MESA+ University of Twente
Research Business & Innovation About MESA+ Education

Volume 3, 2014

Room for wild ideas

Alexander Brinkman examines how electrons interact with each other and thus lead to new properties of materials. As professor within a larger research group, MESA+ gives him the room to focus entirely on research and teaching.

A student stands in front of the desk of Alexander Brinkman, Professor of Quantum transport in matter. The students shows Brinkman a paper full of graphs. Brinkman is enthusiastic: “It seems that our wild idea has held firm up until now. Well done!” When the student leaves the room, Brinkman says: “This student is a wizard in mathematics. We are investigating a new idea for superconductivity at high temperatures. This kind of wild idea is perfect for graduating students. If the idea does not work, it is naturally disappointing, but the student can still get a degree with it. If you let research assistants do this, they have a problem for the remainder of the term of their project.”

Brinkman’s career appears to have gone like clockwork: student, research assistant, postdoctoral fellow, lecturer, a few major scholarships and then professor. How did he manage that? Brinkman: “My dream is not ‘and now a Vici’. My dream is to achieve superconductivity at room temperature. My career has actually developed gradually. It already started when I was small. I then played with technical Lego and repaired televisions. I then started studying physics because it is such an interesting field of study. You’re solving puzzles, trying to understand how nature works. For me, it’s about the content. The rest, the scholarships, the appointments, follow on naturally.”

So, the contents. Brinkman explains: “Look, an electron has a mass, a charge and a spin. At first sight, these appear to be fixed properties. But these properties change in matter. It’s just like a marble. Normally, a marble rolls nice and smoothly. But if you put it in syrup, its properties change. It’s just the same with electrons. Their properties change in matter and you get a particle with new properties. We call this a quasi particle. If you put several quasi particles together, they interact. We try to manipulate quasi particles. In this way we want to, for example, induce superconductivity in a new class of materials known as topological insulators. This could form the basis for a new type of topological quantum computation.

Brinkman holds a rather special position at the University of Twente within MESA+. He is a professor within the Department of Interfaces and Correlated Electron Systems of Hans Hilgenkamp. Brinkman: “I am able to focus entirely on the research and do not have to spend much time on management issues. For me, that is ideal. With my own small club I am embedded in a larger whole, and I can work together with many colleagues.”

NAME: Alexander Brinkman (1975)
POSITION: Professor of Quantum Transport in Matter
PREVIOUSLY: Studied Applied Physics in Twente and obtained his doctoral degree in 2003. Brinkman has been awarded three scholarships (Veni in 2004, Vidi in 2008 and a European ERC Consolidator Grant in 2013). He was UT lecturer of the year in 2010 and is a member of De Jonge Akademie of the KNAW
MESA+... “gives me the opportunity to be involved with a small group of researchers within a larger research group”