John R Abelson

John R Abelson
John R Abelson
Professor Emeritus
(217) 840-1200
184 Engineering Sciences Building

For More Information


  • Ph.D., Mat. Sci. & Eng., Stanford University, 9/87
  • B.S., Engr. & Appl. Sci., Yale University, 5/79

Academic Positions

  • University of Illinois - Professor, Dept. MatSE (8/00-present)

Other Professional Employment

  • Mâitre de Recherches, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France (9/02-12/02)
  • Visiting Scientist, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France (10/81-8/82)
  • Research Assistant, Solar Energy Res. Inst., Golden, CO (6/79-9/81)

Major Consulting Activities

  • Dow Corning New Venture Energy 2002-2003
  • 3M Corporation 2000-2003

Professional Highlights

  • 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.

Research Statement

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.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Chris Mandrell (1994), MatSE

Chintan Amin (1995), MatSE

Jill Steinbach (1996), MatSE; Motorola, Phoenix AZ

Maribeth Swiatek (1996), MatSE; Ph.D. at Caltech

Patrick Buchana (1996), ChemE; Budweiser, St. Louis MO

Andrew Dolvig (1997), MatSE; Intel, Portland OR

John Kaeding (BS thesis) (2000), MatSE; Ph.D. at UCSB

Joseph Grill (BS thesis) (2000), Chemistry; chemical industry

Roger Dickey (2004), ECE

Milka Alyssa (2004), UIC ChemE/Math

Angela Gonzales (2006), MatSE

Nouman Ali (2007), CIIT-Pakistan

Muhammad Yasar (2008), CIIT-Pakistan

Selected Articles in Journals

Articles in Conference Proceedings

  • E. R. Mosburg, Jr. , R. C. Kerns and J. R. Abelson, “Measurement and Use of the Plasma Current Waveform in an RF Silane Discharge,” Proc. 160th Electro-Chemical Society Meeting (1981); SERI Technical Report TP/212-1469 (1982).

Conferences Organized or Chaired

  • Organizing committee, MRS Symposium EE15, "Materials for Sustainable Development-Integrated Approaches" (Phoenix, AZ), April 2016

Teaching Honors

  • UIUC List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (2000,2002,2006,2008)
  • UIUC Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising (1997)

Research Honors

  • Fellow, AVS–Science and Technology Society (2004)
  • Xerox Senior Faculty Award (1996)
  • IBM University Partnership Award (1995-1997)
  • Fakultetsopponent (External Examiner), U. Linkoping, Sweden (1995)
  • Young Investigator in the IBM Materials program at UIUC (1988-1990)

Recent Courses Taught

  • ENG 471 - Seminar Energy & Sustain Engrg
  • ENG 571 - Theory Energy & Sustain Engrg
  • MSE 489 - Matl Select for Sustainability

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