Photo by Chemical Science 2021, Journal article, DOI: 10.1039/D0SC04555A
Winner of The Outstanding Reviewer of the Year Award for Dalton Transactions in 2020 and the New Talent Asia Pacific Award, Assoc. Prof. Dr. David Harding, of the School of Science specializes in inorganic chemistry, a branch of chemistry. He is also an advisory board member for CrystEngComm published by the Royal Society of Chemistry and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the journal ChemistrySelect published by Chemistry Europe, an honor offered to few scientists in Thailand. In this news article, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding shares his experiences and perspective in research and how his encounters with serendipity or “happy accidents”, have broadened and developed his work.
“Inorganic chemistry involves countless aspects of human life ranging from rocks and minerals to biological and advanced materials. For example, enzymes like hemoglobin, whose active site contains iron, transport oxygen around your body, while chlorophyll, which contains magnesium, is essential for photosynthesis”. However, his recent focus has been more intertwined with human advancement in the borderless world of limitless data storage capacity, looking into the shift from traditional to molecular magnets. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding pointed out that with a success, data storage capacity problems will be a thing of the past as with this technology we should be able to increase capacity a million times compared to current devices.
“Traditional magnets use metal oxides. What we are trying to do is replace these with a molecular system, a so-called the bottom-up approach. The advantage is access to different designs and possibilities with improved functionalities that you may not find in traditional magnets,” explained Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding before emphasizing that in chemistry, all entities are thought of at the molecular level. For instance, a plastic bottle is made up of long fibers of molecules linked together and the water inside is in fact trillions of water molecules bouncing around. With advanced computational and observational techniques, we can how these molecules behave and their 3D structure. “If you can see it, you can change it and of course, how it functions.”
There is also a strong economic and environmental imperative to advance molecular magnet technology. “Think of the Cloud, where is that data actually stored? In most cases at physical data storage facilities that resemble a factory with rows upon rows of hard disks. Running non-stop 24/7, these servers consume a huge amount of energy, often to keep the servers cool. We hope that molecular technology can solve these problems” added Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding.
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding also spoke about how serendipity playing a huge role in scientific breakthroughs. Indeed, his own research has been subject to these happy accidents. It is these unexpected results that can lead to new ideas. The key is to not give up, keep pushing the frontiers of research, and be open to new opportunities as they present themselves.
“In one of our projects, we were trying to make a material that could be a spin crossover compound (a type of molecular magnet switch) and an ionic liquid at the same time. It totally does not work, but what happened was much more interesting. We discovered a material where the magnetic switching is intimately associated with a change in the material’s structure. Collaborating with friends in Singapore and Spain we succeeded in making a very rare spin crossover junction that switches at room temperature. This is an example how an initial idea, while incorrect sparked a whole new avenue of research,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding.
Finally, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Harding emphasized that besides serendipity, we need to think the unthinkable and keep asking ourselves questions. We need such people to transcend the boundaries we have confined ourselves to.
“If you do not stumble or occasionally fail, you are not trying hard enough.”
News by Nootchanat Sukkaew
Division of Corporate Communication (DCC)