Researchers at Harvard University have found a clever way to process exotic semiconductor materials. Graduate student Christopher C. Landry needed to prepare a mixture of copper, sulfur, and indium for a chemistry experiment last December. Rather than going through the usual hassle of cooking the ingredients in a pressurized furnace for 48 hours, he mixed them in a quartz tube and popped it into a lunchroom microwave oven. In seconds, Landry had enough material to complete the experiment.
Chemistry Professor Andrew R. Barron was so impressed that he now whips out various hard-to-make semiconductor materials, including copper-indium-selinide, with a microwave. Using fine powders and mixing them thoroughly before zapping them ensures uniform heating, he says. Moreover, the heating is so rapid that even heat-sensitive materials--such as indium antimonide--can be made this way, rather than in the traditional manner, which uses tedious electrochemistry. Gallia, a startup founded by Barron, is now exploring the technique's commercial potential.