aryana, K., Gaskins, J.T., Nag, J., Stewart, D.A., Bai, Z., Mukhopadhyay, S., Read, J.C., Olson, D.H., Hoglund, E.R., Howe, J.M., Giri, A., Grobis, M.K., Hopkins, P.E., “Interface controlled thermal properties of ultra-thin chalcogenide-based phase change memory devices,” Nature Communications 12, 774 (2021). PDF (Supporting InformationSupporting Movie 1Supporting Movie 2).

Abstract: Phase change memory (PCM) is a rapidly growing technology that not only offers advancements in storage-class memories but also enables in-memory data processing to overcome the von Neumann bottleneck. In PCMs, data storage is driven by thermal excitation. However, there is limited research regarding PCM thermal properties at length scales close to the memory cell dimensions. Our work presents a new paradigm to manage thermal transport in memory cells by manipulating the interfacial thermal resistance between the phase change unit and the electrodes without incorporating additional insulating layers. Experimental measurements show a substantial change in interfacial thermal resistance as GST transitions from cubic to hexagonal crystal structure, resulting in a factor of 4 reduction in the effective thermal conductivity. Simulations reveal that interfacial resistance between PCMand its adjacent layer can reduce the reset current for 20 and 120 nm diameter devices by up to~40% and~50%, respectively. These thermal insights present a new opportunity to reduce power and operating currents in PCMs.

Aryana, K., Stewart, D.A., Gaskins, J.T., Nag, J., Read, J.C., Olson, D.H., Grobis, M.K., Hopkins, P.E., “Tuning network topology and vibrational mode localization to achieve ultralow thermal conductivity in amorphous chalcogenides,” Nature Communications 12, 2817 (2021). PDF (Supporting Information).

Abstract: Amorphous chalcogenide alloys are key materials for data storage and energy scavenging applications due to their large non-linearities in optical and electrical properties as well as low vibrational thermal conductivities. Here, we report on a mechanism to suppress the thermal transport in a representative amorphous chalcogenide system, silicon telluride (SiTe), by nearly an order of magnitude via systematically tailoring the cross-linking network among the atoms. As such, we experimentally demonstrate that in fully dense amorphous SiTe the thermal conductivity can be reduced to as low as 0.10±0.01 W m−1 K−1 for high tellurium content with a density nearly twice that of amorphous silicon. Using ab-initio simulations integrated with lattice dynamics, we attribute the ultralow thermal conductivity of SiTe to the suppressed contribution of extended modes of vibration, namely propagons and diffusons. This leads to a large shift in the mobility edge -a factor of five -towards lower frequency and localization of nearly 42% of the modes. This localization is the result of reductions in coordination number and a transition from over-constrained to under-constrained atomic network.

Evolution of microstructure and thermal conductivity of multifunctional environmental barrier coating systems – Paper published in Materials Today Physics: Congrats Hans Olson!


•Yb silicate top coats spatially vary in phase and microstructure during high-temperature cycling.

•Thermal conductivity in Yb silicate top coats is inhomogenous and dynamic with cycling.

•Surface volatilization of Yb2Si2O7 promotes steam volatility resistance and thermal insulation.

•Near the bond coat, Yb2SiO5 reacts with SiO2 to form Yb2Si2O7, reducing thermal expansion mismatch.


