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Nadine Hauptman is open to big questions: what is the role of electron correlations in 2D materials?

Interview with dr. Nadine Hauptmann (Scanning Probe Microscopy)

Nadine Hauptman recently started as Assistant Professor in the Scanning Probe Microscopy group within the Institute for Molecules and Materials Nadine Hauptmann(IMM) of Radboud University. Hauptmann, originally from Germany, will build her own research group that focusses on the fundamental understanding of quantum phenomena based on strong electron correlations in 2D materials. Ultimately, this gain of fundamental knowledge may lead to innovating new ways in sustainable technological applications, such as future’s energy-efficient data storage and data processing. ‘I am open to big questions’, Hauptmann says. ‘There are so many things out there which we cannot really imagine, but at least we can get a glimpse on it.’

We interviewed Nadine Hauptmann about her research, her research goals and herself.

What is your (research) background?
"After graduate school I had quite a lot of interests and I was not sure what to study. I started studying Marine Physics as I had a fascination for the dynamic of the sea and its interplay with climate. However, philosophical questions triggered me as well. Therefore, I changed studies to musicology with the focus on how and why music emotionally influences us. During these studies, I figured out what I really want to do: unravelling the secrets and basic principles of nature. I discovered that music fascinates me, but the physical understanding of nature has such a wealth of open questions and therefore excites me more. My choice has actually been influenced by the TV series Star Trek (TNG): “to not think in a linear way, but open your eyes for complex, barely imaginable options and unknown possibilities of existence”. From that moment on I was confident to be on the right track."

"I studied and did my Bachelor and Master (summa cum laude) in Physics at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel in Germany. From 2009 to 2013, I was a PhD candidate. My research question in my PhD project was to explore which quantum phenomena in single functional molecules may be used to design molecule-based electronic devices. For this, I used scanning probe techniques. After a one-year post doc position in Germany 2013, I started working at Radboud University."

In 2014, you started as post doc employee at IMM, how did you experience that?
"In 2014, the Scanning Probe Microscopy group continued under supervision of Prof. Alex Khajetoorians. From that moment on, I have been living in Nijmegen. I was very happy about the way the IMM supported me and about the friendly colleagues who were willing to help me a lot. It was easy to get in contact with everyone in the IMM, and I experienced that everybody is very approachable. (Then laughing) I must say that the only thing I miss from home was the typical German bread, the “Vollkornbrot”. I really feel at home in the Netherlands, often even more than in Germany. It is remarkable to say that I almost feel foreign in Germany."

What will be your research topic at IMM and what is your passion for this?
"I am very excited about starting my own research group. The focus of my research will be to study quantum mechanical phenomena at the atomic scale in novel 2D materials. Within my new group, we will address novel phases in 2D materials, so called correlated electron phases. These phases show unusual superconducting or magnetic behavior and are puzzling physicists at the moment. What we need here is a better understanding about the role of electron interactions. We will approach this question using an experimental method (SPEX) that I developed during my post doc time in the SPM department at the IMM. SPEX is unique worldwide and that can simultaneously study the magnetic, electronic and geometric structure at the atomic scale."

Where can this fundamental understanding lead to?
"Foremost, we want to understand how everything works and obtain a complete picture. Fundamental research is about contributing as many pieces of information about nature as possible, with the goal to make it of use for society. But to be more specific: the outcome of my research may lead to novel innovations in material science. The obtained knowledge could be used to design new material systems for future’s energy-efficient technologies for data storage and data processing, so called Green ICT. The benefit will be the development of more sustainable electronic devices."

What else is nice to know about you?
"When I am off work, I like swimming and spending time with my partner. During my career and life in the Netherlands, I learned that even if you struggle and experience some ‘lows’, there are always, and really always, ‘highs’ following. And when finally, after hard and long work, you hold a small piece of the big puzzle in your hand, this will make you very happy. And then you know why you are doing it."

Text: Miriam Heijmerink