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Materials science: China's crystal cache

材料科学:中国的晶体储备



KBBF sandwich: it took Chen's team nearly 15 years to grow KBBF and put it into a usable form.

A Chinese laboratory is the only source of a valuable crystal.David Cyranoski investigates why it won't share its supplies.

某家中国实验室是一种颇有价值的晶体的唯一来源。大卫·希拉诺斯基调查了这家实验室为何不愿意分享它的物资。

One of Daniel Dessau's prized possessions is a small crystal of potassium beryllium fluoroborate (KBBF). Dessau, a solid-state physicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, uses the crystal to convert the light of a US$100,000 laser into a deep ultraviolet, a good wavelength for studying the surface of superconductors. But because the laser light gradually degrades the crystal, Dessau has to save it for special projects. "It is a beautiful crystal," he says. "It would really move the field forward — if people could get it."

氟代硼铍酸钾的微晶体是丹尼尔·德绍的有价值的资产之一。德绍,一名科罗拉多大学博尔德分校的固态物理学家,使用该晶体来将价值10万美元的激光器的光转化为高强度的紫外线光——它个波长很适合用来研究超导体的表层。但是由于激光会使晶体逐渐降解,德绍不得不把它省下来用作特殊课题。“它是一种很美的晶体,“他说。“它的确能够推动该领域使之进步——如果人们能够得到它的话。“

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But Dessau can't get any more of it. Nor can Peter Johnson, a condensed-matter physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, who was once promised it by Chuangtian Chen, the Chinese physicist who runs the only laboratory that knows how to make the crystals. And nor can any of a host of other solid-state physicists outside China. "There has been a limited release," says Johnson. "I don't know the politics behind it."

但是德绍没办法弄到更多。皮特·约翰逊也弄不到,他是纽约阿普顿布鲁克海文国家实验室的一名高分子物理学家,而一名中国科学家之前承诺给他提供这种晶体。他就是中国物理学家陈闯天,管理着唯一一家知道怎么制造这种晶体的实验室。中国境外的其他的高分子物理学家也弄不到这种物质。约翰逊说:“生产的数量受到了限制,我也不知道这背后的政治动机是什么。”



"Many great discoveries in this field come from putting things together and getting the temperature and timing just right," says Christos Panagopoulos, a materials researcher at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The discovery process "doesn't require genius", he says.

”在这个领域很多伟大的发现来自把材料放在一起并且使温度和时间都刚好,"克里斯托·帕纳戈波罗斯说,他是新加坡南洋理工大学一名材料研究员。发现的过程“不需要天赋”,他还说。

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KBBF's ability to shorten the wavelength, and thereby boost the frequency, of laser light is an example of 'nonlinear' optics, a field that first blossomed in the 1960s as lasers became more widespread in laboratories. Under ordinary circumstances, light passing through water, glass or any other material will perturb the atoms only slightly, so that they vibrate in sync with the light wave. As a result, light can be reflected, refracted, scattered and absorbed ad infinitum without its frequency being affected. Nonlinear effects are evident only when the light is so intense that the vibrations it causes compete with the binding forces on the atoms. When highly perturbed, as in the case of high-intensity lasers, the atoms can absorb the energy of the incoming light and re-emit the light with a frequency that is double, triple or even some higher multiple of the original. A variety of materials have been discovered that can boost laser light to frequencies that the lasers alone cannot produce, and each has a set of signature frequencies that it can achieve.

