Optical coatings appear on items ranging from electronic devices, photographic lenses, and windows to aircraft sensors, photovoltaic cells, and goggles for troops in the field. The coatings protect or alter the way a material reflects and/or transmits light. However, the two primary methods of applying coatings—sputtering and chemical vapor deposition (CVD)—are expensive, require highly specialized personnel, and can be hazardous due to the extreme conditions required for the processes. Our partnership developed a technique for applying optical coatings that eliminates these problems.

Jeff Brinker (left) and Hongyou Fan observe satisfactory fluorescence by their well-trained nanocrystals in water solution. The dark vial holds gold nanocrystals; the orange and green are semiconductor nanocrystals.

Our film-application method uses commercially available polymers, common solvents, and normal temperatures/pressures and then uses a simple spin, dip, or spray technique to coat the surface. Solvent evaporation induces self-assembly, forming multifunctional films with

  • a nanostructured surface;
  • low surface energy;
  • controllable porosity; and
  • a specific, desired refractive index.

The ability to adjust the material/film parameters at different stages (during synthesis or deposition or even after deposition) provides a powerful new degree of freedom. Sandia’s method is compatible with conventional spray processing and, therefore, is not subject to the equipment and facility limitations of sputtering or CVD processes.

The partnership’s goals were to

  • develop the technology;
  • identify applications for industry, the DoD, DOE, and NASA; and
  • integrate the technology into current product lines.

Applications for the coatings range from reducing corrosion on aircraft transparencies and architectural windows to protecting photovoltaics. Other areas that could benefit from this coating process include high-definition flat panel displays, sensor coatings for both biological and chemical sensors, and low-k materials for next generation memory chips.

Read more about this ECIS, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, University of New Mexico, and Davidson College partnership.