Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Michel van Veenendaal
Michel van Veenendaal

 

Science magazine’s top breakthroughs
of 2007 include NIU connection

January 22, 2008

by Tom Parisi

The work of a team of scientists that included NIU physicist Michel van Veenendaal is cited by Science magazine as being among the top 10 scientific research breakthroughs of 2007.

Working at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, a facility that produces the most powerful X-ray beams in the Western Hemisphere, the researchers shed light on the interplay of electrons at the interface between ferromagnetic and superconducting oxides.

The surprising findings uncover a potential path for manipulating superconductivity at the atomic scale, opening up a new area of investigation into ways of designing nanoscale superconductors. The work by van Veenendaal’s team and several other research teams examining similar phenomena came in at No. 5 on the Science magazine list of breakthroughs of the year.

“Sixty years ago, semiconductors were a scientific curiosity,” the magazine noted. “Then researchers tried putting one type of semiconductor up against another, and suddenly we had diodes, transistors, microprocessors, and the whole electronic age. Startling results this year may herald a similar burst of discoveries at the interfaces of a different class of materials: transition metal oxides.”

The magazine goes on to say, “With almost limitless variation in these complex oxides, properties not yet dreamed of may be found where they meet.”

Van Veenendaal’s team was led by Jacques Chakhalian of the University of Arkansas. Their research was originally published in the November issue of Science (Orbital Reconstruction and Covalent Bonding at an Oxide Interface).

“We discovered that the electrons at the interface are not really where you expect them to be,” van Veenendaal says. “I am currently trying to find out whether we can obtain orbital and spin switching at the interface of transition-metal oxides. I expect that many more exciting effects will be found at the boundaries between these materials.”