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Playing with Material Properties

05/28/2024 | Planet research | FoE Advanced Materials Science | Young Talents

By Birgit Baustädter

Anna Galler has just moved to TU Graz with an Elise Richter Fellowship. Here, the researcher analyses 2D materials.

Anna Galler searches for new materials. Image source: Lunghammer - TU Graz

Her office is currently being set up. The shelves are still empty, the walls bare. But Anna Galler has already surrounded herself with the most important objects for her day-to-day research. A whiteboard hangs on the wall, covered in formulae and calculations. At the desk there is a laptop, a screen and stacks of physics books half a metre high. Anna Galler doesn’t need much more than this. She is a theoretical physicist and is constantly on the lookout for new materials.

Start at the TU Graz

The scientist has just moved from a research institution in Germany to TU Graz with an Elise Richter Fellowship from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) in her bag.

Her work is all about uncovering the inner workings of a wide variety of materials. Why are they magnetic? Why do they have this or that colour? Why do they conduct electricity? “We look at this at the quantum level,” she explains. “The interactions between the electrons are often decisive for the properties of the material.” Up to now, for example, she has worked with colour pigments that are used to colour vehicle paint or plastic. “These colour pigments still contain toxic substances – albeit in very small quantities, but we are looking for substitutes in the interests of environmental compatibility.” In another project she focused on permanent magnets, which are used in electric motors and vehicles and contain rare earths. “But the latter are rare and expensive. That’s why we are looking for alternative materials that have either the same or better properties.”

Looking for the right properties

This is precisely the area in which Anna Galler’s work is situated. On the one hand, she develops methods for describing materials and their properties mathematically. However, she is also using these methods to find ways of adjusting the properties of the materials in order to produce more suitable and better materials. At TU Graz, for example, she works with 1T tantalum diselenide. She wants to find out why this 2D material behaves in an insulating manner, among other things. “It is suspected of being a spin liquid, which means that the quantum spins of its electrons are therefore still in motion even at the lowest temperatures,” she says, elucidating her complex field of research. “The aim now is to develop a theory of this behaviour and describe it.” After that, she wants to look at the interaction of certain materials with light. “We want to find out whether certain material properties can be activated or deactivated by light.” Ideally, she would like to develop methods that predict the necessary changes to a material that will ultimately produce the desired properties before complex experiments are carried out.

Curiosity in the blood

“I’ve always been interested in how things work,” she says. “Even today, I’m still driven to discover new things and improve on them.” However, her path could just as easily have led the young researcher to philosophy – while studying physics, she also completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. “Philosophy is about understanding things just as much as physics is. But it also involves questions that go beyond physics and cannot be investigated with physics.”

This research area is anchored in the Field of Expertise “Advanced Materials Science”, one of five strategic foci of TU Graz.
You can find more research news on Planet research. Monthly updates from the world of science at Graz University of Technology are available via the research newsletter TU Graz research monthly.


Dipl.-Ing. Dr.rer.nat. BSc BA
Institut of Theoretical and Computational Physics
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8010 Graz
Phone: +43 316 873 8195