Research on Novel Compounds of Rare Earth Metals
Svilen Bobev, assistant professor of
chemistry and biochemistry, has received the National Science Foundation's
prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award.
The highly competitive funding award, designed to support the integrated
research and educational activities of faculty early in their careers, is
bestowed on those scientists and engineers deemed most likely to become the
academic leaders of the 21st century. Fewer than 20 percent of the proposals
submitted to the annual competition are funded.
Bobev will receive $530,000 over the next five years for his research and
education project focusing on the synthesis, structural characterization and
measurement of the properties of novel compounds formed from the rare earth
metals and selected semi-metallic elements, including silicon, germanium and
The rare earth metals are relatively less known than other elements and include
the Lanthanide series, found near the bottom of the periodic table. They aren't
as rare as once thought. In fact, they are commonly used in industrial catalysts
and high-performance magnets in switches and motors.
However, what scientists don't know enough about yet, in Bobev's estimation, are
the fundamental characteristics of novel compounds made when the rare earth
metals and semi-metallic elements are combined and how the atomic interactions
give rise to specific properties.
For Bobev, it's all about getting down to the basics.
"Magnetism and electromagnetism have a hand somewhere in making practically
every electronic device work. As a result, magnetic materials have implications
that stretch far beyond magnetism and into superconductivity, and have become a
matter of great economic importance. Still surprisingly little is known about
the basic principles which make magnetic and superconducting materials behave as
such," he notes.
The recent discovery in a single family of gadolinium alloys of giant
magnetocaloric effects, which are the basis of cooling technologies for
refrigeration, and colossal magnetoresistance, a phenomenon essential for
storing vast amounts of data on computer hard drives, emphasize how many
challenges and opportunities still lie ahead to deepen our understanding of the
chemistry and physics of these ostensibly simple substances, according to Bobev.
"Thus, from an academic prospective, one can recognize the value of the
systematic analysis of the fundamental characteristics of any type of old or new
compounds--this is what will give us new, valuable insights into the principles
governing the structures and properties of such materials," Bobev notes.
Bobev and his group will develop the
synthetic chemistry of the new compounds using state-of-the art techniques
available at UD. The group will then analyze the crystal chemistry of the
compounds and their properties using powder and single-crystal X-ray
diffraction, scanning electron diffraction, and magnetometry. A portion of the
experiments is expected to be conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los
Alamos and Argonne National Laboratories. Ultimately, the study's findings may
aid scientists in "tuning" compounds for specific applications, he says.
Integrated with the research will be new lecture course modules on solid-state
chemistry for UD graduate and undergraduate students and laboratory experiments
focusing on advanced characterization techniques for "hard materials."
"Such research experience in solid-state chemistry will provide excellent
opportunities for the students to become aware of synthetic and analytical tools
that are not available in any of the undergraduate teaching labs," Bobev says.
Bobev received his master's degree in physical chemistry from the University of
Sofia in Bulgaria and his doctorate in inorganic/solid-state chemistry from the
University of Notre Dame. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Los Alamos
National Laboratory before joining the UD faculty in September 2004.
A native of Bulgaria, Bobev says he knew when he was 8 years old that he wanted
to be a scientist. He was inspired when the first Bulgarian was sent into space
aboard the Russian Space Agency's Soyuz-33 spacecraft in 1979. In high school,
he says he liked chemistry, physics and computer science and had a hard time
choosing a favorite.
Today, he is cutting across the traditional boundaries of these disciplines to
help advance the field of solid-state chemistry and materials science.
"It's great to have received this award," Bobev says. "It's not just recognition
for me, but also my students and coworkers. I'd like to extend my thanks to all
of them for their hard work."
Source: University of Delaware
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