Building electronics atom by atom

The Spintronics group at our University is at the cutting edge of device fabrication, building electronics atom by atom that will be used throughout the world.

Franck Natali and team with the MBE system

“The most exciting thing about this research is the connection that is has to real life—our discoveries answer real-world problems and will be used by communities in the future,” says Dr Franck Natali, who is a lead scientist in the Spintronics group, along with Associate Professor Ben Ruck and Emeritus Professor Joe Trodahl.

Six postgraduate students are currently collaborating with Dr Natali in Marsden-funded research and MacDiarmid Institute projects, where they are investigating how a new material— rare-earth nitrides—could be used to make new electronic devices.

To support this research, Victoria University of Wellington has recently installed a unique piece of equipment, a molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) system, which is used to make electronics by layering atoms on top of each other very precisely to create solid materials. It is the only one of its kind in New Zealand.

“Having access to this machine is exciting for students who are interested in working in the semiconductor field and electronics industry, and something we are happy for them to be involved in,” says Dr Natali.

Dr Natali says that the group’s research lies at the crossover between fundamental physics, material science and engineering as they address society’s needs for advanced devices to deal with big data.

“The need for greater data-processing and storage capability, while using less power, are key aspects in next-generation electronics. The performance of these devices is influenced by the purity of the material they are made from, the interface between different layers and the control of the thickness of these layers. The MBE system is the best for achieving the highest specifications in that.”

At the forefront of research in spintronics, the group leads the world in the understanding and growth of rare-earth nitride films and is actively recruiting postgraduate students.