Tringides honored for collaborative research

Michael C. Tringides received the 2017 Theodore E. Madey Award from the American Vacuum Society for his excellence in internationally collaborative research.

Tringides, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Ames Laboratory and a professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University explores how atoms move on surfaces. The process is essential in making nanotechnologies, such as computer transistors of much smaller size.

According to Tringides, a computer’s speed depends on how far the electrons have to go across transistors. Current computer transistors may have hundreds of atoms along a linear dimension. Tringides hopes his work will be used to reduce that to only two or three.

Before engineers can design such small technologies, Tringides and other scientists must determine how atoms behave on surfaces and how to control their behavior to create desired results. Tringides puts atoms one at a time on a very clean surface in a vacuum so that no other atoms interfere and observes how they assemble. Typically, the atoms exhibit "random walk diffusion," dispersing randomly in any direction.

The challenge, Tringides said, is to find organization in this typically chaotic process. One such surprising find was when Tringides and his colleagues discovered dropping lead atoms onto a thin silicon surface always grew lead islands of seven-layer height, unlike other materials which grow to random heights. This finding was first discovered by his group at Ames Laboratory and spurred many scientists to investigate further, looking for answers why.

"It's very important to get people excited," Tringides said. "Collaborating is one of the most fun parts of being a scientist."

Tringides says collaborations grow naturally out of meeting fellow scientists at conferences and seminars. He has given 65 invited talks at conferences and 131 talks or colloquia at Institutions. Through these opportunities, he has gained an extensive and still growing network of collaborators from China, Germany, Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, and the United States.

The award, which fosters collaborating specifically between Polish and North American scientists, was personally gratifying to Tringides.

"This is feedback from the community, that they really appreciate what I did and how I collaborate with people," Tringides said.

Through the award Tringides will travel to Poland where he will present several talks and engage with the Polish scientific community.

“Dr. Michael Tringides is an outstanding surface physicist who has great insight into physical mechanisms that explain the unusual behavior of complex systems at the atomic scale,” said Shirley Chiang, professor of physics at the University of California at Davis and collaborator with Tringides. “It is a great honor for me to collaborate with him on these issues. Since he has numerous international scientific collaborations and is widely known in the scientific community, he is highly deserving of the 2017 Theodore E. Madey Award of the AVS.”