KBBF具有缩短激光波长从而提高光波频率的能力,这正是非线性光学的特性,这一领域首先兴起于60年代,当时激光开始广泛的应用于实验室。一般情况下,当光线通过水,玻璃,以及其他物质时,会稍微的打乱原子,从而与光波同步震动。所以,光会被反射,折射,分散以及吸收,而频率不受影响。而只有当光波足够强烈时,其引发的震动与原子的凝聚力相对抗,这时才能显现出非线性效应来。当被高度打乱时(如在高强度激光例子中),原子会吸收来访的光能并以双倍、三倍甚至是更多倍的频率将光重新发射出去。已经发现了一系列可提升激光频率的物质,单单靠激光自己是无法产生这么高频率的,而且这些物质所产生的频率也是各不相同的。



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China might easily have fallen behind in this field, as it did in so many others. Just as nonlinear optics started coming into its own, China was caught up in the Cultural Revolution, a particularly dark period starting in the mid-1960s when many academics were criticized as being elitist or impractical and sent to do farm work for 're-education'.

如同许多其他的领域一样,中国或许很容易在这一领域落后于人。正如非线性光学开始方兴未艾之时,中国则卷入了文化大革命。在这个始于上世纪六十年代的黑暗时期里,许多学者被抨击为精英论者或空谈者,从而被送去干农活接受“再教育”。

But Chen, now a spritely 71-year-old at the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry in Beijing, was lucky. "The government always considered crystals important for industry," he says. So by agreeing to the government's request to switch from its theoretical studies to growing crystals, Chen's lab was able to continue doing materials science throughout this period.

但现年71岁陈闯天却是是幸运的,他目前在北京的物理和化学技术研究所工作。他说:“政府一直认为晶体对工业很重要。”因此,他接受政府的要求,从其理论研究转向研究晶体生长,陈的实验室能够在当时继续进行材料科学研究。
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Crystal blueprint
In the 1970s, Chen developed a formula that set out the conditions needed for a material to generate nonlinear effects. In 1984, the formula led Chen and his team at the Fujian Institute of Research on the Structure of Matter to investigate barium borate (BaB2O4), which proved to be the first material able to generate an ultraviolet wavelength of close to 200 nanometres. The crystals are now widely used in femtosecond lasers, which use ultrashort bursts of infrared light to slice through materials with extreme precision, making them ideal for some types of surgery.

在上世纪70年代,陈推算出了一个公式,该公式揭示了一种材料所需的产生非线性效应的条件。1984年在福建物质结构研究所,陈和他的团队运用该公式研究硼酸钡(BaB2O4),硼酸钡被证明是第一种能够产生接近200纳米紫外波长(的光)的材料。现在这种晶体广泛应用于飞秒激光,它利用超短脉冲红外光以极高的精度切透材料,从而使之成为某些类外科手术的理想工具。

This was before China had any laws covering intellectual property, so Chen received no royalties, but his salary jumped from 87 renminbi a month to 147 renminbi a month. Chen thought he had hit the big time.

在这之前中国没有任何法律涵盖到知识产权,所以陈没有收到特许权使用费,但他的工资从每月87元跃升至每月147人民币。陈认为他已获得成功。

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Another seminal discovery came in 1987, when Chen's group demonstrated nonlinear optics in lithium triborate (LiB3O5). Engineers now use the compound to create high-powered green and near-ultraviolet lasers. As the crystals are extremely resistant to damage, they are particularly useful in applications such as welding and semiconductor manufacturing. Some 80–90% of all solid-state lasers and laser systems now use lithium triborate crystals for frequency conversion. Castech, a corporate spin-off set up by the Fujian Institute of Research on the Structure of Matter to manufacture and develop crystals for use in lasers, has been making several million US dollars a year from the compound.

另一个重要的发现是在1987,当陈闯天研究团队揭示了三硼酸锂(LiB3O5)中的非线性光学(特性)。工程师们现在用这种化合物来制造高能量的绿色和近紫外激光。由于晶体非常耐损坏,所以它们在如焊接和半导体制造等用途上非常有用。目前80–90%全固态激光器和激光系统在使用硼酸锂晶体来进行频率转换。由物质结构研究所拆分成立的生产和研发激光器的福建福晶科技股份有限公司(CASTECH)每年从该化合物中获利数百万美元。



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That discovery, the first to be made with a KBBF laser, opened up investigations of many different kinds of superconductors that had been impossible before because there was no laser available that had sufficient energy resolution. Since then, Shin and Chen have co-authored more than 20 papers.

