This issue of the MRS BULLETIN contains three articles relating to the general field that has come to be known as Solid State Ionics. The central feature of this area of science and emerging technology is the rapid transport of atomic or ionic species within solids, and the various phenomena, of both scientific and technological interest, that are related to it.
Attention to this area has grown greatly in recent years because of the rapidly increasing recognition of the possibility of a wide range of interesting technological applications. One example already widespread is the use of an oxygen-conducting solid electrolyte as the critical element in the oxygen sensors installed in the exhaust systems of almost all current automobiles to reduce deleterious emissions and improve the efficiency of the combustion process.
Work is under way in a number of other directions, including static and dynamic chemical sensors, solid state electrochemical reactors, low impedance selective atomic filters, new concepts for the direct conversion of heat to electricity by the use of sodium- or hydrogen-transporting cycles, a novel method for the low cost electrolysis of water at intermediate temperatures, batteries that can store greatly increased amounts of energy, ion exchange materials, solid state laser hosts, high efficiency fuel cells, electrochromic materials and configurations for both optical displays and “smart windows,” advanced catalysts, atomic reservoirs and pumps, high temperature superconductors, and possibly solid state fusion hosts.
Despite this recent attention, however, it is worth noting that interest in solids in which ionic species can move with unusual rapidity is actually not new at all. As early as 1839, Michael Faraday reported measurements on several materials that showed an unusual increase in electrical conductivity at elevated temperatures, contrary to that found in normal metals.