It's the arrangements of the molecules in the tiny crystals embedded in a layer that ultimately determine film characteristics, says Aita.
Aita's lab group was the first to demonstrate the advantages of using nanolaminate architectures in ceramic films, says Robert Lad, director of the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology at the University of Maine. Today, there is intense R&D in this area worldwide.
Because they work at the nanoscale, the job of actually applying the thin films falls on "Dorothy," a large "sputter deposition" apparatus in the AceLab. (The equipment is named for one of Aita's mentors, the late Dorothy Hoffman, a pioneer in film growth by physical vapor deposition.)
In sputter deposition, energetic ions formed from a vapor bombard a disk, or "target," made of a particular element, sending energetic atoms from it scattering like billiard balls in a game of pool. Those atoms then coat the substrate in ultra-thin layers.
A career of leadership
Aita has accomplished many "firsts" since arriving at UWM in 1981. She was the first woman hired as a tenure-track engineering professor at a research campus in the University of Wisconsin System. In 1988, she became the first Wisconsin Distinguished Professor in the UWM College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS).
After earning her Ph.D. in materials science from Northwestern University, Aita worked for private industry for several years, and that's when she became hooked on thin-coatings work.
She says she entered academia for access to something she couldn't get in the private sector: students.
Students at all levels have been trained in Aita's lab with plenty of exposure to real-world business solutions, and she has helped supply an experienced work force for companies both local and national.
With backing from CEAS
|Contact: Carolyn Aita|
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee