"We develop new routes to synthesize thin film materials for advanced nanoscale devices. For example, novel precursor molecules and
co-reactants afford
ultra-smooth and conformal films at low temperatures."

John R. Abelson

Emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Co-Director of the Energy and Sustainability Engineering Initiative

Office 1-109 Engineering Sciences Building

Telephone 217-333-7258 Fax 217-333-2736

Mail Address Department of Materials Science and Engineering
1304 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801

abelson@illinois.edu   Abelson research group page

  • Profile
  • Research
  • Publications
  • Awards


Professor Abelson received his BS from Yale University in 1979, was a researcher at the Solar Energy Research Institute (1979-81) and the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris (1981-82), received his PhD from Stanford in 1987, then joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UIUC. He is active in the Materials Research Society and is a Fellow of the American Vacuum Society.

Academic and Scientific Experience

Academic Training

B.S. Yale University, Engineering and Applied Science, 1979
Ph.D. Stanford University, Materials Science and Engineering, 1987

Research Positions

Research Assistant, Solar Energy Research Institute, Golden Colorado, 1979-1981
Visiting Scientist, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris France, 1981-1982
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1988-present
Mâitre de Recherches, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris France, autumn 2002 (sabbatical)

Consultant Positions

Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, 1982-1983
EG&G Reticon, Sunnyvale, CA, 1986-1987
Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, 1987
Intevac Corporation, 1993-1997
BP Solar Corporation, 1997-2002
3M Corporation, 2000-2003
Dow Corning New Venture Energy, 2002-2004
Tiptek, 2013-present

Courses Taught at UIUC

MSE 200, Introduction to Engineering Materials
MSE 201, Phases and Microstructures
MSE 204, Electronic Properties of Materials
MSE 346, Metallurgy for Engineers
MSE 360, Electronic Materials and Processing I
MSE 362, Thin Film Laboratory
MSE 392, Fundamentals of Laboratory Safety
MSE 405, Microstructure Determination
MSE 462, Electronic Materials Characterization
MSE 489, Materials Selection for Sustainability
MSE 498, Photovolatic Materials and Devices
MSE 564, Materials Science of Thin Film Growth
MSE 584, Point and Line Defects
ENG 571, Energy & Sustainability Engineering


Our research focus is the synthesis of thin films by surface-controlled reaction to afford ultra-smooth, conformal, superconformal, or nanostructured surfaces for use in electronic, photonic, magnetic or tribological applications.

The primary experimental approach is low-temperature chemical vapor deposition (CVD) under conditions where molecular adsorption is strong and the reaction (film growth) rate is moderated by surface site blocking or associative desorption processes. An innovation in our work is the use of neutral ‘inhibitor’ molecules to control the surface kinetics.

Our work involves a very close collaboration with the group of Prof. Greg Girolami in the Department of Chemistry. They specialize in the invention and synthesis of new precursor molecules for the CVD process. These molecules are designed to react at desired substrate temperatures to afford high purity materials. However, if a molecule is not satisfactory, the group of Prof. Girolami creates a new variant for us by modifying the ligand groups. Thus, our joint group effort operates at the leading edge of invention and new possibilities in thin film growth.

Current systems under study include: refractory and ultra-hard metal diborides; oxides of Ti, Mg, and the rare earths; copper and silver; iron, cobalt and other magnetic materials.

We have invented a method to grow films in a superconformal fashion, in which the thickness increases with depth below the opening of a deep feature. This will enable the complete filling of such features, as required in microelectronic and nanoscale device fabrication. We have invented a method to control the density and size distribution of nuclei on relatively unreactive substrates. This can be used to deposit ultra-smooth, ultra-thin films, or instead, an array of relatively uniform islands for plasmonic applications.


Recent publications (since 2013) – A full list is available on our group webpage

W. J. B. Wang, A. Yanguas-Gil, Y. Yang, D. Y. Kim, G. S. Girolami, and J. R. Abelson, "Chemical vapor deposition of tio2 thin films from a new halogen-free precursor,"  Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A 32 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1116/1.4894454]

W. J. B. Wang, N. N. Chang, T. A. Codding, G. S. Girolami, and J. R. Abelson, "Superconformal chemical vapor deposition of thin films in deep features,"  Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A 32 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1116/1.4893930]

W. B. Wang and J. R. Abelson, "Filling high aspect ratio trenches by superconformal chemical vapor deposition: Predictive modeling and experiment,"  Journal of Applied Physics 116 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4902158]

D. Nguyen, J. Mallek, A. N. Cloud, J. R. Abelson, G. S. Girolami, J. Lyding, and M. Gruebele, "The energy landscape of glassy dynamics on the amorphous hafnium diboride surface,"  Journal of Chemical Physics 141 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4901132]

T. T. Li, S. N. Bogle, and J. R. Abelson, "Quantitative fluctuation electron microscopy in the stem: Methods to identify, avoid, and correct for artifacts,"  Microscopy and Microanalysis 20, 1605-18 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1017/s1431927614012756]

