Andreas Berger: an interview with JPhysD’s magnetism Section Editor

Andreas Berger

As we continue the series of interviews with JPhysD Section Editors, we speak with Dr Andreas Berger; Researcher Director at CIC nanoGUNE in Spain,  and Section Editor of the Applied magnetism and magnetic materials section. Dr Berger’s research focuses on nano-scale magnetic materials and devices, and magneto-optics. Here he tells us about his research, what motivates him and where he thinks the field of magnetism is heading.

Which research projects are you and your group currently working on?
The research activities in my group are primarily focused on nano-scale magnetic materials and devices as well as related characterization techniques, especially magneto-optics. We are working hereby on a wide range of activities, from fabrication through to characterization and application in related subjects.

We are especially interested in new materials and their functional combination by utilizing traditional and novel fabrication methods, such as focused electron beam induced deposition (FEBID) for instance, which allow us to make ever more advanced magnetic materials, structures and devices for potential applications. The other core aspect of our work is magneto-optics: its fundamentals, efficient measurement and data analysis, and utilization, including for non-traditional applications, such as bio-medical devices.

What motivated you to pursue this field of research?
I have always been interested in research that is right in between fundamental understanding and real life applications. Hereby, materials have fascinated me the most, because it is materials that turn the exciting world of fundamental physics into something “real”. For me, ferromagnetic materials are a special subject, because there are multiple levels of relevance and understanding associated with them, a fact that is due to the multitude of interactions that determine their properties. So, magnetism research is on one end very modern, utilizing the most recent theoretical and technical advances, but it also has a rich tradition of knowledge that is still crucially important for today’s research work.

Colour maps of reflection and diffraction geometries from J A Arregi et al 2015 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 48 305002

Colour maps of reflection and diffraction geometries from “Surface-topography induced optical and magneto-optical anisotropy of permalloy gratings”J A Arregi et al 2015 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 48 305002

Magneto-optics as one of the specific topics we work on is very useful and flexible, because as an optical measurement technique, it can be combined with almost any environmental condition. From a more personal perspective, I always found magneto-optics fascinating because one can measure magnetic properties with incredible precision and speed using rather simple means. Thus, this field offers many opportunities to make substantial advances with even modest experimentation, as long as one has good ideas.

Where do you think the field is heading?
Magnetic materials are crucial in energy related technologies, sensors and information technology and have been for decades. This is not going to change and a lot of very exciting work in the field of information technology and “green” energy technologies is ongoing, and it will continue to advance technology and challenge fundamental science. So, these research directions are, and will be, the backbone of magnetic materials research for the foreseeable future.

However, there is now also the possibility that relevant applications in the bio-medical field will become feasible in the near future. This is for two two reasons: one is that nano-fabrication techniques have advanced so much that nowadays sophisticated functional components and devices can be produced, which are far smaller than individual cells and thus, potentially compatible with living organisms. The other reason is that we as humans (and biological tissue in general) are not impacted in a significant way by magnetic fields. Thus, remote actuation and control of magnetic nanostructures even inside a living organism can be realized, which ought to give the medical community many new tools. In this area of research, we are still at the beginning and hopefully, many of the interesting and novel ideas that are presently being generated will produce valuable advances for society as a whole.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most interesting and rewarding aspect of my work is, and always has been, the understanding of new results or phenomena. To me, there is nothing as fascinating and satisfying in my work as the moment(s) when, based upon discussions and analysis, one finally understands what the meaning of one’s results are; what the real story is that the data have been trying to tell you all along. The dawn of knowledge if you will.

At this point in my career, the close second most rewarding aspect of my work is basically the same, but to see it in others, namely to mentor and guide my (graduate) students in joint discussions to the point, where their results start to tell them and us together what they actually mean and what conclusions one can draw from them. This is very rewarding for me as a supervisor and senior researcher.

What advice would give to young scientists?
I would advise young scientists to follow their own interests, rather than pay attention to what is a “hot” scientific field right now. First, the fact that something is being conceived as “hot” cannot and should not replace your own scientific curiosity and drive. Secondly, even from a practical perspective it might not work out well if you enter a “hot” field just because it is conceived as such. Chances are that by the time you are ready to make a significant contribution, the field isn’t perceived as being so “hot” anymore. That being said, if a “hot” field is really fascinating you, then by all means, jump right in.

Also, I would advise young scientists to carefully select the group(s) and institution(s), in which they work. Hereby, it is important to consider what subsequent paths other young researchers from these groups and institutions have taken, if they were well mentored and supported. This is of course not so easy to know and more difficult to track than a group’s publication record, but eventually, it is far more important.

What would you say to a student who wanted to shape his or her future with a career in science?
The most important thing is that you find something that really interests you, something that fascinates you, even so much that you won´t be able to sleep because you don´t understand the mixed messages your results seem to give you, or on the contrary because you have actually realized what the pathway to solving a problem is. If there is something like that in your daily work or studies, then you are on the right track and becoming a scientist is for you.

I think it is really important to find this fascination, because a career in science has a lot of advantages, but also very clear disadvantages. Furthermore, one’s career generally does not proceed in a straight line nor does it take exactly the shape one plans for early on. There will be setbacks, problems, delays, etc., in one’s career (which is also not unique to science, of course), and especially at those moments it is important that the interest in the work and the joy of doing science makes it all still worth it.


You can read some of Dr Berger’s work below:

“Surface-topography induced optical and magneto-optical anisotropy of permalloy gratings” J A Arregi et al 2015 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 48 305002

“Segregation of materials in double precursor electron-beam-induced-deposition: a route to functional magnetic nanostructures” M J Perez-Roldan et al 2015 Nanotechnology 26 375302

“Spin transport enhancement by controlling the Ag growth in lateral spin valves” Miren Isasa et al 2015 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 48 215003 

“Influence of long-range interactions on the switching behavior of particles in an array of ferromagnetic nanostructures” Alexander Neumann et al 2014 New J. Phys. 16 083012

CC-BY logoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Image courtesy of Andreas Berger.

Categories: Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics

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