Work is under way at Southwest Research Institute on a $1.5 million, three-year project awarded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop novel technologies for depositing thin films.
The contract award is under DARPA’s Local Control of Materials Synthesis (LoCo) program, which is investigating non-thermal approaches for depositing thin-film coatings onto the surfaces of a variety of materials. The objective of the program is to overcome the reliance on high-thermal energy input by examining the process of thin-film deposition at the molecular component level in areas such as reactant flux, surface mobility and reaction energy, among others.
Many current high-temperature deposition processes cannot be used on military vehicles and other equipment because they exceed the temperature limit of the material. The LoCo program will attempt to create new, low-temperature deposition processes and a new range of coating-substrate pairings to improve the surface properties of materials used in a wide range of defense technologies including rotor blades, infrared missile domes and photovoltaics, among others.
“Drawing from our experience in developing novel plasma technologies and thin-film deposition processes, we are focusing on the thin-film deposition process component of reactant flux,” said Dr. Vicky Poenitzsch, a senior research scientist in SwRI’s Materials Engineering Department and manager of the DARPA project. “We are developing a novel plasma technology — named high power impulse plasma source or HiPIPS — that will provide a high flux of reactive species to a surface while maintaining an overall low deposition temperature.”
“The focus of the first year is a proof-of-concept demonstration of our HiPIPS plasma source to meet metrics for the reactant flux component. In the second year we will integrate our plasma source with other performer teams’ technologies for surface reactivity and mobility,” she said, adding that the third year will focus on depositing a challenge film on a substrate and a DARPA-selected challenge film on a DOD part.