Issue No 6: May 2003
Research growth continues
Quick reaction to SARS
Translation strategies lead to Chinese version of Buddhism
Database of 35 million characters helps scholars and writers
Confucius’ poetry collection delivers insights into symbolism
3D model smoothes problems in creating ultra-precision surfaces
Nano views of electrolyte behaviour
Sun block ‘skin’ applied to textiles
Greater efficiency for clean building formula
Spin-offs from world’s smallest nanotube
New generation of electrical ceramics

Work towards a new generation of electrical ceramics, including nano-structured ceramics, will help accelerate the miniaturisation and improve functionality of electrical circuit components.
But it will not necessarily lead to making appliances smaller, says Prof Hayden Chen, head of the Department of Physics and Materials Science, City University of Hong Kong, which is researching electrical ceramics. Instead, it will lead to appliances or devices becoming more multi-functional.
Most ceramics, like porcelain and clay, conduct very small amounts of electricity, said Prof Chen. But this class of ceramics actually displays profound electronic properties.
By controlling the grain size or nano-structures of the ceramics and combining them with other elements, properties of the composite material can be manipulated.

End uses cover a wide range of components such as capacitors, transistors, inductors, infrared detectors, ferroelectric memory devices, fuel cells, sensors, and actuators.
Prof Chen’s research focuses on devising methods of fabricating and optimising different ceramic material, and characterising its properties. Developing functional material on a nano scale is not a case of simply making existing material smaller, he said.
“But by controlling the fabrication processes, you can obtain nano-structured materials with new or novel properties because of the nano size.” The traditional approach to improving properties such as hardness and wear by increasing thickness of some nitride coating is no longer valid, for example.
“Instead, the properties are enhanced through basic improvements in nano-structure and texture.” Another area of Prof Chen’s research is the fabrication of thin films with optical transparency.
The resulting film can be layered on window glass; as well as being able to see through the window panes because of the film’s transparency, they are useful for display windows and solar cells.

Principal Investigator
Prof Haydn H D Chen :