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Volume 1, 2012

Wilfred van der Wiel, professor of nanoelectronics has a wide field of interest. A chat about young talent, about making money and obviously about spinning electrons.

Wilfred van der Wiel (1975) is one of the rising stars of MESA+. He graduated cum laude from Delft University of Technology in applied physics. After that he obtained his doctorate – also cum laude – in electron transport in quantum dots at Delft before leaving the Netherlands for a few years to work in Japan. In 2005 he returned to the Netherlands, to MESA+. In 2006 he received a Vidi Grant from research-funding organisation NOW (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) and became a member of KNAW’s The Young Academy in 2007. On 1 October 2009 the University of Twente appointed him as professor and a day later he received a sizeable grant from the European Research Council to enable him to expand his research group. In 2012 he became a member of the Global Young Academy, a worldwide think tank of young researchers.

What is your contribution to the Global Young Academy?
“I hope to bring more talent into the scientific community by bringing children into contact with science as early as primary education or at the beginning of secondary education. As members of The Young Academy we travel by coach around primary schools in the Netherlands. This concept cannot be implemented throughout the whole world. Take a country like Senegal. Senegal is far less densely populated, has fewer scientists and is much more spacious. I would like to produce teaching material that shows that you can indeed solve problems by using scientific methods.”

And what’s the situation regarding JA@UT, the Twente variant of The Young Academy?
“The rector asked Jennifer Herek, Hans Hilgenkamp and myself to develop a Twente variant of The Young Academy. We can provide University of Twente policymakers with advice – both requested and unsolicited advice. A sort of ‘kick the system’. We have drawn up a list of criteria the members are required to meet, and will soon start to contact potential members and get the academy up and moving.”

Very nice, all those extracurricular activities, but how do you justify them?
“You have to find a balance between science and extracurricular activities. Each year I take my seat opposite the dean and the scientific director who primarily take a look at whether I have my finances in order. And up to now there’s been no problem in that respect. When I wake up in the morning I think: ‘Where can I make some money today?’ My group has meanwhile developed into a group of 27 people. This means that in less than eighteen months we have doubled our numbers.”

About Wilfred
Name: Wilfred van der Wiel (1975)
Position: Professor of nanelectronics
Previously: Studied and obtained his doctorate at Delft, was awarded a Vidi Grant by NWO, is a member of KNAW’s The Young Academy and recently received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council to expand his research group, has been a member of the Global Young Academy since 2012
MESA +... ‘is the biggest family in Enschede, personal contacts here really do give added value’

Spinning electrons

Lying on the table is a snazzy 3D drawing from Wilfred van der Wiel group’s most recent publication: ‘Tunable doping of a metal with molecular spins’. This article can be read in the April issue of leading magazine, Nature Nanotechnology. The researchers here have developed a method that can provide non-magnetic materials with magnetic elements in a highly controlled manner. Van der Wiel: “While our method is ‘slap happy’, it works much better that the method followed by researchers using complex, expensive apparatus. Now that we have developed this method things are starting to become really exciting. We can now begin to manipulate physics and make semiconductors with magnetic properties for instance. That’s something that up to now has only been the dream of many physicists. These semiconductors can take care of both memory storage and data processing.”

Research with spinning electrons has not only been conducted by the scientists in Van der Wiel’s group. In addition to his research group, NanoElectronics, a contribution was also made by Molecular Nanofabrication and Biomolecular Chemistry. Van der Wiel: “You can hardly force scientists to work together. That has to grow from the base. They are just like nanostructures.”