INSPIRE Physical Sciences: A synergy for next generation materials science

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Growing concerns regarding the cost of energy as well as the sustainability of the current industrial and economic infrastructure in front of global population increase have made the development of transformative, sustainable technologies capable of supporting improved industrial and economic models an urgent priority of mankind as a whole. Crucial for these technological developments is the definition and understanding of novel materials which, as previously happened in human history, could unlock new scientific and technological horizons and positively impact across society, economy and politics. These elements have turned research in transformative, multifunctional materials into a priority of funding agencies and Industry both in UK and world-wide.

Very recently, a new class of multifunctional materials, topological insulators, has started to receive scientific attention due to their appealing physical properties with potential applications in a broad range of areas as diversified as energy storage, biosensing and quantum computing. The scientific interest in these materials originate from the realisation that, unlike the vast majority of known materials, topological insulators can conduct current extremely well (even as well as superconductors) through their surfaces but not through their bulk. Furthermore, due to quantum mechanical laws governing the relationship between the (crystal) momentum and spin of electrons in a solid, the surfaces of topological insulators could be used to transport information without the need of moving charge (as it happens in contemporary electronics devices) with the net result of no energy or information dissipation.

The breadth of the scientific challenges accompanying research in topological insulators, and the potentially ground-breaking impact that their development could generate in very diverse technological fields readily define one of the contemporary frontiers in interdisciplinary research at the boundary between Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Medicine and Health Sciences. This in turn calls for a multidisciplinary research approach and, almost immediately, uncovers two limitations of the current research structure in the limited connections existing between diversified research communities, and in the lack of a common language to allow effective knowledge transfer and organisation.

Prompted by these considerations, and compatibly with the available budget, we will take topological insulators as a case study of multifunctional material to establish a multi-disciplinary research platform and pioneer:
(i) The creation of a common research language by bringing together researchers with diversified skill sets and expertise in solid state and surface chemistry, magnetism and biosensing, electron microscopy, computational chemistry, catalysis and photocatalysis, electron transport and superconductivity.
(ii) Novel and self-contained research protocols in materials science where all the steps including synthesis, doping, surface analysis, electron transport measurement and first principles interpretation of data will be executed with the aim of favouring expertise mixing and practice-based understanding of the actual limitations and potential of the methods used by one project partner in the research field of the others.
(iii) Novel research in the potential of chemical doping for improved topological insulators, and in their chemical stability to environmental agents.
(iv) Preliminary study about the potential of multiferroic material for (photo-)catalytic application for a future grant application.

At the end of the grant, the platform will have defined a common language and acquired a broad range of expertise and the cohesion needed to develop full scale grants that will not be limited to modification of already existing (however interesting) materials, but will tackle research in novel, sustainably generated, environmentally non-hazardous multifunctional materials.

Planned Impact

By bringing together researchers with diversified skill sets and expertise in solid state and surface chemistry, magnetism and biosensing, electron microscopy, computational chemistry, catalysis and photocatalysis, electron transport and superconductivity, the proposed programme aims to define a common language for multi-disciplinary research in fundamental and applicative materials science, and to fine-tune effective interaction and discussion protocols for knowledge transfer across Physical Sciences research interfaces. The immediate impact of this will be two-fold: on the one hand it will create an experienced and effective platform to coordinate the available expertise and engage with extra skill-sets required to maximise the scientific impact the research. On the other, we will be able to share the acquired experience on research at the interfaces of EPSRC remits between different fields with other researchers both in UK and overseas. This will be accomplished through our dissemination plan which involves academic engagement (starting from our INSPIRE competitors), and showcase of our transformative approach, experience and recognised mistakes to R&D departments of the many and diversified commercial partners of the Host Institutions as well as to European initiatives with interests in multi-disciplinary energy research (www.eera-set.eu).

Given the scientific interest in topological insulators and multiferroics materials, systems in strong focus worldwide due to their potential for applications in as many and diversified fields as Energy, Biosensing, Quantum Computing, Catalysis and Photo-catalysis, at the end of the grant the platform will have defined a common language, integrated the broad range of expertise available, and matured the cohesion needed to develop full scale grants targeting innovative research in materials science by deployment of transformative, truly multi-disciplinary programmes. Once more, the long term impact of this will be two-fold: on the one hand, and based on preliminary results to be gathered in the course of the project, the platform will have developed an advantage over -arguably less multi-disciplinary- competitors to propose innovative and transformative research in the considered fields (topological insulators and multiferroics). On the other, by scientific dissemination of the preliminary results and presentation of the impact of knowledge exchange across interfaces, the platform will be well placed to potentially shift existing paradigms on collaborative research across the Physical Sciences.

