In an ambitious project, Tim Verhagen, a dutch scientist at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, aims to create a new type of material that will have simultaneously ferromagnetic and ferroelectric properties at room temperature. The project, which is funded by the European Research Council (ERC), involves the deposition of very thin, single-atomic layers of different materials on top of each other to create so called “2D sandwich".
In an ambitious project, Tim Verhagen, a Dutch scientist at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, aims to create a new type of material that will have simultaneously ferromagnetic and ferroelectric properties at room temperature. The project, which is funded by the European Research Council (ERC), involves the deposition of very thin, single-atomic layers of different materials on top of each other to create so called “2D sandwich".
The project is not without its challenges, however. Tim notes that while all the layers he has mapped out on paper, actually making the sandwich is a different story. "Maybe it will work, maybe not," he says. "But if it does, it will be a big step forward."
To create the 2D sandwiches by layering extremely thin single-atomic layers of various materials on top of one another, Tim will use a molecular-beam epitaxy machine that is until late summer not available due to the ongoing global shortage of some components. In the meantime, he is working on shaping the idea. “I can think once more of the steps and see if it is still the way I would do it nowadays.”
While there are numerous groups that have similar machines he could potentially use, none of them are willing to allow him to use it, due to his desire to combine a specific set of materials. “That is completely understandable, because if you put some elements inside your machine they will stay there forever.” So, nobody wants to face, that their machine will be let's say “spoiled” with unwanted material, explains Tim the unusual situation. On the other hand, probably nobody else, who has heard about his concept, will attempt to replicate it hastily before him.
He expects that it will take a year to get familiar with his new machine and before first results are known, and even then, there is no guarantee that the 2D sandwich will be produced. "You don't know what you get, I guess the best is to be surprised like a child, what comes," said the scientist.
Open samples advance for the science
Tim believes that sharing his future samples with other researchers is crucial to advancing the field. "You don't need to keep everything for yourself," he said. "There are many cases where people have doubts about other people's results and people are not open to share even the data, so share solid samples is a big step.”
Sharing the information is a means to increase its reach and popularity and benefit others as well, because if the samples are newly discovered, there may be numerous findings to be made, and as Tim mentioned, he cannot undertake all the research on his own.
Potential applications may be discovered
Thanks to advancements in materials science, we can observe changes in our daily lives, such as smarter and smaller devices with increased functionality. A comparison between TVs and computers today versus ten or even just five years ago demonstrates the practical benefits of research.
However, since the necessary 2D sandwiches don't currently exist, their real-world
applications may differ from what is presently imagined. According to Tim it is important to have a broad vision when applying for grants, but it is also crucial to remember that scientific progress doesn't always lead to an instant Golden Age, and people may end up disappointed if their expectations are unrealistic.
Where the 2D sandwich comes from
In the world of scientific research, preparing a successful proposal for the European Research Council can be a daunting task that requires a great deal of dedication. As Tim means, taking a year to prepare for an ERC grant, although it is not a full-time commitment, is a wise decision that can pay off in the long run.
To make his proposal more engaging and understandable to a broad panel, he had to submit to, Tim endeavoured to simplify his explanation. “There was probably one person in the panel who is an expert in this field, and the others aren’t,” he added. So, he likened his sandwich design to two slices of toast bread with a bit of peanut butter, which proved to be a successful analogy that resonates not just with audience during the presentation in Brussels.
For Tim is physics a challenging but fulfilling field with great flexibility in experimentation. "I guess physics is quite satisfying and once you understand it, you can understand quite a lot of theology."