Environmental barrier coating (EBC) systems are applied to the surface of silicon-based composites exposed to high temperature combustion gas flow paths in gas turbine engines. They reduce the rate of composite oxidation, its volatilization by reactions with water vapor, and the temperature of the composite as their thermal conductivity decreases. Current EBC systems consist of a silicon bond coat covered by an ytterbium disilicate (Yb2O3⋅2SiO2: YbDS) permeation resistant and low silica activity barrier. When applied by atmospheric-plasma spray deposition, this outer layer contains 10–15% of a secondary ytterbium monosilicate (Yb2O3⋅3SiO2: YbMS) phase. YbDS has a coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of 4–5×10−6 °C−1, similar to those of the silicon and the silicon-based composite, but a relatively high thermal conductivity of 5–7 W m−1 K−1. YbMS has a higher steam volatility resistance than YbDS, and it has a much lower thermal conductivity (∼2–2.5 W m−1 K−1) at ambient temperature compared to YbDS, but its higher, highly anisotropic CTE (3–11×10−6 °C−1) results in channel cracking which reduces environmental protection. Here, we use a combination of scanning electron beam and laser-based thermoreflectance methods to spatially map the distribution of the silicate phases and thermal conductivity at ambient temperature in a Si-ytterbium disilicate EBC system exposed to thermal cycling in water vapor. We show that during thermal cycling, diffusion of silica from the thermally grown oxide on the Si bond coat surface to nearby YbMS regions transforms this phase to YbDS, thereby reducing the risk of thermomechanical coating failure but decreasing its effective thermal resistance. We also show that as silica is volatilized at the water vapor–ytterbium silicate interface, YbDS is transformed to YbMS, restoring some of the thermal protection of the coating system lost by its reduction in thickness and the YbMS to YbDS transformation near the bond coat.

Fig. 2

Ballistic Thermal Injection: a new mechanism to transfer energy across interfaces and control plasmon absorption published in Nature Nanotechnology – Congrats John Tomko!

Congrats John Tomko for his recent first author paper in Nature Nanotechnology on:

Long-lived modulation of plasmonic absorption by ballistic thermal injection

Current citation until volume and page number are assigned: Tomko, J.A., Runnerstrom, E.L., Wang, YS. et al. Long-lived modulation of plasmonic absorption by ballistic thermal injection. Nat. Nanotechnol. (2020).

In this work, in a collaboration with Penn State (Maria Group), Vanderbilt (Caldwell group), U. Southern California (Prezhdo Group), we demonstrate a new heat transfer mechanism across interfaces in which energy can flow from a metal to a non-metal without the flow of charge. This occurs when the electron energy in the metal is traveling ballistically, and thus injects its heat into the non-metal. We use this new mechanism to control the infrared plasmsonic response of doped CdO, a novel mid-IR plamonic material with strong ENZ mode abosorption.


Light–matter interactions that induce charge and energy transfer across interfaces form the foundation for photocatalysis, energy harvesting and photodetection, among other technologies. One of the most common mechanisms associated with these processes relies on carrier injection. However, the exact role of the energy transport associated with this hot-electron injection remains unclear. Plasmon-assisted photocatalytic efficiencies can improve when intermediate insulation layers are used to inhibit the charge transfer or when off-resonance excitations are employed, which suggests that additional energy transport and thermal effects could play an explicit role even if the charge transfer is inhibited8. This provides an additional interfacial mechanism for the catalytic and plasmonic enhancement at interfaces that moves beyond the traditionally assumed physical charge injection. In this work, we report on a series of ultrafast plasmonic measurements that provide a direct measure of electronic distributions, both spatially and temporally, after the optical excitation of a metal/semiconductor heterostructure. We explicitly demonstrate that in cases of strong non-equilibrium, a novel energy transduction mechanism arises at the metal/semiconductor interface. We find that hot electrons in the metal contact transfer their energy to pre-existing free electrons in the semiconductor, without an equivalent spatiotemporal transfer of charge. Further, we demonstrate that this ballistic thermal injection mechanism can be utilized as a unique means to modulate plasmonic interactions. These experimental results are well-supported by both rigorous multilayer optical modelling and first-principle ab initio calculations.

We acknowledge funding from the US Department of Defense, Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative through the Army Research Office, Grant no. W911NF-16-1-0406. J.R.N. and J.D.C. appreciate support from the Office of Naval Research, Grant no. N00014-18-1-2107.

Reduced thermal conductivity of ALD-grown PbTe-PbSe nano-composite thin films published in Advanced Functional Materials – Congrats Mallory DeCoster!

Mallory DeCoster’s recent work on the thermal conductivity of ALD grown PbTe-PbSe nano-composite thin films was published today in Advanced Functional Materials.

DeCoster, M.E., Chen, X., Zhang, K., Rost, C.M., Hoglund, E.R., Howe, J.M., Beechem, T.E., Baumgart, H., Hopkins, P.E., “Thermal conductivity and phonon scattering processes of ALD grown PbTe-PbSe thermoelectric thin films,” Advanced Functional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201904073 (2019).

