The nanoscience of ferroelectric and ferromagnetic domains converges on Barcelona

The 14th International Symposium of Ferroic Domains is a highly specialised event organised by members of the ICN2 Oxide Nanophysics Group to discuss phenomena with implications for fundamental physics and electronic applications.

Ferroelectric and ferromagnetic materials, meaning those with a spontaneous electric or magnetic polarisation, often contain regions of opposite polarity, known as “domains”. The increasing precision achieved in the study and manipulation of these jigsaw-like regions has led to the emergence of a whole new area of research with major implications for the design of electronic devices, that of ferroic domains. This week the 14th International Symposium on Ferroic Domains brings nearly a hundred of the world’s top specialists to Barcelona to discuss the latest advances.

Held every two years since 1989, this year the event has been organised by ICREA Prof. Gustau Catalán, leader of the ICN2 Oxide Nanophysics Group, and Dr Neus Domingo, senior researcher in this group and head of the ICN2 Advanced Atomic Force Microscopy Platform. The event has been coordinated from the ICN2, member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).

To understand these structures a precision at the nanoscale is required. The domain walls separating areas with opposite properties may be infinitely long, though nanoscopically thin. They may also be straight or they may trace more complex lines, twisting into record-small vortexes or spirals. With an example being skyrmions, despite their small size they are extremely robust. Furthermore, these walls can conduct electricity and be moved around within the material, making it possible to write and delete infinitely many electronic circuits on a single material simply by changing the configuration of its domains.

All of these things are already possible through the use of scanning probe microscopes, which can not only observe, but also manipulate materials at the nanoscale with an unprecedented level of control.

The conference in Barcelona will highlight the latest advances and point the future trends in this very exciting new area of research.