Materials Horizons Emerging Investigator Series: Ignasi Fina, Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona, Spain

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Dr Ignasi Fina (Ramón y Cajal Fellow) leads the Ferroelectric and Dielectric Characterization Laboratory (FEDE) and is part of the Multifunctional Thin Films and Complex Structures (MULFOX) group at the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB), belonging to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). Dr Fina focuses his research on the electric, magnetoelectric and photoelectric characterization of magnetic and ferroelectric films for the development of energy efficient and neuromorphic based novel devices. Dr Fina was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Germany and University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. He also completed postdoctoral work at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2). Before that, he defended his PhD in 2012 at ICMAB in Barcelona. Dr Fina was awarded with the First Young Researcher Prize (2017) at the Biennial Meeting of the Spanish Physics Society for his scientific trajectory.

Read Ignasi Fina's Emerging Investigator Series article “Local manipulation of metamagnetism by strain nanopatterning” and read more about him in the interview below:

MH: Your recent Materials Horizons Communication focuses on a method to locally modify the AFM-to-FM transition temperature in FeRh films by means of nanoindentation. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article and where do you see your research going in future?

IF: My research interest is focused on the development and characterization of new materials and functionalities. From the very beginning of my career, the opportunities that AFM materials offer attracted my interest. The often-evoked quotation of Louis Néel literally defining antiferromagnetic materials as “interesting but useless” has always made me think about the unexplored niche of applications that AFM must have. Néel's quotation is now 50 years old and it has probably been overcome, with AFM materials being present in several types of commercial devices. At the beginning of my career, my interests were focused on fundamental aspects; the more you know about something, the much easier it is to find novel strategies for applications. My latest work published in Materials Horizons shows a new strategy to manipulate AFM order, which can be useful for studying fundamental aspects of AFM materials and also for applications. In brief, my research is evolving towards more applied aspects of Materials Science, importantly including the use of AFM materials for security applications.

MH: What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

IF: The simplicity. I must admit that deep understanding of the obtained results took us a lot of time. In fact, our thesis varied quite a lot from the beginning of the project. However, when we decided that it was interesting to locally stabilize AFM by tuning the AFM-to-FM transition temperature in FeRh films, we soon thought that nanoindentation was the ideal technique to do that and discovered that the result was in fact successful and robust. With the developed method being simple and its scalability being possible, I think that a lot of people studying AFM materials could be interested in the method and reproduce the results in their labs, hopefully discovering new functionalities and enhanced effects.

MH: In your opinion, what are the most important questions to be asked/answered in this field of research?

IF: There are plenty of open questions in the field of AFM materials. I will only focus on one open question in the FeRh system and its AFM-to-FM phase transition that I found extremely interesting. Exchange bias is a well-known phenomenon consisting of the anchoring of the FM magnetic moment by an adjacent AFM layer. Indeed, exchange bias between AFM and FM has been exploited for applications. FeRh shows coexistence of AFM and FM phases in a wide range of temperatures. However, exchange bias is not a commonly observed effect in this material. The questions that arise are “why?” and “how can we induce exchange bias in the system?”. In the presence of exchange bias, the local manipulation of AFM would allow easy manipulation of exchange bias, which would be really exciting.

MH: What do you find most challenging about your research?

IF: The most challenging aspect of research in Materials Science and Physics is not to be misled by fancy descriptions of the experimental observations. You should also be aware that the first hypothesis might not always be the right one. For instance, in our latest work the description of the underlying mechanisms changed several times during the results analysis. In fact, I must admit that without the help of the simulations, we would not have been able to really understand our results.

MH: At which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

IF: At least I will try to virtually or physically attend (online), (Lisbon, Portugal), (Strasbourg, France), (online), and (Sydney, Australia). All are related to ferroelectric and magnetic materials, which are my main areas of expertise. CMD2020GEFES is completely online and free of charge for attendees and contributors, and so is an excellent opportunity to meet people all over the world. Let's trust in science and believe that the pandemic will end soon and we will be able to combine face-to-face meetings with our new friend: the online meeting.

MH: How do you spend your spare time?

IF: First, I must stress that I have a 2-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, so “spare” time is not abundant in my life. I would like to say that I love hiking, like most of my colleagues, but this would not be true. During my spare time, I like programming and reading about new research trends in Materials Science. I also like to sail with my family in our small boat and do house and garden work.

MH: Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

IF: Nowadays, we are in the era of scientific leaders. Thus, all early career scientists will probably feel the pressure of becoming a group leader. My advice would be to promote independence. Being an independent scientist allows you to help in some research lines led by others, but also to lead your own research lines if you are convinced that these are relevant. Becoming an independent scientist gives you the chance to take advantage of your expertise and be 100% efficient.

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