由KBBF激光器创造的第一个发现开辟了一些关于不同种类的超导体的探索,这些探索在以前是不可能实现的,因为没有可用的有足够能量分辨率的激光器。因此shin和陈创天已经合著了超过20篇论文。

Xingjiang Zhou, of the Institute of Physics in Beijing, was also using KBBF to examine superconductors. He discovered an entirely new type of electron pairing4 — the fragile coupling that allows the electrons to move though the lattice without resistance. One leading condensed-matter physicist, seeking a collaboration, told Zhou in an e-mail, "These are the highest quality data that I have ever seen."

周兴江,隶属于位于北京的物理研究所,也利用KBBF观测超导体,他发现一个全新种类的电子对,它们之间脆弱的耦合使这些电子能毫无阻碍地穿过这晶体。一名领先的凝聚态物理学家给周兴江一封电子邮件寻求合作,”这些是我从没见过的高质量研究。“

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Clamp down

压制

By 2008, thanks to these and other stories, requests for KBBF crystals were rolling in to Chen's institute. And that, in turn, caught the attention of the institute's parent organization, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which told Chen not to distribute the crystal any further without its permission.

2008年,由于这样那样的故事,对KBBF的请求在陈创天的协会纷至沓来。结果引起了协会所在的组织,中国科学院的注意,他们告诉陈创天在不经允许的情况下禁止贡献这种晶体。

Chen is planning to use his share of the government's 180 million renminbi to install more large ovens in which to grow crystals. This will allow his institute to ramp up from the 15 KBBF-crystal devices it made in 2008 to 50 in 2009, and then 100 in 2010. His team will also be looking for ways to produce better KBBF crystals. Thicker crystals allow for a more powerful laser and make possible hugely profitable applications, such as replacing the bulky exciplex lasers, another type of ultraviolet laser used in surgery and in semiconductor lithography. Chen, who is discussing the possibility of technology transfer with two companies in Beijing, hopes to find some commercial applications within three years.

陈计划利用政府1.8亿元拨款中自己所拥有的那部分来安装更大的反应炉来生成晶体。这将使得他所在的机构从2008年安装的15个KBBF晶体反应炉增加到2009年的50个,以及后来2010年的100个。他的团队也在寻找生产更好的KBBF晶体的方法。更厚的晶体使更强大的激光器成为可能而且引起可能的巨大收益的应用。比如代替庞大的复合受激态激光器 ,其他的应用于外科手术的紫外激光器以及在半导体光刻方面的应用。陈创天正在讨论两家北京公司间的技术转让的可能性,在三年内希望找到些商业应用。

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Seven other projects will be aiming to create advanced versions of photoemission spectrometers, Raman scattering spectrometers and scanning tunnelling microscopy. Zhou will receive 20 million renminbi to head two of the projects. In one, he plans to make a tunable KBBF laser that can analyse a wider variety of materials — at present, these lasers need to be set at one frequency. In the other project, he will develop a KBBF-based laser to look at the spin of electrons in superconductors. Until now, research has focused on momentum and energy.

其他七个项目将致力于创造光电发射光谱仪、拉曼散射光谱仪 、扫描隧道显微镜的先进的版本。周兴江将收到2000万人民币去领导其中两个项目。在其中一个项目中,他计划制造一个可调频的KBBF激光器,能分析更多类型的材料。现在,这些激光器必须在一种频率下工作。在另一个项目中,他将发展一个以KBBF为基础的激光器去观察超导体中的电子旋转。迄今为止,资料都注重于电子的动量和能量。

Chen is reluctant to talk about the terms of the government's restriction. He says he would like to share the crystals with people in other countries, but first has to meet demand from Chinese KBBF projects. "The government gives me so much money," he says.

