While our group lives within the MME department and is primarily affiliated with the metallurgical and materials engineering undergraduate program, graduate research does not fit as easily into traditional bins. We are primarily affiliated with the interdisciplinary Materials Science program in addition to the Colorado Center for Advanced Ceramics (CCAC), Advanced Manufacturing, the Alliance for the Development of Additive Processing Technologies (ADAPT) and Quantum Engineering.

About the Group

We are the Functional Ceramics Group in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, led by Prof. Geoff Brennecka. We work on the fabrication, characterization, and analysis of functional ceramics, primarily advanced dielectrics, ferroelectrics, and piezoelectrics. Check out our Capabilities page for more details, but in general, we make samples via sputtering, chemical solution deposition, and/or any number of powder-based ceramic processing approaches including 3d printing. We use a suite of chemical and structural characterization techniques as well as a variety of electrical measurement and analysis tools, both commercial and home-built, to understand fundamental structure-processing-property relationships.


What are Functional Ceramics?

We define functional ceramics as the types of advanced dielectrics, ferroelectrics, piezoelectrics, and related materials whose combined (and often coupled) properties allow them to perform functions that other materials simple cannot. Our research focuses primarily on oxides and nitrides that do something fun in the presence of an electric field, but we are interested in just about anything that has to do with the integration, processing, use, or characterization of ceramics (inorganic, non-metallic solids).

At their most basic, dielectrics are simply insulators, but there are many additional functions that come along with sustaining an electric field, ranging from storing charge, energy, and/or information to pulse shaping, filtering, converting, amplifying, rectifying, and just about any other modification you can think of to an electrical or optical signal.

Piezoelectrics are materials that lack a center of symmetry in their crystallographic unit cells such that when a stress is applied to the crystal, the ions displace in a way that leads to a net separation of positive and negative charge centers. This means that not only can the material convert mechanical energy to electrical energy (e.g., stress –> charge), it can also do the converse (e.g., electric field –> strain). An excellent resource for learning more about piezoelectrics is LearnPiezo.

Ferroelectrics are a subset of piezoelectrics (in other words, all ferroelectrics are piezoelectric, but not all piezoelectrics are ferroelectric) that possess a spontaneous polarization at the unit cell level which can be reoriented by application of an electric field. This further increases the various FUNctions that these materials can perform. One of our primary research thrusts is to better understand the dynamic response(s) of ferroelectric materials during this polzarization reorientation (aka switching) process.


Discover, Develop, Deploy

combi flow processThe hundreds of thousands of known inorganic compounds may seem like a lot, but it represents a tiny fraction of the possible combinations of elements from the periodic table. At the same time, simply identifying a new compound makes little impact if it cannot be used for anything. Our group therefore works to discover, develop, and deploy new materials.

We use computational tools such as density functional theory (DFT) and machine learning (ML), both within the group and via collaboration, to help guide our experimental searches, and we collaborate closely with the Materials Discovery Group at NREL to carry out combinatorial fabrication and measurement for high-throughput screening. Once interesting regions in the chemistry – processing space are identified, we zoom in on them to develop a better mechanistic insight and better materials. This includes understanding defect chemistry, microstructure development, and the whole structure-processing-properties package. In order to take advantage of the enabling properties, functional ceramics must be integrated with other materials and processes to perform the desired function(s) under desired (and often challenging) operating environments without costing an arm and a leg. In addition to working through relevant integration challenges, we work with a variety of industry partners to deploy new and improved materials to address real market needs.

Drury selected as a DARPA Riser for 2022!

Danny Drury was selected as a DARPA Riser for 2022. The DARPA Risers are, “up-and-coming standouts in their fields, capable of discovering and leveraging innovative opportunities for technological surprise—the heart of DARPA’s national security mission.”

Danny will be participating in the DARPA Forward conference at CSU in August. See Anny’s letter of award here and see the DARPA Forward conference schedule here.

Jacob Ivy and Michael Walden Graduate!

Jacob Ivy  and Michael Walden have both earned a PHD in Material Science.  Jake is now working at Schott Glass Technologies.

Allison Mis is granted the US Department of Energy Office of Science SCGSR Award! Hooray Allison!

Allison is using her SCGSR Award to spend 6 months at Argonne National Lab working with leaders in the field of TEM innovation to study her samples and broaden her knowledge base in microscopy. 

Danny was awarded the ARL Journeyman Fellowship! Congrats Danny!!!

The DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is designed to significantly increase the involvement of creative and highly trained scientists and engineers from academia and industry in scientific and technical areas of interest and relevance to the Army. This means Danny will get to move to Washington, D.C. to help develop exciting new antiferroelectric technologies for ARL as he continues his PhD work.

Megan Leppert graduates with her PhD!

Congratulations to Megan Leppert who successfully defended her PhD Thesis entitled “High Temperature Broadband Microwave Absorbing Materials”! Megan is now using her PhD to continue her work for the United States Air Force.

Rachel Sherbondy completes the Desert Rats 50k!

Congratulations to Rachel for running along with the best of the Desert Rats in Fruita this past April!

Pandora Picariello and Ciel Milstrey join the group!

Welcome to Pandora Picariello and Ciel Milstrey! Pandora joins us after working in industry for four years. Ciel comes to us after working for several years as a translator, lawyer, and financial analyst– what an exciting career change!

Nick Rollman graduates with his MS!

Congratulations to Nick Rollman who successfully completed his masters degree in materials science!