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Optical Design & Engineering

Smoothing Out Problems

Ivan Bozovic, SPIE Fellow and award winner, talks about his work on atomic-layer engineering.

From oemagazine July 2004
30 July 2004, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.5200407.0007

Ivan Bozovic, a senior scientist in the materials science department at Brookhaven National Laboratory (Upton, NY), is the 2004 SPIE Technology Achievement Award recipient for developing the technology for synthesis of atomically smooth films of cuprate superconductors. A leader in the field of epitaxy and nano-engineering of complex oxides, his breakthroughs in atomic-layer engineering have made significant advances in electronics and optoelectronic applications possible.

Enthusiasm for Atomic-Layer Engineering

Ivan Bozovic and his wife, Natasha, at the 2003 Nobel Award Banquet in Stockholm, Sweden. They were invited guests of Vitaly L. Ginzburg, one of the 2003 Physics Laureates.

"Since the '70s, mainly under the influence of the great Russian physicist Vitaly L. Ginzburg, I have been obsessed with the problem of high-temperature superconductivity," says Bozovic. "Since 1986, for me, this has become synonymous with the problem of understanding the mechanism of superconductivity in cuprates."

His zeal was especially evident while he was the chief technical officer and principal scientist at the start-up Oxxel GmbH (Bremen, Germany) in the late 1990s. There Bozovic designed and constructed the next-generation molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) oxide system for which he was honored.

"We did not make a single large breakthrough but rather a series of many small ones—every day brought new challenges, and one had to meet each and every one of them. This long voyage was very exciting to me, more than the destination itself," he says.

The major challenge Bozovic was up against was the heterogeneous nature of cuprate superconductor thin films. The ubiquitous defects in the material made creating atomically smooth films, and therefore many superconductor applications, very difficult if not impossible.

"The first step toward the solution was to realize that this happens for profound physics reasons," he says. "To eliminate such defects, you have to 'beat the thermodynamics' —deposit the films at a temperature low enough to prevent phase separation, thus achieving a state of 'frozen order.'"

With this goal in mind, Bozovic and his team developed and built the MBE oxide system, which contains a 16-channel atomic absorption spectroscopy system for accurate real-time monitoring of atomic fluxes, as well as a low-energy electron microscope and a time-of-flight ion scattering spectroscopy system for in situ, real-time, atomic-level monitoring of the film surface. This MBE system made depositing atomically smooth films and multilayers of complex oxides not only possible, but routine.

Bozovic stresses that the creation of the MBE system was a team effort. "In science today, team work is prevalent by far. Thus an award that honors one person could do injustice to many—unless it is clearly understood that every single contribution may have been indispensable for the final success."

Continued Work on Cuprates

The oxide molecular beam epitaxy system, originally built at Oxxel in Bremen, Germany, now at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

"Atomic-layer engineering has only begun to be utilized," Bozovic says. "I personally believe that this is a very powerful tool, and that we will be able to do and learn much more in the near future."

In fact, Bozovic wrote a paper1 in 2001 listing what he considered the 20 most important open problems in atomic-layer engineering of superconducting oxides. "Most are still open, and I hope that some of your readers will solve them!"

Now at Brookhaven, his work continues to center on cuprates. Most recently he led the discovery that after absorbing light energy, cuprates emit the energy as coherent sound waves instead of heat. While the findings are without any definitive applications as of yet, Bozovic says, "One exciting—but let me warn you, rather elusive—goal would be to build a phaser, the phonon analogue of a laser."

Bozovic is also building a new laboratory and forming a group for atomic-layer engineering of cuprates and other related compounds at Brookhaven. "I hope to have the space and infrastructure ready within a couple months, and to reassemble the machine shortly after that," he says. "But it may take half a year or more before every component is tuned up to perfect harmony."

Accolades and Academicians

Bozovic isn't new to recognition of his work. His research papers and monographs have been widely cited, and in addition to being an SPIE Fellow, he's also a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Originally from the former republic of Yugoslavia, he was honored in 1998 with the highest physics award of the country, the Marko Jaric Award. Bozovic says of Yugoslavia, "I miss my physics department [at the University of Belgrade] where I grew from a freshman to the department head, I miss the unique culture of that country, its poetry, its music, its laugh."

One experience he ranks as his most cherished award occurred last December, when he and his wife, Natasha, were Vitaly L. Ginzburg's invited guests at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet in Stockholm, where Ginzburg received the Nobel Prize in Physics.

When away from work, Bozovic says literature, theater, music, and travel are inexhaustible sources of interest. And, he says, "I have been blessed with an extraordinary family." His wife is a professor of mathematics and computer science, and has co-authored many papers with Bozovic. His elder daughter, Dolores, is a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University (New York, NY), and his younger daughter, Marijeta, a Slavist and a poet, is working toward her PhD at Columbia University (New York, NY).

Bozovic shares an incredible fact about his family: "My sister, brother, parents, my in-laws, everyone is a PhD or an MD, or both," he says. "Such an environment begets scholars!"

1. I. Bozovic, "Atomic-Layer Engineering of Superconducting Oxides: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," IEEE Trans. Appl. Superconduct. 11, p. 2686-95 (2001).