Breaking Records Every Day
Tiago Teixeira Saraiva, Research Fellow at the Quantum Nanoelectronics Laboratory, has talked to the HSE LooK about joining HSE University back in 2019, making breakthroughs in superconductivity research, and working with Russian students. He also shares what makes Moscow particularly attractive for him and gives a useful tip to future postdoc fellows at HSE University.
— Coming from Brazil, how is it for you to be in Moscow?
— First, this is a very nice historical city. I used to read about all the revolutions that happened here, as well as about the Second World War, and suddenly I am in the very place that the Nazis tried to invade. This was the furthest the Germans were able to advance and where Russians started to fight back. I think that is quite amazing! For me, it is delightful to be in a place where all of this actually happened. I can go to Park Pobedy and see the eternal flame as the emblem for this victory.
Although I am a physicist, I also have an interest in history. I like exploring why things are the way they are
My story of coming to Moscow and starting to work with Andrey Vasenko, Konstantin Arutyunov and Arkady Shanenko, who are very important and world-renowned scientists, is quite interesting. I am very lucky that Arkady was a professor at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil at the time when I was doing my PhD there. Back then, he had just published a set of equations that described superconductors, which is my specialization in physics. He taught these equations, but there was no solution for them.
Once, while giving a seminar about those equations, I tried to find one particular solution. And it worked out. When I showed it to Arkady, he was impressed. That was the start of a very fruitful collaboration, which we’ve had for years now. He then introduced me to Andrey Vasenko and Konstantin Arutyunov and strongly recommended me to come to HSE. I decided to apply for a postdoc position here and was accepted. Fortunately, Arkady also joined the team and we continue collaborating.
— Can you tell more about your field, superconductivity? What are the projects that you are currently working on at MIEM?
— Superconductivity, or the ability of certain materials (e.g., mercury, lead or niobium) to conduct electricity without thermal and energy losses, is very practical for engineering. For instance, when bringing electricity from a remote power plant, a lot of the energy gets lost as cables warm up. It can be saved if the cables are cooled, but it would be much cheaper to make them out of superconducting materials.
Superconductors can also expel magnetic fields; you can make something levitate over a magnet with a superconductor. There are already magnetic levitation trains (maglev) in China, South Korea and Japan. Another application is particle acceleration. Protons, for example, can be guided for collision with the application of superconducting traps. Such traps are used in the famous particle accelerator in Switzerland.
What makes superconductors very expensive is that they operate at very low temperatures. Thus, the challenge is to find other materials that can work at higher temperatures.
At MIEM, we are engineering such materials ourselves. For instance, we are currently developing a superconductor that would work at room temperature
My current research is a proposal to explain how certain materials that scientists have recently discovered work at very high temperatures in comparison to regular superconductors. Moreover, we just published a very important paper on this: ‘Robust Superconductivity in Quasi-one-dimensional Multiband Materials’.
We also have a collaboration with an Italian group under Andrea Perali, with whom we published an article on ‘Multiband Material with a Quasi-1D Band as a Robust High-Temperature Superconductor’ in 2020. We plan to further enhance our collaboration to push the limits of superconductivity because every time someone says ‘this is the limit, you cannot go further than this’, we manage to break the limits.
My first teacher in Brazil used to say ‘there is not much hope to go beyond the current values of critical currents and temperatures in superconductors’. Yet, we break records every day!
Some scientists were able to produce superconductivity at 15C, and this is room temperature for almost the entire year in Moscow! Such developments will eventually help to improve both society and the country.
— Are you involved in any other activities besides research?
— At MIEM, I will be presenting a short series of seminars for students on numerical simulations. It is a very tough method for the study of the behaviour of systems whose mathematical models are too complex to provide analytical solutions. Right now, I use it for my research on magnetic configuration inside superconductors and pattern formation. It is interesting that there are equations in physics that work both for superconductors and the colors of animal skin tones. For example, the patterns of fish skin and magnetic profiles in superconductors have the same shape. There is obviously something more to it.
I hope to inspire my students as I guide them through general and advanced information about superconductors, as well as numerical methods
In fact, the mathematical methods that I am using were developed 20 years ago, but I am currently generating results that are just at the forefront of superconductivity research. Although the field has been studied thoroughly—it has seen 110 years of intense publications and many Nobel prizes—we can still push the boundaries and make new discoveries. I am excited and hope to make my students feel the same way.
— As you used to teach in Brazil, do you see any difference between students back there and at HSE University?
— I feel that, in Brazil, people are a little bit more disoriented; their goals are for a shorter period. That is because the country does not have much experience in career development. When you live in a stagnating society, everybody is just going about their daily lives. I was teaching a very basic course on physics to students majoring in mathematics and biology, and they simply didn’t care about the subject. They were in university ‘just for the diploma’, though it could help them build a meaningful career in their field.
The difference that I see here in Russia—and that is also applicable to European students—they are much more career-oriented and focused on goals; they have actual things that they want to do in life
— If you could give any advice to other international postdocs coming to HSE University, what would it be?
— I would advise them to immediately start learning Russian. This can put them in the Russian universe sooner. I started learning Russian in my second year and it was already too late. Everyone around me speaks English—secretaries, my boss, people on Moscow streets and in bars, but I forced myself to go to Russian courses to break out of my bubble so that I am able to speak to a door attendant or people in the metro.
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