In this work, in a collaboration with Prof. Helmut Baumgart from ODU, Dr. Thomas Beechem from Sandia, and Prof. Jim Howe from UVA, we studied the thermal conductivity of a series of thickness varying, compositionally varying PbTe-PbSe nano-structured thin films grown by atomic layer deposition.  We show that the thermal conductivity of these films exhibit glass like trends, and ultimately their thermal conductivities are dictated by the crystalline quality of the films, which can change as a function of thickness due to the ALD growth mode of the PbTe (Volmer-Weber).  This work has pronounced impact on understanding the thermal conductivity of ALD-grown thin films and their applications for thin film thermoelectric and thermal barriers.



This work studies the thermal conductivity and phonon scattering processes in a series of n‐type lead telluride‐lead selenide (PbTe–PbSe) nanostructured thin films grown by atomic layer deposition (ALD). The ALD growth of the PbTe–PbSe samples in this work results in nonepitaxial films grown directly on native oxide/Si substrates, where the Volmer–Weber mode of growth promotes grains with a preferred columnar orientation. The ALD growth of these lead‐rich PbTe, PbSe, and PbTe–PbSe thin films results in secondary oxide phases, along with an increase microstructural quality with increased film thickness. The compositional variation and resulting point and planar defects in the PbTe–PbSe nanostructures give rise to additional phonon scattering events that reduce the thermal conductivity below that of the corresponding ALD‐grown control PbTe and PbSe films. Temperature‐dependent thermal conductivity measurements show that the phonon scattering in these ALD‐grown PbTe–PbSe nanostructured materials, along with ALD‐grown PbTe and PbSe thin films, are driven by extrinsic defect scattering processes as opposed to phonon–phonon scattering processes intrinsic to the PbTe or PbSe phonon spectra. The implication of this work is that polycrystalline, nanostructured ALD composites of thermoelectric PbTe–PbSe films are effective in reducing the phonon thermal conductivity, and represent a pathway for further improvement of the figure of merit (ZT), enhancing their thermoelectric application potential.


The authors appreciate funding from the Army Research Office, Grant No. W911NF‐16‐1‐0406. This work was supported in part by the NSF I/UCRC on Multi‐functional Integrated System Technology (MIST) Center IIP‐1439644, IIP‐1439680, and IIP‐1738752. Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE‐NA0003525.

A new thermometry method for measuring the thermal conductivity of materials – Congrats Dr. Jeff Braun (and congrats on successful PhD defense on 4/12/19!)

The recently deemed “Dr.” Jeff Braun recently published his work on steady state thermoreflectance (SSTR), an optical pump-probe technique based on continuous wave lasers in which the steady state temperature rise of a solid is monitored as a function of laser power to measure the thermal conductivity of the material.  SSTR is capable of measuring the thermal conductivity of materials over length scales from just a few microns to hundreds of microns, filling an important void in the landscape of thermal conductivity measurement capabilities.


Braun, J.L., Olson, D.H., Gaskins, J.T., Hopkins, P.E., “A steady-state thermoreflectance method to measure thermal conductivity,” Review of Scientific Instruments 90, 024905 (2019). PDF.


We demonstrate a steady-state thermoreflectance-based optical pump-probe technique to measure the thermal conductivity of materials using a continuous wave laser heat source. The technique works in principle by inducing a steady-state temperature rise in a material via long enough exposure to heating from a pump laser. A probe beam is then used to detect the resulting change in reflectance, which is proportional to the change in temperature at the sample surface. Increasing the power of the pump beam to induce larger temperature rises, Fourier’s law is used to determine the thermal conductivity. We show that this technique is capable of measuring the thermal conductivity of a wide array of materials having thermal conductivities ranging from 1 to >2000 W m−1 K−1, in excellent agreement with literature values.


Thermal conductivity switch using materials derived from squid protein – Paper published in Nature Nanotechnology – Congrats John Tomko!

