Theme: Materials

Project 4: Electrical resistivity


One basic property of a material is whether or not electrical current can pass through it. Based on the answer to this equation, materials are classified into three categories: metals, semiconductors, and insulators. Within this classification scheme also lie several peculiar phenomena, including the superconducting state—in which the electrical resistance drops precisely to zero—and electrical conduction in polymers.

In this project, you will study the mechanisms of electrical conductivity by taking high-precision measurements—at various temperatures—of the electrical conductivity of a high-temperature superconductor, a semiconductor, and a metal (copper). (In Project 5, you will study electrical conduction in polymers.)

Project 5: Synthesis and characterization of conductive polymers


The conventional wisdom that electricity can’t flow through plastic was turned on its head by Hideki Shirakawa et al., who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the discovery and development of conducting polymers.” Today, many types of conducting polymers can be synthesized, and they are a focus of research and development efforts for applications in a variety of fields, including electrical interconnects, solar cells, diodes, and display elements.

In this project, you will synthesize polythiophene—a prototypical example of a conducting polymer—and will investigate its electrical conductivity to learn about its peculiar properties and understand its mechanisms for electrical conduction.

Project 6: Synthesis of organic compounds


The synthesis of organic compounds offers a number of outstanding characteristics, including the facts that (1) it is possible to design molecules and their structures; (2) their properties may be changed by introducing functional groups; and (3) it is easy to design compounds suitable for specific objectives. This makes it possible to design plastics, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, and indeed “substances with any desired properties,” some of which have become essential ingredients of modern daily life.

In this project, as an example of an organic synthesis procedure, you will synthesize isopentyl acetate—one of the compounds responsible for giving bananas their characteristic aroma—from acetic acid and isopentyl alcohol, thus learning the basics of organic synthesis.