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PhD Theses

Congratulations Dr. Milena Cervo, new ICMAB Graduate

Doctor Milena Cervo from the Multifunctional Thin Films and Complex Structures (MULFOX) group at ICMAB, defended her PhD thesis titled "Resistive Switching in Hf0.5Zr0.5O2 ferroelectric tunnel junctions" on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 in an online session. Congrats!

27 May 2021
Dr. Milena Cervo and Supervisor Josep Fontcuberta
Dr. Milena Cervo and Supervisor Josep Fontcuberta

The PhD thesis was supervised by Josep Fontcuberta, MULFOX Group Leader at ICMAB-CSIC. The PhD Committee that evaluated the Thesis was formed by Gustau Catalán, Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia ICN2, (President), Anna Palau, Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona, ICMAB-CSIC, (Secretary), and Christian Rinaldi, Politecnico di Milano – Italy (Vocal).

Milena Cervo's PhD thesis was part of the PhD Programme in Physics from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).

 Josep Fontcuberta, Gustau Catalán, Milena Cervo, Christian Rinaldi and Anna Palau at the PhD defense

Josep Fontcuberta, Gustau Catalán, Milena Cervo, Christian Rinaldi and Anna Palau at the PhD defense.

Why did you choose the ICMAB for your PhD?

ICMAB is a research center of reference for the international scientific community. It was always my dream to work in such a plural environment. During my master's in Brazil, I met several scientists who worked in ICMAB and introduced me to the research here.

How would you explain your research to a non-scientific audience? 

My research focuses on studying one type of material that changes its electrical properties depending on the voltage we applied to it. Using one particular voltage pulse, the resistance of the sample can be either high or low. These two "states" can be interpreted as "1" or "0", as the binary logic a computer is based on. The material's resistance does not change for a long time after we remove the voltage, so we can use it to create a device that retains information, like the hard drive you use to save your documents. In addition, the memory size is incredibly small; it only has a few layers of atoms! During my PhD, we investigated the material properties very carefully: which phenomena are responsible for changing the resistance and how this impacts memory performance.

What are the main applications of your research? Could you give us an example?

The ferroelectric tunnel junctions we have explored during my PhD have a direct application in memory devices. The structure and material show compatibility with the current technology and offer several advantages that could be implemented in computers.

From the lessons learnt here, which one do you value the most?

The lesson I learned is to take your time to decide the next step or make an important decision, especially after a previous plan goes wrong. It is very tempting to react fast when something unexpected happens. However, it is crucial to think about your next step's nuances and consequences, which can only be done when you are calm and have a clear mind.

What will you miss the most from ICMAB?

For sure, I will miss the great friends I made in ICMAB during these years. It was amazing to work with people from all over the world and be able to learn and live incredible experiences with them.

How do you think this experience will contribute to your training and to your future? 

I believe any experience in life teaches you how to deal with different situations. The PhD research has allowed me to balance many aspects of the development of a project. Independently of what happens in the future, the problem-solving ability I enhanced will contribute not only to my work but also to my personal life.

What are your plans once you finish your PhD?

I will be moving from Barcelona to work as a post-doctoral.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your PhD, that now you can recommend to the ones who are starting?

I would suggest planning your PhD research carefully with your supervisor and group to cover the open questions with the most details you can. In addition, try to envision possible failures and already discuss possible solutions. Failures will happen, and it is very helpful to have alternatives to surpass them. Even though this attitude does not prevent failures from happening, it gives you confidence that there will be another way to get where you want and not panic.

Why did you become a scientist? Which have been your role models? 

I have always loved science, and the idea of producing knowledge is very thrilling to me. My role models are very diverse: famous scientists like Marie Curie, Carl Sagan and Nikola Tesla, and professors I met during my bachelor's, like prof. Paulo Pureur, prof. Pedro Grande, prof. Luis Gustavo Pereira, etc.

Which is your favourite female scientist? And why?

My favorite female scientist is Katherine Johnson. She was an amazing scientist and her relentless bravery to continue studying and researching in an environment where basically only white men could be is inspiring.

Describe in 3 keywords… 

  • Your research: exciting
  • Barcelona: mosaic
  • Your experience at ICMAB: life-changing

Any other comments you would like to say:

I am delighted to meet everyone in ICMAB and I hope to see you again soon.

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