We have recently demonstrated the ability to control the thermal conductivity of a material derived from squid ring teeth protein by hydrating the material with water.  In collaboration with Prof. Melik Demirel’s group at Penn State, along with collaborations from Prof. Ben Allen at Penn State and Dr. Madhusudan Tyagi from NIST and UMN, we have develop a thermal conductivity switch with higher thermal conductivity on/off ratios than any other single material that has been observed to date.  Congrats to John Tomko who was a first author on this paper that appeared in Nature Nanotechnology (Tomko, J.A., Pena-Francesch, A., Jung, H., Tyagi, M., Allen, B.D., Demirel, M.C., Hopkins, P.E., “Tunable thermal transport and reversible thermal conductivity switching in topologically-networked bio-inspired materials,” Nature Nanotechnology 13, 959-964 (2018). PDF (Supporting Information).).

Paper information below


Tunable thermal transport and reversible thermal conductivity switching in topologically networked bio-inspired materials


The dynamic control of thermal transport properties in solids must contend with the fact that phonons are inherently broad- band. Thus, efforts to create reversible thermal conductivity switches have resulted in only modest on/off ratios, since only a relatively narrow portion of the phononic spectrum is impacted. Here, we report on the ability to modulate the thermal conductivity of topologically networked materials by nearly a factor of four following hydration, through manipulation of the displacement amplitude of atomic vibrations. By varying the network topology, or crosslinked structure, of squid ring teeth-based bio-polymers through tandem-repetition of DNA sequences, we show that this thermal switching ratio can be directly programmed. This on/off ratio in thermal conductivity switching is over a factor of three larger than the cur- rent state-of-the-art thermal switch, offering the possibility of engineering thermally conductive biological materials with dynamic responsivity to heat.


J.A.T. and P.E.H. acknowledge support from the Office of Naval Research (grant no. N00014-15-12769). M.C.D., B.D.A., A.P.-F. and H.J. were supported by the Army Research Office (grant no. W911NF-16-1-0019) and the Materials Research Institute of Pennsylvania State University. Access to the HFBS was provided by the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering, a partnership between the National Science Foundation and NIST under agreement no. DMR-1508249. Certain commercial material suppliers are identified in this paper to foster understanding. Such identification does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the NIST, nor does it imply that the materials or equipment identified are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

Massive reduction in thermal conductivity of silicon irradiated with silicon ions – Paper Published in Physical Review Materials – Congrats Ethan Scott!

Congratulations to Ethan Scott who recently published his paper on “Phonon scattering effects from point and extended defects on thermal conductivity studied via ion irradiation of crystals with self-impurities,” in Physical Review Materials (Scott, E. A., Hattar, K., Rost, C.M., Gaskins, J.T., Fazli, M., Ganski, C., Li, C., Bai, T., Wang, Y., Esfarjani, K., Goorsky, M., Hopkins, P.E., “Phonon-strain scattering effects from point and extended defects on thermal conductivity studied via ion irradiation of crystals with self-impurities,” Physical Review Materials 2, 095001 (2018). PDF).



Fundamental theories predict that reductions in thermal conductivity from point and extended defects can arise due to phonon scattering with localized strain fields. To experimentally determine how these strain fields impact phonon scattering mechanisms, we employ ion irradiation as a controlled means of introducing strain and assorted defects into the lattice. In particular, we observe the reduction in thermal conductivity of intrinsic natural silicon after self-irradiation with two different silicon isotopes, 28Si+ and 29Si+. Irradiating with an isotope with a nearly identical atomic mass as the majority of the host lattice produces a damage profile lacking mass impurities and allows us to assess the role of phonon scattering with local strain fields on the thermal conductivity. Our results demonstrate that point defects will decrease the thermal conductivity more so than spatially extended defect structures assuming the same volumetric defect concentrations due to the larger strain per defect that arises in spatially separated point defects. With thermal conductivity models using density functional theory, we show that for a given defect concentration, the type of defect (i.e., point vs extended) plays a negligible role in reducing the thermal conductivity compared to the strain per defect in a given volume.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevMaterials.2.095001


This material is based upon work supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under award number FA9550-18-1-0352. The authors would like to thank D. Buller and R. Sisson with their assistance with the implantation, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for their support of this research through the Jump Start in Nuclear Materials Education and Research Graduate Fellowship Program at the University of Virginia. We also appreciate support from the Office of Naval Research under a MURI program, Grant No. N00014-18-1-2429. This work was performed, in part, at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, an Office of Science User Facility operated for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC., a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International, Inc., for the U.S. DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-NA-0003525. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. DOE or the United States Government.


