Multifunctional Scanning Microscopy

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


esearch in fundamental physics, advanced materials and novel devices at the nanoscale requires state of the art tools for characterisation and optimisation. There is a very strong research activity on nanomaterials at Leeds divided between the School of Physics (spintronics, biophysics and soft matter), the School of Chemistry (nano-synthesis, crystallisation, spin-crossover molecules) and the Faculty of Engineering (multiferroics and nano-materials for catalysis and energy). This represents sixteen academics , over fifty PhD students and postdocs and several million pounds in research income per year that can benefit from this facility. The intensive research activity extends to other world-class groups in Yorkshire (York, Sheffield) and northern Britain (Manchester, Nottingham, Durham, Glasgow).
This project will strengthen this endeavour by providing funds for a new, state of the art multifunctional low temperature SPM with added capabilities -some of which will be developed in collaboration with the manufacturer and unique in the UK or the world, such as near-field magnetic imaging, microwave application at sub-Kelvin MFM or scanning nano-SQUID technology. By becoming a national facility, the project aims as well to use the instrument as a science catalyst, bringing together leading researchers in different fields with a common interest in surface and nanoscale science. The core studies to be carried from at Leeds include:
* Nanodevices. Our focus will be in nanoscale spintronic devices, including experiments such as pure spin currents in non-local spin valves, topological superconductivity in thin film and flake devices, domain wall propagation in tracks deposited on piezoelectric substrates, topological and spin Hall effects and gate-operated Kondo scattering in molecular interfaces. However, we will also extend the capabilities and collaborations emerging at the interface of these topics, such as spin-crossover molecular devices, scanning SQUID detection of spin currents in diluted semiconductors and high-frequency spectroscopy of antiferromagnetic devices.
* Thin films: Leeds is at the forefront of thin film growth, with pioneering results in skyrmion materials, yttrium iron garnet, magneto-caloric epilayers and metallo-fullerene interfaces amongst many others. The SPM will contribute to maintain our world-class reputation and carry novel experiments in these systems. This will be expanded by novel multi-functional deposition facilities in Leeds and elsewhere to establish collaborations in multiferroics, topological insulator thin films and Heusler alloys amongst others.
* Soft matter and multifunctional applications. Nanoscale materials have revolutionised a wide range of technological processes; from bio-imaging and catalysis using nanoparticles, to energy generation with polymers and perovskites, biomechanics in membranes and many others. The facility will contribute to this research by allowing a time-share for the characterisation of non-core nanomaterials with transformative potential.
There are low temperature, magnetic field SPM systems in the north of England (Manchester, Warwick). However, to lead the world in nanomaterials, we need an exclusive, stand alone and versatile capability that can react to the fast changes at the cutting edge of research.

Planned Impact

The research in this proposal includes cutting edge topics with transformative potential in information storage (e.g. skyrmions), computing (molecular magnets, multiferroics), energy (magnetocalorics, hybrid magnets), as well as being at the forefront of fundamental research (spin currents, topological superconductors). Furthermore, the applications of this tool include very broad multidisciplary interests such as biophysics (mechanical properties of membranes, cryopreservation, bio-matter in extreme conditions), chemistry (phase transitions, molecular magnetism), engineering (high frequency electronics, multifunctional materials). The effect of this project into scientific research and our society in general will be developed via three paths: i) impact on scientific progress, ii) impact on technological prowess, and iii) impact on persons and careers.
i) Research in multifunctional nanomaterials such as magnetic nanoparticles, multiferroics, and molecular thin films is partly hampered by lack of a characterisation tool that can provide local information of wide range of properties (magnetic, structural, electronic) while covering a broad range of experimental conditions (temperature, electric/magnetic fields, optical irradiation). Our facility will provide a unique service, able to optimise complex hybrid nanosystems by measuring simultaneous physical properties. The work includes the most exciting topics in fundamental science (topological superconductors, quantum processes), computing (information storage, spin currents), energy (perovskites, organic solar cells, magnetocalorics) and biophysics (cryopreservation, bio-mechanics).
ii) In collaboration with the company providing the tool, this grant will develop new capabilities for nanomaterials characterisation, including:
Combined transport up to GHz frequencies - SPM (unique in the region)
Scanning SQUID mapping - SPM (unique in Europe; the only other being at Stanford University)
Polarised or magnetic-SNOM (world first, offering unparallel resolution on magneto-dynamics down to He3 temperatures)
All of these capabilities would be combined with state of the art, He3 cooling down to sub-Kelvin temperatures and a vector magnetic field of up to 9 T, broadening the user base and potential materials of characterisation. The benefits of these new technologies will be both at an acemic (moving forward the research of UK institutions) and industrial (new techniques and technologies).
iii) Apart from academics, over fifty early career researchers and students from Leeds, and over a dozen from other institutions are expected use the scanning microscope for the duration of this grant. Since the instrument is the state of the art tool for microscopy, the expertise acquired by these young researchers will prove very valuable when the equipment becomes more common place. This exclusiveness, together with our original modifications will attract world-class research groups and companies interested in nanomaterials, further increasing the employability and experience of these early career researchers.
We expect novel, exciting results in nanoscience arising from this facility. Some of the topics researched have great potential to attract the public imagination, such as quantum physics, bio-mechanics or clean power. This will be exploited not only by dissemination in conferences and other academic for a, but also by engaging with the population at large through the PR departments of Leeds, the manufacturing company and/or the other institutions involved.


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Description We have imaged the first samples in which we have nucleated skrymions and are in the process of performing a series of experiments to characterise the behaviour of the skrymions as a function of temperature, field and applied current. These experiments should result in the first publlication.
Exploitation Route They might be relevant to low loss electronics.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy