Mastering molecular disorder

Some materials, including metals, consist of atoms densely packed in a lattice or crystal. These structures can be very good at conducting electricity, and their behavior is often relatively easy to predict. Other materials, such as plastics and other polymers, have a great deal of disorder to their structures.

Adam Willard, an associate professor of chemistry at MIT, wants to illuminate those disordered structures. Using theoretical models and high-powered supercomputers, he is developing ways to simulate the properties of these disordered materials and predict their behavior. This kind of modeling could help researchers replace heavy and brittle silicon-based photovoltaic cells with light and flexible alternatives made entirely of plastic.

“Our interest is really in trying to understand the role of molecular disorder in physical processes that are important in both biology and the energy sciences,” says Willard, who recently earned tenure in MIT’s Department of Chemistry. “We want…
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