Thermal boundary resistance at thin ALD-grown high-k dielectric interfaces – Congrats Ethan Scott!

Congrats to Ethan Scott for his recent publication that experimentally determines the thickness regime in which the thermal boundary resistance at atomic layer deposited high-k dielectric interfaces dominates the total thermal resistance of the system.  In a collaboration with Dr. Sean King from Intel, we studied this with Al2O3, HfO2 and TiO2 ALD-grown thin films on silicon.

Scott, E.A., Gaskins, J.T., King, S.W., Hopkins, P.E., “Thermal conductivity and thermal boundary resistance of atomic layer deposited high-k dielectrics aluminum oxide, hafnium oxide, and titanium oxide thin films on silicon,” APL Materials 6, 058302 (2018). PDF.


The need for increased control of layer thickness and uniformity as device dimen- sions shrink has spurred increased use of atomic layer deposition (ALD) for thin film growth. The ability to deposit high dielectric constant (high-k) films via ALD has allowed for their widespread use in a swath of optical, optoelectronic, and electronic devices, including integration into CMOS compatible platforms. As the thickness of these dielectric layers is reduced, the interfacial thermal resistance can dictate the overall thermal resistance of the material stack compared to the resistance due to the finite dielectric layer thickness. Time domain thermoreflectance is used to interrogate both the thermal conductivity and the thermal boundary resistance of aluminum oxide, hafnium oxide, and titanium oxide films on silicon. We calculate a representative design map of effective thermal resistances, including those of the dielectric layers and boundary resistances, as a function of dielectric layer thickness, which will be of great importance in predicting the thermal resistances of current and future devices.

We appreciate support from the Army Research Office (Grant No. W911NF-16-1-0320).

Oxygen stoichiometry of adhesion layer dictates thermal boundary conductance: Paper published in APL – Congrats Hans Olson!

Congrats to Hans Olson for his recent publication demonstrating that the oxygen stoichiometry of a Ti adhesion layer between an Au films and a non-metal substrate will impact the thermal boundary conductance across Au/Ti/substrate interfaces.  To maximize TBC, the Ti layer should be a pure metal (i.e., no oxygen defects), which is rarely achieved in high vacuum conditions, but can be achieved by depositing Ti layers in ultra-high vacuum.

Olson, D.H., Freedy, K.M., McDonnell, S., Hopkins, P.E., “The influence of titanium adhesion layer layer oxygen stoichiometry on thermal boundary conductance at gold contacts,” Applied Physics Letters 112, 171602 (2018). PDF (Supporting Information).


We experimentally demonstrate the role of oxygen stoichiometry on the thermal boundary conductance across Au/TiOx/substrate interfaces. By evaporating two different sets of Au/TiOx/ substrate samples under both high vacuum and ultrahigh vacuum conditions, we vary the oxygen composition in the TiOx layer from 0 x 2.85. We measure the thermal boundary conductance across the Au/TiOx/substrate interfaces with time-domain thermoreflectance and characterize the interfacial chemistry with x-ray photoemission spectroscopy. Under high vacuum conditions, we speculate that the environment provides a sufficient flux of oxidizing species to the sample surface such that one essentially co-deposits Ti and these oxidizing species. We show that slower deposi- tion rates correspond to a higher oxygen content in the TiOx layer, which results in a lower thermal boundary conductance across the Au/TiOx/substrate interfacial region. Under the ultrahigh vacuum evaporation conditions, pure metallic Ti is deposited on the substrate surface. In the case of quartz substrates, the metallic Ti reacts with the substrate and getters oxygen, leading to a TiOx layer. Our results suggest that Ti layers with relatively low oxygen compositions are best suited to maximize the thermal boundary conductance.

D. H. Olson would like to thank the Virginia Space Grant Consortium (VSGC) for their continued funding and support. We also appreciate the support from the Army Research Office, Grant Nos. W911NF-16-1-0320 and W911NF-16-1-0406.