Dr Eva Anton: The Postdoc experience
2014 MacDiarmid Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Eva Anton works in an exciting field. She is part of the rare-earth nitrides team that is growing materials that are both semiconducting and ferromagnetic , making them an attractive proposition for a new generation of electronic devices. Eva first came to the team after meeting Emiritus Professor Joe Trodahl, a founding member of The MacDiarmid Institute, while she was a PhD student in Darmstadt, Germany. She arrived at Victoria University of Wellington in 2012 and works with Dr Ben Ruck, who co-leads the project with Professor Trodahl. Before arriving in Wellington, Eva’s research focused on environmentally friendly lead-free ferroelectric ceramics using Raman Spectroscopy as an analysis tool. It was her experience with that method that led to the invitation to join the MacDiarmid team. She recalls that it was a big change to move to growing thin film materials. “The topic is very different. When I came here I had to start from scratch.” “All the literature was new, the materials had hardly any connection, the emphasis from ferroelectrics to ferromagnetism is a big shift,” she says. “I needed a lot of support and help.” And that, she says, was what she got. “It was a very nice experience.” Eva has also appreciated what she says is a “very open” approach to ideas. “You have your freedom to research the way you want. Obviously there are limits of funding or equipment but no one says: ‘You can’t do that because we don’t want to go in that direction’. No one has ever stopped my creativity.” She says help also came from other parts of The MacDiarmid Institute, especially researchers working on superconductivity at Gracefield – formerly IRL Ltd but now the Robinson Research Institute. As a MacDiarmid Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, Eva receives financial support to take up a variety of opportunities provided by the Institute. For her, one of the greatest experiences was her participation in the 2012 MacDiarmid Symposium. There, she heard about the scoping projects some of the students and postdocs had undertaken to sound out the commercial potential of their research. “It was amazing to me how much output they had from that three weeks of work.” Inspired, Eva got in touch with the commercialisation team and worked closely with Desi Ramoo on the potential commercial applications of her work with thin films. The work she did was to form the basis for one of the patent applications filed by the rare-earth nitrides team in April 2014. She says the experience means she now views her science in a different way. “We always think about solving our science problems but just to think ‘how is it useful?’ is completely different.” “It might mean sometimes not getting it scientifically perfect, but thinking about the need your research might fill, about what it is people might actually need and having it working reliably.” In March 2015, Eva started on a project of her own; funded by a Marsden Fast Start grant. Working on the project alongside her continuing research on thin films, she will go back to her PhD specialty – lead-free ceramics. Her aim is to develop materials for use in applications that connect electronic and mechanical functions, micro-electro-mechanical systems. These devices could work in two opposing ways. A current applied to the material could initiate movement – which would be useful in instruments such as microscopes where small, accurate movements are required. The movement of the material could also generate a charge, which would be useful in harvesting energy from even the smallest amount of movement. The devices would have an advantage over present materials as there would be no toxic lead in the materials to leak into the environment or cause issues when devices come to the end of their life.