Sebastiaan van Dijken
"The exploration of new ideas with a young and motivated group and strong international collaborators is very rewarding. It is interesting to explore material physics at the borderline between fundamental science and technology."
An explorer of material physics
Who are you?
I am Professor Sebastiaan van Dijken and I work at the School of Science’s Department of Applied Physics.
What does your research group do?
Through experimentation, the Nanomagnetism and Spintronics group studies how magnetic materials behave when you reduce their size to the nanoscale and integrate them with other active materials. Of particular interest to us are the electric and magneto-optical properties of hybrid nanomagnets and the tailoring of their functions in small electric fields.
How did you end up in this field?
During the final years of secondary school in the Netherlands, I considered physics and psychology as study options. At university, I luckily realised how much I enjoyed hands-on physics experiments in a laboratory setting. I have never regretted my quite coincidental study choice.
What’s best about your work?
The exploration of new ideas with a young and motivated group and strong international collaborators is very rewarding. It is interesting to explore material physics at the borderline between fundamental science and technology. The research infrastructure at Aalto University allows us to test new concepts and to develop new measurement techniques. Seeing something new and developing an understanding is a lot of fun. Applying such findings to actual solid-state devices, on the other hand, opens up other realities with interesting perspectives.
What is the most difficult aspect of your work?
From a scientific viewpoint, we address challenging and relatively new subjects. So, difficult is an essential and good thing in this respect. Other aspects of working life can consume a lot of time, but I try to deal with them by employing strict time management.
What makes your research group special?
Our group has total control over the entire research line, from the synthesis of complex hybrid materials to final analysis. Laser and sputter deposition systems are used to grow thin films, typically between one and 100 nanometers thick. Lithography is then used to pattern nanoscale structures for the characterization of high-resolution structural properties, electronic transport, magnetic switching, etc. For this, we utilize our own laboratory, but we also heavily rely on the infrastructures of the Nanomicroscopy Center and Micronova.
Why did you choose a career in academia?
Besides a two-year period at the IBM Research Center in the US and one year at VTT in Finland, I have mostly worked in academia after I obtained a PhD degree in physics in 2000. Academia provides a dynamic scientific environment because of the large proportion of bright, early-stage researchers and the constant influx of new people and ideas. In my opinion, this cannot be matched by research positions in industry.
Text: Paula Haikarainen
Photo: Hanna Koikkalainen
The original article has been published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 12 in December 2014. (issuu.com)
Sebastiaan van Dijken's article Hybrid nanomaterials for data storage and wireless applications. (issuu.com)