陈创天不愿谈论政府限制的立场。他说他将和其他国家的人分享这晶体,但是首先不得不面对中国KBBF项目的命令。”政府毕竟给了我很多经费。“他说。

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Crystal growers in other countries are unlikely to be able to fill the gap, mainly because of the time, people, infrastructure and know-how needed to create a good KBBF crystal. Chen's laboratory has 70 people, including technicians and some 30 students. The group has learned how to make KBBF using the same factory-like process they use to develop all their other nonlinear crystals — calculating what compounds might work; synthesizing the material; growing, cutting, polishing and coating the crystals; then testing them for their vulnerability to damage by intense laser radiation and other properties. Chen's group has put in huge resources for infrastructure such as crystal-growth ovens. It has spent US$7 million just on platinum for the crucibles used to grind up the crystals during the production process. Even now, with the KBBF process honed, it takes 3 months and about US$20,000 to produce just one KBBF device. Bruce Chai, president of Crystal Photonics in Sanford, Florida, says that anyone trying to duplicate the work would easily burn through US$10 million. "And they wouldn't be guaranteed success," he adds.

其他国家的晶体制造人员不可能填补这空缺。主要因为时间,人员,基础设施和制造方法的限制。陈创天的实验室有70人,包括技术员和30名学生。这团队已经习得怎样用一样用于制造其他非线性晶体的工业形式的步骤制造KBBF。计算何种混合物可能有效,合成材料,生长,切割,打磨和涂料。随后用强烈的激光照射测试他们的对于伤害的耐受性和其他特性。陈天创的团队已经在诸如晶体生长反应炉之类的基础设施上投入了巨量资源,仅仅在用于磨碎晶体的特殊坩埚上的铂就花费了700万美元。甚至在现在,在打磨KBBF的步骤,就要花费3个月以及2万美元去生产一种设备。佛罗里达桑德福水晶光电主席Bruce Chai,说任何试图复制这些工作的尝试轻轻松松地就能烧掉1000万美金。”而且不能担保成功。“他附加道。

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Perhaps the greatest obstacle to making a KBBF crystal is the beryllium it contains, which can cause pneumonia-like symptoms and cancer if inhaled. China has strict policies regarding its use, says Chen, but researchers are allowed to work with the element if they have the right infrastructure. "You need a lot of equipment and you need to move slowly," he says. In other countries, the restrictions are more severe. In the United States, for example, lawsuits over beryllium poisoning led the Department of Energy to hunt down and remove even trace amounts from national laboratories.

可能是制造KBBF的最大的阻碍,在KBBF中包含的铍元素如被吸入能导致类似肺炎的症状以及癌症。中国有关于使用它的严格政策,陈天创说。但是科学家被允许在拥有正确装置的前提下在蕴含这种元素的环境中工作。”你需要许多装备而且要慢慢移动。“他说。在其他国家,限制更加严格,在美国,比如,关于铍毒害的诉讼让能源部对来自国家实验室的微量铍元素赶尽杀绝。

"The demand for KBBF is spurring researchers to look for other fluoroborates that present fewer challenges," says Vincent Fratello, vice-president of research and development at Integrated Photonics in Hillsborough, New Jersey. But until that search bears fruit, the benefits of Chen's dogged pursuit will stay in China.
KBBF is a special case, but it illustrates China's growing strength in materials science. Fratello, himself a solid-state physicist, says that he has been impressed by the "sheer volume of work that comes out of China".

”关于KBBF的命令促使研究员寻找其他要求更低的氟硼酸盐。“ Vincent Fratello说,他是新泽西希尔斯伯勒县集成光子学技术公司研发部副 主席。但是直到这研究成熟,陈天创在中国的的不懈追求的益处会一直保持。KBBF是一个特别的例子,但它说明了中国在材料科学中日益成长的力量,Fratello,一位凝聚态物理学家,他对来自中国的成果的绝对数量印象深刻。

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Fudan University's Dongyuan Zhao has more citations than anyone in the field of mesoporous materials (and the second highest number of citations per article). Last year, after Japanese researchers discovered high-temperature superconductivity in iron-based arsenic oxides, several Chinese groups jumped in to investigate, achieving even higher temperatures within months. Zhou says that he intends use the KBBF laser to take arsenic oxide studies even further.

来自复旦大学的赵董源(音)在介孔材料领域的被引用次数上世界第一(单篇文章被引用次数世界第二)。去年,在日本科学家于铁基砷氧化物发现了高温超导电性后,几个中国科研团队开始研究,并在几个月时间内取得了更高温的超导电性。周说他打算利用KBBF激光对氧化砷进行更深入的研究。

Material leads

材料起领导作用

Some researchers see China as following the lead of Japan, where significant investment in materials sciences in the 1990s has been paying off in discoveries such as the superconductor magnesium diboride5. Panagopoulos, who last year moved from the University of Cambridge, UK, to Singapore to continue his research on functional materials, says he tried and failed to get Cambridge to bulk up its materials-synthesis capacities in the late 1990s. "We wait for Japan, and now China, to make it," he says — a sure recipe for mediocrity. "The person who has the greatest knowledge of everything about a material is the one who is distributing it to everyone," says Panagopolous.

一些研究人员认为中国是在追随日本的脚步,日本自90年代开始就对材料科学进行大量投资,得到了回报,比如发现了超导体镁二硼化物。帕纳戈波罗斯去年从英国剑桥大学搬到新加波继续他的功能性材料研究,他说90年代后期他没能说服剑桥大学提高自己的材料综合能力。“我们眼睁睁看着日本和中国实现了这些目标,”他说——这导致了我们的平庸。“对材料拥有最多知识的人就是将材料分给其他人的人,”他说。

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There is also concern in the United States. "It is a well-known fact that the support for basic research on crystal growth is literally gone in the United States," says Chai. This spring, the US National Academy of Sciences will release a report on the health of, and future opportunities for, new materials and crystal-growth research.

美国方面也存在担忧,”众说周知,在美国对晶体生长的基础研究的支持事实上停止了。“chai说。这个春天,美国国家科学院将发布一个关于新材料和晶体生长研究健康问题和未来机会的报告。

Even in trendier, related fields such as solid-state physics, China is catching up with the traditional leaders. High-temperature superconductor specialist Hong Ding had several attractive offers last year. But neither Boston University in Massachusetts, where he had been for a decade, nor any other institution could match the deal he was offered at the Institute of Physics in Beijing. "It is a matter of time before the United States becomes alarmed by this rapid reverse of the brain drain," says Ding. Dessau, who tried and failed to recruit Ding, says that "10 years ago it would have been unheard of [for a Chinese person to turn down a position in the United States]. But I wouldn't be surprised if the trend continues."

甚至在更时髦的相关领域比如凝聚态物理,中国已经赶上了传统的引领者。高温超导体专家丁洪在去年有一些有吸引力的产出。但是无论是在他曾工作12年的波士顿大学,马萨诸塞还是在其他协会中他都没有做出相当他在北京物理协会的成就。”在美国醒悟之前,快速的人才流失只是个时间问题。“Ding. Dessaud说,他挽留丁洪的努力失败了。”十年前没有听过一个中国人放弃在美国的地位的事儿,但这种态势继续下去也不奇怪。“

In fact, many credit the hard-working, selfless laboratory worker for some of China's success, and Japan's before it, in rapidly increasing their capabilities to synthesize materials. Fratello says that Chinese groups "tend to excel at studies that require patience and looking at a lot of different systems". But in materials sciences, labour-intensive work can often be the most productive. "That is, after all, how you discover new materials," Fratello says.

事实上,许多人将一些中国,以及之前的日本,在合成材料方面能力的飞速提升的成就,归因于那些努力工作的,无私的实验室工作者。Fratello说中国的团队”日益擅长于需要耐心和观测许多不同系统的研究“。但是在材料科学里,高强度的工作经常是最有助力的。”这就是你发现新材料的方式。“,Fratello说。