MATERIALS & MICROSYSTEMS

The Materials and Microsystems Laboratory (MML) focuses on technology development in advanced materials, structures, coatings, and navigation. MML technologies are built on cleanroom foundry-accepted materials and processes to create leading-edge technologies for our customers from invention to deployment. Engineering qualified materials and using commercially available precursors that most easily fulfill our partners’ manufacturing needs ensure customer-requested product volumes, sizes, and quantities.

Core Competencies

MML is advancing science and engineering in:

Silicon and quartz MEMS

MML is investigating the fundamental physics that enhances performance of resonant vibratory devices and hybrid photonic/vibratory systems, including higher-order elastic constants and thermoelastic damping. We investigate fundamental behavior at the material's device level, and through new designs based on those principles, enhances real-world device performance. Developing advancements in fabrication processes is also critical to device performance. We continuously push the state of the art in quartz and silicon etching and device integration to continue driving these systems to minimum size, weight, and power without compromising system-level performance.

Nonlinear Mechanics

MML pioneers design, fabrication, and engineering of nonlinear mechanical elements at all length scales, such as negative-stiffness structures and lattice-based energy absorbers. We have developed new engineering laws for designing with these structures and enabling fundamentally new tunable components. These control shock, vibration, and dynamics from vehicle-sized down to microsystem scales. They also manage kinetic energy during single- and multi-hit impacts at minimum weight and volume.

Architected Materials

MML develops scalable materials and structures for minimizing vehicle weight and enabling multifunctionality. Through understanding fundamental trades between materials’ architecture, properties, and economic processing, we can extend currently accepted materials to new engineering performance. Our microlattice fabrication technique enables new ultralight and energy absorbing materials that can be made quickly (under 1 minute per part) and at scale (> m2). We also develop fundamentally new multimaterial structures with engineered capabilities such as structural morphing and actively or passively tuned responsive structures. We enable scalable automotive and aerospace component manufacturing by extending capabilities of commercially available, scalable 3D-integration methods to include novel engineering-relevant materials.

Metallurgy and Ceramics

MML is pioneering new metallurgic and ceramic processes for high-strength, scalable, engineering-relevant feedstock materials for net-shape and 3D-printed metal and ceramic parts. Leveraging first-principles modeling and data informatics, we have pioneered scalable nanoparticle functionalization to spatially control composition and metallic microstructure during laser solidification. We are developing scientific understanding of important solidification dynamics and other relevant metallurgic processes that lead to enhanced strength, fatigue toughness, and thermal stability of 3D-printed metals.  We are also developing a deep understanding of the fundamental polymer science and thermophysical processes behind high-performance UV-curable pre-ceramic polymers and their composites. Enhancing the thermophysical stability of these polymer-derived ceramics enables new net-shape ceramic parts that function under extreme conditions.

Scalable Nanotechnology

MML is advancing colloidal and interface science to produce nanomaterial assemblies that survive and function in real-world environmental, thermal, and physical conditions. Through investigation and control over electrostatic, chemical, and Brownian assembly/disassembly processes, we can fabricate large-scale nanomaterial structures and composites on arbitrary surfaces.

Polymer and coating design

We have full development capability for high-performance polymers, surface coatings, and UV-curable resins. This ranges from molecular-level design and synthesis to coupon-scale environmental and performance testing. We lead the field in developing the fundamental chemical principles underlying multiple-polymer combinations that normally cannot be co-processed. This enables us to successfully combine functionality and enhanced environmental durability in coatings and polymer systems for vehicle interiors and exteriors.

Capabilities

MML develops advanced structures, materials, coatings, navigation, and imaging technologies starting from fundamental principles, consistent with cost-effective implementation and production. MML is the most diverse laboratory at HRL, hosting expertise ranging from fundamental physics and chemistry to highly applied electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineering. We host full materials characterization capabilities, structural, thermal and electromechanical test capabilities, and facilities for component and subsystem design, fabrication, hardening and deployment.

Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT)

SML is developing low size, weight, and power PNT technology for autonomous platforms using world-class, vertically integrated capability in design, simulation, processing, packaging, and testing of micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS)-based navigation and timing devices. Key technologies include silicon and fused-quartz—based gyroscope, magnetometer, and accelerometer MEMS components, microscale quartz-based timing devices, advanced subsystem architecture designs and sensor fusion algorithms. MML is further pioneering ultracompact MEMS navigation-grade inertial guidance systems (<10cm³) that rival the capabilities of larger existing systems (1000 cm³). Benefits include GPS-free navigation for aerospace and automotive platforms using affordable ultra-compact, high-performance, navigation and timing devices and systems.

Shock and Vibration Mitigation for Platform Stability

MML has pioneered nonlinear negative-stiffness—based approaches that enable high-performance (e.g., automotive, aerospace) compact payload, passenger and vehicle stabilization, breaking the typical frequency-bandwidth-weight trades associated with traditional dynamics and suspension systems. Our design tools and engineered nonlinear mechanical isolators enable situation-dependent response to shock and vibration, allowing vehicle dynamics and performance to be tuned in real time, at a fraction of the cost and power of a fully active isolation system. Benefits include improved customer experiences, passenger comfort, and component and system survivability.

Lightweight Architected Materials and Structures

MML develops scalable ultralight and multifunctional material systems for lightweight vehicle structures. These approaches include our proprietary ultra-fast microlattice fabrication capability in addition to commercially available, scalable 3D integration methods that are consistent with automotive and aerospace component manufacturing. We also specialize in multi-material structures, morphing and active materials-based structures, and sensor integration. Materials include polymer and metallic microlattice materials for structural and personal protection and ceramic lattices for thermal applications.

High-performance Materials for 3D Printing

MML is pioneering high-strength, scalable, engineering-relevant feedstock materials for net-shape and 3D-printed metal and ceramic parts. MML has pioneered the scalable use of nanoparticle functionalization to spatially control composition and metallic microstructure to increase strength through control of solidification dynamics and a deep understanding of the relevant metallurgical processes. In addition, we have developed printable pre-ceramic polymers which produce high temperature ceramic materials in complex net shapes. MML seeks to bring these benefits to the part- and vehicle-scale through control and prediction of a material's structure across multiple length scales and manufacturing processes. Benefits include reduced vehicle mass, cost, volume, energy, part count, and fabrication or repair time.

Advanced Nanomaterial Coatings

MML is developing vehicle-scale functional polymers, coatings, and surface treatments that harness nanoscale physics while providing extreme environmental, thermal, and physical robustness required for exterior vehicle applications. We host a full capability for developing these coatings, from molecular-level design and synthesis to coupon-scale environmental and performance testing. We also utilize key external partners for maturation, production, and manufacturing. We employ economical precursors and methods and address important scalability & reliability issues. Typical applications include thermal, electrical, magnetic and optical control, anti-corrosion, and anti-fouling (including anti-icing).

Job Opportunities