Second Place - Keith Brown

Postdoctoral Fellow, International Institute of Nanotechnology


When building electrical devices, like molecular printers, it is crucial to control where the electrons go. This image shows the aftermath of a case when a large voltage was applied between a thin film of gold (light blue) and silicon (dark blue), and electrons found a way through the thin insulating layer that separated them. As the current increased, the material was heated resulting in a catastrophic thermal expansion that resulted in a crater of solidified material (red).

Observing and preventing this effect, known as dielectric breakdown, is an important part of developing reliable devices. This particular event taught Brown and his colleagues the limitations of this material and led to the development of devices that could be safely used.

Technique: Electron microscopy, false coloring