With the help of computer models, the British chemist and materials researcher has developed a new family of crystalline compounds: Multiferroics not only promise to revolutionize the world of computers, but could also be a base material for further technological innovations – from tiny, nanometre-sized motors and high-precision magnetic sensors to superconductors that function at room temperature.
The multiferroics "created" by the prize winner – the majority of these crystals do not occur naturally – owe their name to the fact that they possess both ferromagnetic and ferroelectric properties. For example, the iron contained in the multiferroic bismuth ferrite ensures that the crystal responds to magnetic fields, while bismuth and oxygen make it receptive to electric fields. Not only can the material permanently store magnetic and charge information, but the magnetic information can also be changed using minimal electric fields.
Multiferroics were already studied in the middle of the 20th century in the former Soviet Union. However, the research stagnated due to the lack of suitable materials. In 2000, Nicola Spaldin published a seminal article in which she established theoretically why there are so few multiferroics. With this knowledge she was able to tailor suitable crystals for research in computer simulations. She thus brought about a worldwide revival of multiferroics research.
Nicola Spaldin researches and teaches at the ETH Zurich. The materials researcher will receive the Körber European Science Prize endowed with 750,000 euros on 7 September in Hamburg City Hall.