An interview with Arturo Rodríguez (ESR12, UHAM) was recently published in the local newspaper of La Rioja, Arturo’s hometown. In the article, our ESR describes working with STM and life as a PhD student at University of Hamburg.
English translation below!
“I couldn’t resist writing my initials with twenty-nine atoms”
Arturo Rodríguez · In Hamburg, with the most powerful microscopes in the world
SANTO DOMINGO. The young man from Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Arturo Rodríguez Sota, is the beneficiary of an ITN Marie Curie scholarship in the European Union funded SPEAR (Spin-orbit materials, Emergent phenomena and related technologies training). He is studying for a PhD in Physics in Hamburg, for whose University he works.
What is your mission? My project is based on looking for skyrmions in the vicinity of superconductors, which are two very specific things that don’t get along very well. If I were to find them, it would be a great advance for the creation of quantum computers and other very promising technologies related to them, in addition to opening the door to exciting new physics, such as, perhaps, Majorana fermions. In a more general way, one could say that I work with scanning tunneling microscopes (STM) to study matter at the nanoscale. They are the most powerful microscopes in the world and allow us to observe individual atoms. They get their name from the principle on which they are based, a quantum effect called the Tunneling Effect, which allows electrons to overcome potential barriers as if they were ghosts walking through walls. The information obtained from this type of experiment enables the development of nanotechnology on which our phones and computers are based. Our group specializes in the study of the magnetic properties of these systems, for which we use a special microscope type (SP-STM), which, in addition to all of the above, it allows us to observe the magnetic moment or spin of the atoms.
What is it like working in your team? My group is very good, both scientifically and personally. I work surrounded by wonderful people like my supervisor, Dr. Kirsten von Bergmann, or those who have already become good friends as well as promising scientists Jonas Spethmann and Vishesh Saxena. Working with them is a combination of learning, enjoying and improving. We do science together and science is not knowing, to finally end up knowing. Working with them I have learned that the most beautiful thing someone can say is “I don’t know”, and then immediately search for the answer with all their heart. I’m happy.
What has surprised you the most to see or do on the other end of the microscope? Simply the fact of being able to see individual atoms already seems to me a feat worth mentioning. They only measure a fraction of a nanometer! One of the most beautiful things I have found were some atoms that naturally bunch together in groups of three due to an asymmetry. They look like little hearts! I usually say that I have discovered “the smallest hearts in the world”. Besides that, these microscopes not only allow you to see, but also to ‘touch’ and move individual atoms. As soon as I had the chance to work with them, I wasn’t able to resist writing my initials with only 29 atoms. It is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Caption: Arturo, with the microscope he uses and his initials written with atoms.