The magnetic world of quantum nanostructures

February 7, 2024

Over the last year, INL joined forces with Native Scientists as a partner in the educational programme “Cientista Regressa à Escola” (Scientist Returns to School). This social project, aimed at promoting scientific literacy, is truly unique and inspiring. Together, we have been able to strengthen the bond between scientists and children, inspiring the next generation and promoting equal opportunities.

João Henriques, Junior Research Fellow in the Theory of Quantum Nanostructures group, visited the Escola Básica EB1/JI da Garapôa, and he described his school visit as “a wonderful experience fuelled by the genuine excitement of students eager to learn more about science”.

João’s research is focused on theoretical studies of low dimensional materials, such as carbon based nanographenes. Nanographenes are fragments of graphene with unpaired electrons, which lead to magnetism.

In a recently published study within the project PiMag, João Henriques and the team described the magnetic properties in these quantum nanostructures, and how it is possible to combine organic chemistry techniques to engineer new materials. The calculations provide a tuneable platform to explore quantum magnetism at the nanoscale, for potential quantum technology applications.

João explains, “To explain this topic for 8-year-olds, I divided it into three parts. The first two highlighted the essence of science, and encouraged curiosity and critical thinking. In the last part, I introduced the nanoscale and the unpredictable quantum world. The workshop concluded with a hands-on activity testing Archimedes’ principle, where students explored why objects float or sink. Despite the newness of concepts, many grasped the idea of density and predicted buoyancy outcomes.”

Joana Bordalo, co-founder and leader of the ‘Cientista Regressa à Escola’ programme, says “it is a great pleasure that we, at Native Scientists, keep nurturing a partnership with INL, to improve scientific literacy, increase scientists’ participation in society and boost children’s interest for science”.

In the last academic year, INL successfully brought 4 scientists back to their hometowns, and for the first time ‘Cientista Regressa à Escola’ reached Melgaço, Braga and Valença. We hope to continue expanding the map of cities and villages and be part of this movement in primary schools throughout Spain and Portugal.

Text by Catarina Moura, Science Communication Officer
Photography by Native Scientists & Gina Palha, Communication, Conferences & Marketing Officer