The research interests of our group are centered around electrodeposition. Electrodeposition is a fascinating process in which ions give up their freedom to float around in a liquid electrolyte and condense into a dense, rigid crystal. Electrodeposition has numerous advantages: versatility to fabricate various materials, enable intricate pattern formation and even provide selective growth. Furthermore, ease of control and low cost make electrodeposition a process of choice in a broad range of applications: batteries, semiconductor devices, electrometallurgy and corrosion protection.

In spite of its wide use, fundamental understanding of the electrodeposition process is continually evolving. Physicochemical processes at the atomic-scale need to be fully understood to realize its full potential. An example of uncontrolled electrodeposition is dendrite formation. Needle-like dendrites evolve during electrodeposition of metals such as lithium and zinc. These can lead to short-circuit failures in lithium and zinc batteries thereby compromising safety. Mechanistically understanding and preventing dendrite formation is a major thrust of our research.

Electroplated copper is used to metallize nano-scale interconnects in advanced semiconductor devices. This process is remarkably complex, relying on a fine interplay between ppm levels of additives in the electrolyte to produce selective growth. We are interested in understanding how the additives function, and developing better additives for future applications. In future nano-electronics and electrocatalysts, the need to precisely control materials fabrication at the atomic-scale will become crucial. We are developing such advanced electrochemical processes in our laboratories.

Through a large industry-funded effort, we are also developing electroless processes for depositing environmentally benign, corrosion resistant, amorphous alloys. In electroless deposition, the electrons needed for the reduction process are supplied by an organic reducing agent rather than an external ‘electron pump’ (power supply). Naturally, one can use this technique for deposition of metals onto non-conductors or dielectrics.

Finally, we have initiated a major thrust on high-temperature molten-salt electrowinning of strategically important metals such as titanium and neodymium. In one such project funded by DOE ARPA-E, we aim to develop a stable and efficient process for electro-extraction of titanium metal from ore. For more details, read: http://engineering.case.edu/ARPA-E-titanium.