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Fr. Opeil's Research Interests

Opeil Laboratory


Title: Associate Professor

Fr. Opeil is a condensed-matter experimental physicist who studies single crystal uranium, Martensite alloys, ferroelectric materials and thermoelectrics. To better understand the valence band electron structure of uranium, Fr. Opeil employs x-ray, ultra-violet (UV) and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES).  From this improved understanding, Fr. Opeil strives to gain insight into the d and f electron-electron correlations in uranium as well as other actinides and actinide compounds.

Martensite alloys are materials that undergo diffusionless, solid-state transitions.  These transitions depend on the history of the material and may allow it to recover its previous shape after plastic deformation. Metallic shape recovery is referred to as the shape memory effect (SME). Some examples of martensites that exhibit SME include: deformed wires that return to its original shape upon heating, metallic eyeglass frames with rubberlike flexibility, orthodontic arch wires and arterial stent implants that provide a constant force over a long period of time. Fr. Opeil studies Martensite materials in order to gain further insight into the physics which brings about such unique transformations.  Current research on Ni2MnGa is of particular interest to Fr. Opeil because of the apparent electron and phonon correlation prior to the martensitic transformation.

Ferroelectric materials contain a spontaneous permanent electric dipole moment, or polarization, which can be reversed or reoriented by application of an electric field larger than the coercive field.  The coercive field is the ability of the crystal to resist reorientation. One ferroelectric material (FEM) is triglycine sulfate [(CH2NH2CO2H)3 · H2SO4] (TGS), which is used in industrial detectors for far-infrared (IR) radiation and flat panel displays.  Ferroelectric crystals convert the incident IR radiation into electrical currents which appears on the sample surface.  Incident radiation resulting in a redistribution of detectable surface charges on ferroelectric material results in something called the pyroelectric effect. Application of both magnetic and electric fields on TGS and other FEMs to control pyroelectric currents could improve efficiency and flexibility of commercial IR detectors. Understanding and controlling these pyroelectric currents is the primary focus in this area of research.

Fr. Opeil's interest in thermoelectric materials focuses on the physics of phonon interactions of nano-composites e.g. (BixSb1-xTey) at low temperature. Nano-composite technology refers to the field of engineering atoms, molecules, or molecular clusters for a particular application, typically on a nanometer length scale (10-100 nm).  Thermoelectric materials convert temperature differentials into usable energy.  Research into the physics behind this new class of nano-composite materials promises to create more efficient energy production for future domestic and industrial use.

Fr. Opeil received a B.S. in Electronics Engineering from the University of Scranton ('82), a Masters of Divinity ('93), and a Masters of Sacred Theology ('94) from the Graduate Theological Union: Jesuit School of Theology.  His doctoral dissertation "Crossover From Anomalous to Conventional Antiferromagnetism and Probing for Quantum Critical Behavior in U(Pt1-xPdx)3 with 0 ≤ x ≤ 0.020" was guided by Prof. Michael J. Graf at Boston College and completed in May 2004.  As the title suggests, this thesis explored at low-temperatures and high magnetic fields the thermodynamic behaviors of the heavy-fermion UPt3 doped with Pd.  As part of this research, Fr. Opeil worked for six months to manufacture the necessary actinide-based samples at the Van der Waals - Zeeman Institute - University Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

After completing the requirements for a Ph.D., Fr. Opeil moved to New Mexico to begin a two year post-doc position at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to continue research on actinide materials.  Under the direction of the research advisors Drs. J. L. Smith and Roland K. Schulze, Fr. Opeil pursued a project on uranium electron structure.  This project included: angle resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES), X-ray photoemission spectroscopy (XPS) and low energy electron diffraction (LEED) of a single crystal uranium surface.

Fr. Opeil teaches in the classroom, but is also heard in St. Mary's and Trinity Chapels preaching on weekdays and at Sunday Mass.  Fr. Opeil is also active in Boston College Half-Time and Kairos Retreat programs.