Tapping the Edges of Infrared



By Tad Vezner
Heng Wang

Illinois Institute of Technology Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Heng Wang has received a National Science Foundation grant to explore ways to improve infrared sensor technology by examining how to potentially take advantage of a phenomenon known as the “photo-thermoelectric effect.”

Wang will receive $578,809 over a five-year period from the NSF’s CAREER program. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program supports early career faculty “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

Infrared sensor technology is utilized in a broad array of industries, from government public safety and security initiatives—ranging from night vision to missile guidance technology—to its use in heavy industry, health care, and agriculture.

“It’s useful in factory processing or temperature reading in any field,” Wang says.

The sensitivity of such sensors is limited by the inherent noises from the active materials, where the absorption of infrared lights generates an electrical current through a semiconductor material. In general, sensitivity decreases at longer wavelengths, which the detection or imaging of objects with temperatures close to their surroundings rely on.

“We want to explore the photo-thermoelectric effect, to find a way to use it,” Wang says. “If we can harness this phenomenon, we can design a detector that collects more pieces of information than the current detectors.”

Wang will explore the underlying physics of the phenomenon, as well as the impact of materials used, in order to construct sensors. Such materials potentially include single-crystal films and nanomaterials.

Wang will also work on training modules, rapid certificate programs, and explore curriculum reform related to his research. Illinois Tech undergraduate students will participate in the research, and Wang will engage in outreach to K–12 students themed in semiconductor technology.

Disclaimer: “Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number 2340728. This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Science Foundation.”

Heng Wang, “CAREER: Understanding Photo-thermoelectric Phenomena in Bulk and Nanomaterials for Better Optical Sensing,” National Science Foundation; Award Number 2340728.