J. Lee, K. Polychronopoulou, A. N. Cloud, J. R. Abelson, and A. A. Polycarpou, "Shear strength measurements of hafnium diboride thin solid films,"  Wear 318, 168-76 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1016/j.wear.2014.06.017]

B. S. Lee, R. M. Shelby, S. Raoux, C. T. Retter, G. W. Burr, S. N. Bogle, K. Darmawikarta, S. G. Bishop, and J. R. Abelson, "Nanoscale nuclei in phase change materials: Origin of different crystallization mechanisms of ge2sb2te5 and aginsbte,"  Journal of Applied Physics 115 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4865295]

B. S. Lee, K. Darmawikarta, S. Raoux, Y. H. Shih, Y. Zhu, S. G. Bishop, and J. R. Abelson, "Distribution of nanoscale nuclei in the amorphous dome of a phase change random access memory,"  Applied Physics Letters 104 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4865586]

K. Darmawikarta, S. Raoux, S. G. Bishop, and J. R. Abelson, "Nanoscale order and crystallization in nitrogen-alloyed amorphous gete,"  Applied Physics Letters 105 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4901534]

A. N. Cloud, L. M. Davis, G. S. Girolami, and J. R. Abelson, "Low-temperature cvd of iron, cobalt, and nickel nitride thin films from bis di(tert-butyl)amido metal(ii) precursors and ammonia,"  Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A 32 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1116/1.4865903]

S. Babar, T. T. Li, and J. R. Abelson, "Role of nucleation layer morphology in determining the statistical roughness of cvd-grown thin films,"  Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A 32 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1116/1.4895106]

S. Babar, L. M. Davis, P. Y. Zhang, E. Mohimi, G. S. Girolami, and J. R. Abelson, "Chemical vapor deposition of copper: Use of a molecular inhibitor to afford uniform nanoislands or smooth films,"  Ecs Journal of Solid State Science and Technology 3, Q79-Q83 (2014).  [DOI: 10.1149/2.009405jss]

W. J. B. Wang, Y. Yang, A. Yanguas-Gil, N. N. Chang, G. S. Girolami, and J. R. Abelson, "Highly conformal magnesium oxide thin films by low-temperature chemical vapor deposition from mg(h3bnme2bh3)(2) and water,"  Applied Physics Letters 102 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4795860]

T. S. Spicer, C. W. Spicer, A. N. Cloud, L. M. Davis, G. S. Girolami, and J. R. Abelson, "Low-temperature cvd of eta-mn3n2-x from bis di(tert-butyl)amido manganese(ii) and ammonia,"  Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A 31 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1116/1.4799036]

T. T. Li, T. H. Lee, S. R. Elliott, and J. R. Abelson, "Preferred orientation of nanoscale order at the surface of amorphous ge2sb2te5 films,"  Applied Physics Letters 103 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4831973]

T. T. Li, K. Darmawikarta, and J. R. Abelson, "Quantifying nanoscale order in amorphous materials via scattering covariance in fluctuation electron microscopy,"  Ultramicroscopy 133, 95-100 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1016/j.ultramic.2013.06.017]

K. Darmawikarta, T. Li, S. G. Bishop, and J. R. Abelson, "Two forms of nanoscale order in amorphous gexse1-x alloys,"  Applied Physics Letters 103 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4822268]

K. Darmawikarta, B. S. Lee, R. M. Shelby, S. Raoux, S. G. Bishop, and J. R. Abelson, "Quasi-equilibrium size distribution of subcritical nuclei in amorphous phase change agin-sb2te,"  Journal of Applied Physics 114 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1063/1.4816098]

S. Babar, N. Kumar, P. Zhang, and J. R. Abelson, "Growth inhibitor to homogenize nucleation and obtain smooth hfb2 thin films by chemical vapor deposition,"  Chemistry of Materials 25, 662-7 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1021/cm303205u]

K. A. Arpin, M. D. Losego, A. N. Cloud, H. L. Ning, J. Mallek, N. P. Sergeant, L. X. Zhu, Z. F. Yu, B. Kalanyan, G. N. Parsons, G. S. Girolami, J. R. Abelson, S. H. Fan, and P. V. Braun, "Three-dimensional self-assembled photonic crystals with high temperature stability for thermal emission modification,"  Nature Communications 4 (2013).  [DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3630]

  • University of Linkoping, Sweden, external Examiner, "Fakultetsopponent" (1995)
  • IBM University Partnership Award (1995-1997)
  • Xerox Senior Faculty Award, UIUC (1996)
  • Incomplete list of teachers ranked as excellent, UIUC (1993, 1997)
  • Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising, UIUC (1997)
  • Incomplete list of teachers ranked as excellent, UIUC (2000)
  • Fellow, American Vacuum Society (2004)