John G. Ekerdt

The Norbert Dittrich-Welch Chair in Chemical Engineering The University of Texas at Austin

John Ekerdt studies materials to enable next-generation technology with potential applications in electronic materials, energy and sensors. His group focuses on surface and materials chemistry as it relates to the growth and properties of ultrathin metal and metal oxide films for optical and electronic applications. Their goal is to understand and describe nucleation and growth of films and nanostructures, site-specific reactions to control/inhibit growth and structure-property relationships.

Dr. Ekerdt and his colleagues explore metal and oxide thin films and hetero-structures – alone and integrated with semiconductors. His work is highly interdisciplinary, requiring collaborations with faculty in chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering, and physics as well as researchers in industry.

His lab is elucidating the properties of oxide perovskite crystals atop semiconductors and learning how to manipulate them, enabling optical interconnections to speed information transfer between chips. Since current speeds are limited using copper, such a breakthrough would speed up computing power while minimizing energy use.

Dr. Ekerdt also studies perovskite films to understand the chemical reactions responsible for atomic layer deposition growth and the interfacial reactions responsible for forcing the films to grow in a crystalline form. This work explores the monolithic integration of functional oxides with silicon to allow for silicon photonics heterostructures integrated on the same platform as the digital circuits.

One key research focus is area selective atomic layer deposition where the Ekerdt group is exploring how to reduce the chemical reactivity of surfaces using organic blocking layers that either self-assemble or are lithographically patterned, the robustness of the blocking layer and how the blocking layer fails. His team employs a variety of tools as in situ real-time probes to understand reactions and control a film’s composition and structure as it evolves. They aim to develop more precise and less destructive methods of etching metals and semiconductors at low temperatures.

The associate dean of research in the Cockrell School of Engineering has had a long and productive career at UT Austin, holding numerous administrative positions in addition to his research and teaching roles. In 2021, Dr. Ekerdt was named to the new Norbert Dittrich-Welch Chair in Chemical Engineering, created to honor the long-time former Welch Foundation president.

“It is an honor to hold a chair named for Norbert,” Dr. Ekerdt said. “I knew him for many years as he guided The Welch Foundation’s support for research in the state. Welch has been such a driving force in helping build the caliber of our department and research across UT Austin and Texas. I have held Welch research grants for 12 years, and this has allowed us to be more nimble and take risks in our research. Welch has been indispensable in expanding our work into exciting new areas.”