The unprecedented opportunity of bringing together extremely diversified fields, the applicants' self-evident intention of overcoming scientific language barriers, and the prospect of identifying more opportunities for research than recognised so far (due to time and budget limitations) will be other impacts of the project. Once more, we intend to maximise it through the proposed travel programme and dissemination plan.

Within the limitations of the available budget, the proposed programme targets also generation of new fundamental insight into the preparation, nanoengineering, functioning and chemical degradation of novel topological insulators and multiferroics. The recognised potentials of these systems for energy storage, biosensing and quantum computing adds extra potential impact to the project in that scientific advances would be certainly felt by the scientific and industrial communities with interest in those areas, and from there, from the whole society. Once more, advances to be generated in the course of the scientific programme will be made available through our scientific and industrial dissemination plan.

To contribute to public understanding of the scientific agenda and of the potential of multi-disciplinary research programmes, the most notable scientific results of the project will be made available on the web in a form suitable to the general public.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This grant provide seed-funding to start a new collaboration between early career researchers in different but related disciplines (spintronics, superconductors, chemical physics and computational chemistry). In this sense, the grant was a success, and the team meat regularly every six months, with visits of the CIs to each other institution and the development of very active collaborations. Even though the objectives were only to start the collaborations so that new ideas for larger grants with PDRA and equipment costs could be developed, some scientific results have already come up from our network:
1.- Magnetic thin films (e.g. FeNi) grown on topological insulators (Bi2Te3, Bi2Se3, I-doped Bi2Te3) have a different magnetic anisotropy and easy axis. The Gilbert damping is greatly enhanced. This results correlate with the spin orbit coupling of each topological insulator, but we are still characterizing the crystal structure of the system via Xray and TEM analysis.
2.- Presence of certain impurities (e.g. Cu) in topological insulators leads to a "zip" crystal arrangement as observed via TEM. That is, the layered structure of the topological insulator is decoupled around the defect.
3.- The Grant has already given rise to four publications and the organisation of a symposium partly funded by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS - London).
Exploitation Route Our findings on the changes of the magnetic properties of thin films grown on topological insulators will be helpful to researchers working on topological spintronics and non-dissipative electronics. The study on defects and structure of topological insulators will contribute to research in novel superconductors and fundamental crystal structure of these materials.
Sectors Chemicals,Electronics,Energy

 
Description Several new collaborations have been established between the early career researchers involved in this grant. Nominally, two new grants applications are in preparation. The first one is focused on the growth and applications for quantum electronics of topological insulators (TIs) and superconducting TIs. The second deals with spin storage at interfaces and the design of low-dissipation electronic devices.
Sector Electronics
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Symposium Scheme
Amount ¥9,000 (JPY)
Organisation Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) 
Sector Learned Society
Country Japan
Start 08/2014 
End 08/2014
 
Description Fabrication and characterisation of topological insulators (Bi2Se3, Bi2Te3 and others) and double perovskites (e.g. SFMO). 
Organisation Heriot-Watt University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Leeds characterised the materials via Raman spectroscopy and magnetisation. We deposited magnetic interfaces that were characterised by the same techniques plus ferromagnetic resonance.
Collaborator Contribution Heriot-Watt chemically synthesised the materials. Glasgow performed cross-section TEM analysis.
Impact Papers in preparation.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Fabrication and characterisation of topological insulators (Bi2Se3, Bi2Te3 and others) and double perovskites (e.g. SFMO). 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Leeds characterised the materials via Raman spectroscopy and magnetisation. We deposited magnetic interfaces that were characterised by the same techniques plus ferromagnetic resonance.
Collaborator Contribution Heriot-Watt chemically synthesised the materials. Glasgow performed cross-section TEM analysis.
Impact Papers in preparation.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Spin doping at metallo-molecular interfaces 
Organisation University of Liverpool
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Experiments of magnetisation in ferromagnet and normal metal - C60 interfaces.
Collaborator Contribution Liverpool contributed with DFT simulations.
Impact Publications as listed.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Structural characterisation of molecular and topological - magnetic interfaces 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Leeds deposited superlattices and multilayers of fullerene/magnetic transition metals and topological insulators.
Collaborator Contribution Glasgow performed transmission electron microscopy and analysis.
Impact Papers in preparation.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Media Communications 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We communicated our breakthrough in emergent magnetism at molecular interfaces to the general media. The news was reported by IFLScience (with 25 million followers, our story was 'liked' by over 12 thousand people) and was printed in Cosmos Magazine. The result was also reported by some of the most important Scientific Media sites, such as Physics World, Chemistry World, Physics Today, Science News, Discovery Magazine and Nature Magazine itself run a News article written by one of their freelance journalists (in addition to a News&Views article from researchers in the field).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v524/n7563/nature14621/metrics