GREENVILLE – Dr. Apparao Rao of the College of Science was a featured speaker at TEDxGreenville 2018 on April 6 in the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre.

The all-day event is known for taking its audiences on an intellectual and emotional roller coaster with presenters that “delight, challenge, question, answer, disrupt and enlighten.”

Rao’s presentation was titled “Make Materials Worse to Make them Better” and focused on how deliberately introduced imperfections in materials used in devices can dramatically improve performance and effectiveness.

Rao is the College of Science’s Associate Dean for Discovery. He is also the R.A. Bowen Professor of Physics and a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the founding Director of the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute, and his research team is dedicated to understanding the physical and biophysical/biochemical properties of micro- and nano-structured materials.

“In materials science, defects or imperfections are perceived as performance limiters, and one usually strives for perfection during manufacturing,” Rao said. “However, history is replete with examples wherein a certain type of imperfection in a material actually improves its performance. While this seems absurd, there are good reasons why some materials perform better under seemingly disadvantageous conditions. Take, for example, the silicon technology. While once exotic, is now ubiquitous largely due to our ability to control a specific type of defect in silicon, i.e., dopants. This is one such example wherein inclusion of a defect made the product better.

“Likewise, it is necessary to understand, control, and manipulate defects to carve a similar path for other materials in a way that will foster new avenues to transform existing technologies,” Rao added. “At the Clemson Nanomaterials Institute, we intentionally engineer defects in materials to elicit a better performance.”