The NSF Center for Adapting Flaws into Features (CAFF) is supported by the Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) Program of the Division of Chemistry. Iron-age metallurgists learned that judicious addition of impurities (nickel, carbon, etc.) could transform a metal with poor materials properties (iron) into strong steel tools. Chemical impurities, ‘flaws’, can be detrimental in some situations and uniquely valuable in others, creating the desirable ‘features’ of a material.
In modern times, the development of silicon-based electronics exploited the same concept. CAFF’s overarching goal is to identify chemical flaws that hold promise, understand the structural and electronic properties that make those flaws uniquely influential, and then to demonstrate how the same structures can be amplified to macroscopic scales. CAFF will examine how the type, location, and sparsity of defects on atomic, nano- and microscales influence, in particular, optical materials chemistry. Broader impacts for CAFF include fast-tracking the democratization of undergraduate education and focusing on a constituency of chemists that have fallen between the cracks of public/K-12 outreach on the one hand, and undergraduate/graduate training on the other. Key will be to build a network of Community College partners that includes underrepresented urban and underserved rural communities. A diverse set of faculty and students with unique skill sets will be partners who can help form the future of American science.