Spotlight: Developing new memory devices with Marie-Blandine Martin
An interview about the life of a spintronics researcher
Research scientist in the joint unit of physics in CNRS/Thales in France, Marie-Blandine Martin is currently involved in the Spintronics Work Package of the Graphene Flagship, developing magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAMs).
Today’s most digital devices use non-volatile memories based on NAND Flash technologies, but this might change in the future as MRAMs are expected to play a bigger role in the market. Instead of electric charges or current flows, MRAMs use charges in magnetic resistance to store data, which can bring a lot of advantages.
We ask Martin some questions about her career path and continue celebrating women and girls in science 2023 with a social media campaign that you can follow on Graphene Flagship social media channels.
In what way can graphene and other layered materials improve memory technologies?
MRAMs have a high density (they can pack a lot of data in a small size), high endurance (they can be written and read many times without any degradation) and fast-write operation. They are also low power technologies: we save 1 to 2 order of magnitude in power usage. As a result, the MRAM market is expected to skyrocket and reach nearly 5 billion dollars in 2026.
However, today, MRAMs face severe technological issues. Within the Graphene Flagship, in the Work Package “Spintronics”, we proposed new concepts for MRAMs and showed that graphene and other layered materials can potentially be the solution to all the current technology roadblocks.
Why did you choose a scientific career, and how did you first become interested in your current research project?
I have always loved mathematics, it was truly like a game to me and still is. I also enjoyed physics and was absolutely thrilled when I started to study quantum mechanics. From a very young age, I wanted to be a physics teacher, but then did some internships in labs where really enjoyed the atmosphere and the intellectual stimulation. Hence I decided to do a PhD before becoming a teacher. Then I postponed it again for a post doc position in Cambridge. I was enjoying doing research and spending time with researchers, and when I got offered a permanent position in Thales research center, I decided to accept it.
I work on spintronics with layered materials. I love this topic, but I must admit I chose the people I am working with before the topic. I think a topic can be very interesting with the right people, and awful with the wrong ones.
Why are you excited to work on graphene?
I have been part of the graphene adventure from almost the beginning, since my PhD. I had the opportunity to witness the evolution of graphene research, from very small graphene flakes, which were hard to handle, to large scale graphene, which enabled several applications such as wide spectrum cameras. I am very much excited to keep pushing research on graphene and layered materials to see what gets out of it and I look forward to a day when I’ll say “Today we are surrounded by them, but products made with 2D materials used to be very rare and we used to exfoliate them to study them”.
What do you enjoy the most in your career path?
I am happy I pursued a carrier where I am constantly stimulated intellectually. I like to understand how experiments work, explain the results and extract the relevant parameters. Of course I am also very proud when the experiments are working, and the experiment show that my team and I had a good intuition.
Have you ever had a role model, or someone who inspired you?
I get inspired by many people! I love seeing how people work, what works for them and why. Then I can take in their method and adapted it to me. I also know my limits and what is non-negotiable, starting with my sleep and spending time with my kids.
I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by a nice team during my PhD: my PhD supervisor Pierre Seneor has been a real mentor for me and I spent so many fun moments with Bruno Dlubak. They both showed me that it is possible to be a great scientist while having a life around other interests and priorities.
I have also been benefiting from inspiring women research scientists’ examples both in the 2D material community with Claire Berger and Annick Loiseau, and in the spintronics field with Agnès Barthélémy and Julie Grollier. They all brought me a lot, each in their way and I often think about them.
Why do you feel that diversity in science and technology is important for the Graphene Flagship's progress?
I think that diversity is important for any progress! I would say that all disruptive discoveries were made when the inventor was at peace. At peace we can express our creativity and have new and crazy ideas. To me you cannot be at peace if you cannot be fully yourself and that is exactly what diversity brings: the possibility to be ourselves. Because you are surrounded by so many different people around you, with different cultures, genders, passions, way of being, habits of working, sexuality, etc. you feel free to be the person you feel more comfortable with. And that’s when you can meet the magic of being inventive. Not to mention that diversity brings more diversity.