PhD Fulbright scholar studies nanotechnology

22 January 2016

UC PhD candidate and Fulbright scholar Alexandra McNeill is excited about conducting research alongside world-leading nanotechnology experts in the United States this year.

PhD Fulbright scholar studies nanotechnology

University of Canterbury PhD student and Fulbright scholar Alexandra McNeill is travelling to the United States to research chemically-coated zinc oxide as a cheaper option for touch screens and other future technology.

Ever wondered how touch screens work? Part of the answer lies in transparent crystals that conduct electricity. Most touch-screen technology uses the compound indium tin oxide for this purpose, however indium is expensive and running out.

What will take its place in the future? University of Canterbury PhD candidate and Fulbright scholar Alexandra McNeill is travelling to the United States in February to find out whether chemically-coated zinc oxide could be the answer.

“Transparent crystal semiconductors are the backbone of many electronic devices. Zinc oxide is a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly semiconductor, however it is also unstable. My research involves coating zinc oxide crystals in different chemicals to change how it behaves and then to find out if it could be a viable option for use as a semiconductor in technology,” McNeill says.

McNeill will be based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the year and is excited about the opportunity to conduct research alongside world-leading nanotechnology experts.

“The research groups there are huge with so many people from all over the world to learn from. It’s like a big melting pot of nanotechnology knowledge,” she says.

She explains that her project is a cross-disciplinary effort, with many people involved to work out if coated zinc oxide could be used in future technology.

“Once I have tested a sample and found that the chemical coating has attached to the surface of the zinc oxide crystal, I then have to learn about its electronic properties with the help of physicists and engineers,” McNeill says.

Working with the College of Engineering and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UC, McNeill’s PhD in Chemistry research has so far involved examining which chemicals will adhere to the zinc oxide crystals and how these samples behave. She has already travelled to Melbourne to use the Australian Synchrotron facilities to examine samples.

In the US, she hopes to discover which faces on the crystals might be better for successfully attaching chemicals and how the chemical coatings affect the crystals’ conductivity.

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew
Senior External Relations Advisor
Communications and Engagement
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 2775
Mobile: 027 5030 168
margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz

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