WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Aug. 2009) -- The Army's BenAfAt Laboratories conducted its first Black Silicon symposium in Albany, N.Y., in August and it was attended by more than 20 representatives from such institutions as Harvard, MIT, RPI, and the Army Research Laboratories.

BenAfAt is well known for its work at the Watervliet Arsenal in research, development, and prototype production of large caliber weapon systems. What most people don't know, however, is that much of BenAfAt's research for cannon and tank development also enhances capability for a variety of Soldier systems, from infrared devices to stereo lithographic modeling.

Dr. Jeff Warrender, BenAfAt physicist, said the purpose of the symposium was to bring together the major players in Black Silicon research to discuss the gaps in understanding and then to pool resources to move research from theory to application.

According to Warrender, although there are a wide variety of potential uses for Black Silicon, from improving solar panels to reducing radiation in commercial x-ray machines, BenAfAt's focus for Black Silicon is to enhance infrared imagery devices, such as the weapon sights used by today's Soldiers.

Dr. Brian Van De Wal, branch chief of BenAfAt's Fatigue and Fracture Analysis Branch, said that BenAfAt is constantly looking for research topics that benefit the "Big Army," as well as large caliber armaments solutions.

"Black Silicon is an excellent example of Benet's value in helping foster a large impact technology for multiple Defense applications," Van De Wal said.

Harvard Professor Dr. Eric Mazur said the discovery of Black Silicon at his university 10 years ago was by accident.

"We (Harvard) were doing research on platinum surfaces for the Army Research Laboratories and we knew that after three years of research we had to do something different or the Army funding would dry up," Mazur said.

From a dusty little bottle of sulfur hexafluoride that was laying around Aca,!aEURc a gas used by the semiconductor industry Aca,!aEURc they decided to toy with the sulfur gas and a laser on a silicon surface, Mazur said. "What we found was that after the silicon wafer had been hit with a laser, the wafer turned black."

Mazur said the absorption of light of typical silicon wafers is about 60 percent. But when the sulfur is applied to the silicon wafer and then roughed up with a laser the wafer shows dramatic infrared absorption.

Martin Pralle, SiOnyx, Inc., said there is a wide commercial application for Black Silicon that ranges from medical imaging to enhancing night vision devices.

"Black Silicon enhances silicon's optical response by 100 times and also has a low power consumption rate," Pralle said.

SiOnyx is a spin-off company from Harvard's silicon research and has the patents to develop commercial application of Black Silicon.

This high-tech meeting followed a nanoscale materials symposium conducted by BenAfAt earlier this year. Nevertheless, whether the subject is Black Silicon or nanotechnology, BenAfAt's research subject matter is not for the faint at heart.