Shedding Light on the Materials of the Future

Advanced materials holding the promise of revolutionary technologies will also be illuminated by SwissFEL.
Throughout history, new materials have always been the key to technological "quantum leaps". There was a Bronze Age and an Iron Age and the 20th Century with the advent of digital computers could be dubbed the Silicon Age. In the 21st Century, too, great hopes are set on advanced materials with the potential for triggering a Revolution in Electronics and Power Engineering. Some dream of a "Superconducting City" where electricity would be produced and transmitted without any losses thanks to superconductors, materials showing zero electric resistance. And a new class of materials with special electric and magnetic properties is already fueling a transformation in electronics by enabling a novel way of information processing called "Spintronics" that would foster further miniaturization while requiring less power consumption. However, both high temperature superconductors and Spintronic materials still need to be better understood at a basic level before engineering applications can become a reality. With SwissFEL the basic science of such materials will be significantly advanced. The difficulty in studying such materials is that they cannot be described by considering the single particles they are made up of as independent. Rather, one speaks of strongly correlated materials, which means that the motion of each single particle is intimately coupled to that of its neighbors. This makes exact theoretical models of these materials extremely complicated, as the equations would be crowded with variables corresponding to the countless individual particles. Furthermore, the properties of these materials are essentially determined by nanometer scale inhomogeneities in their crystal structure as well as by ultra fast processes in the femto second range. That's why SwissFEL would be well suited to see the inner workings of these technologically relevant but as yet poorly understood materials.