The physics of growth

One of my central topics of interest is growth, understood as the formation of large-scale structures based on building blocks in a way that is dominated mainly by local interactions and external fields. The role that these interactions have on determining the resulting structure is something that I have always found fascinating.

Growth is a central concept in materials science, so ubiquitous that many times it becomes almost invisible. Everything around us has been created at some point in time, and many technological advances have been enabled by our ability to control the way atoms are arranged to form materials with unique properties.

Growth under the influence of chemistry

From a research point of view, the challenge is to understand how growth conditions affect the microstructure of the growing material. This is particularly interesting at low temperatures, where the mobility of atoms is hindered and the details of the processes taking place at the surface become really important for the resulting microstructure.

Developing the ability to predict how growth conditions lead to a certain microstructure can have a tremendous impact in our ability to grow new materials or for the scale up of lab scale processes. Therefore, it has a strong connection with advanced manufacturing.

Combining models and experiments

I approach this problem using both experimental and simulation approaches. From a experimental point of view, our focus has been on a technique called atomic layer deposition, which has the advantage of being extremely reproducible (when done right). We also leverage synchrotron radiation and other in-situ techniques to probe in detail the structure of the material as they evolve from its individual atoms.

From a simulation perspective, our focus in mainly on kinetic Monte Carlo simulations to model growth on arbitrary graphs, as well as the development of novel simulation tools that predict growth within high surface area materials. These allow us to translate our fundamental understanding to wafer and feature length scales that are relevant for advanced manufacturing applications.

And beyond

In addition to these areas, the physics of self-assembly, the early stages of the solar system, or the process of morphogenesis in biological systems are areas that I find fascinating. There is also beauty in growth, from the shapes of crystals and the landscapes sculpted by erosion, to the underlying models that help us connect the morphologies observed in vastly different systems.


The structure of silica aerogels as seen through an scanning electron microscope.