PhD Student – Emergent Phases in Quantum Oxides

Doctoral Training Programme in Functional Advanced Materials (DOC-FAM)

DocFam+ (DOCtoral training programme in Functional Advanced Materials: Towards a Better Future) is a new doctoral programme for the recruitment of 26 excellent doctoral researchers led by the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC).
DocFam+ is a unique interdisciplinary and intersectorial research programme. We offer excellent salaries and international experience through secondments. The complete training programme includes annual workshops, a career development retreat and industry days, among others.
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Job Title: PhD Student - Emergent Phases in Quantum Oxides

Description of the project/group:
Our group has developed wide experience in the fabrication of epitaxial oxide thin films and freestanding membranes in the last years, with several PhD thesis dedicated to the study of ferroelectric thin films, flexoelectric effects, metal-insulator transition materials, or light-matter interaction in freestanding membranes. At ICN2, we have all the required facilities for synthesis of thin films via pulsed laser and RF-sputtering deposition, a membrane transfer system, clean room with equipment necessary for device nanofabrication (UV, e-beam lithography, etching, metal deposition), High-resolution X-ray diffraction characterization, cryogenic chambers for transport, structural (Raman) and surface/magnetic/electrical (AFM) characterization, as well as access to High resolution, aberration corrected Transmission Electron Microscopes. This is complemented with collaborations with high-profile groups in the vicinity (ICFO, UAB), Europe (TU Dresden, Université de Geneve, IPCMS Strasbourg) and farther away (CNMS Oak Ridge in the US, or University of Sidney), that enable the exchange of ideas, samples and access to more specialized techniques. On top of that, we regularly get access to unique facilities such as synchrotrons (ALBA in Spain, ESRF, Soleil, MaxIV, etc).
The group is led by ICREA professor Gustau Catalán, and integrated at the moment by 2 senior postdocs (Kumara Cordero and David Pesquera, PI’s of this project), 2 postdocs, and 3 PhD students, of a wide variety of nationalities (Indian, Iranian, Pakistani, Chinese, Costa Rician) and backgrounds (Physicists, Material scientists, Chemical engineers) making it a very multicultural and multidisciplinary group, but with high interactivity, fostered by our weekly group meetings and high intercorrelation in the different group projects.
The PhD student occupying this position will therefore get the benefit of being integrated in a highly active group in the field of complex oxides, to work on an ambitious project that attempts to expand knowledge in the area condensed matter physics and materials science, using state of the art techniques and unique facilities.

Principal responsibilities:
Complex oxides show a vast range of functional responses with exceptional susceptibility to minute structural and electronic modifications, making them appealing for almost any technological application in which one requires an active response to an external stimuli. Oxides are also an ideal experimental platform to discover new physics using materials science approaches.
Probably one of the most paradigmatic oxides compounds exemplifying this structural and electronic susceptibility are nickelate perovskites. These are compounds showing an electronic transition from metal to insulating phases (typically accompanied by magnetic ordering at low temperatures), which can be tuned by chemical substitution, pressure, strain, electrical gating or photoexcitation. The metal to insulator transition is usually associated to electron localization (Mott behaviour), however there are still multiple questions about the microscopic origin of this transition, its coupling with crystal structure and with the spin ordering.
Getting more insights into these materials, using novel materials science methodologies is highly appealing, especially since the recent demonstrations of the applicability of nickelates for neuromorphic computing devices, or the discovery of superconductivity in chemically reduced nickelates.
The approach we are following in our Knowledge Generation Project EPIQO is to exploit the recent advances in the synthesis of single-crystal, freestanding complex oxide membranes, that provide an unprecedented opportunity to study these materials in a nearly-ideal system (free of interactions with the substrate) and expand the range of tools for manipulation, using planar strains or strain gradients beyond those attainable in epitaxial films or single crystals, or expanding the combinatorial approaches that were so far possible by standard fabrication techniques (e.g. combination with semiconductor or polymeric substrates, or Moiré engineering via multiple layer stacking).

Education and experience:
In order to succeed in this project, we are looking for a candidate with a high level of knowledge in physics, specifically in solid state physics, with interest in exploring phase transitions, electronic phenomena and structure-properties relationships, as well as magnetism. At the same time the ideal candidate would have an interest in materials science and experimental physics approaches, with some hands-on experience in experimental techniques (e.g. thin film deposition, surface, structural or functional characterization), and knowledge of some programming language and/or instrument automatization.

Communication skills are a must, to be able to get integrated in our group, and to interact with collaborators and other scientists or general public in specialized or divulgation conferences/events.
Most importantly, a passion for science, curious mind and honesty, as well as critical thinking are qualities we will highly value.

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