Tapping the potential of thin metal films

Left: Sylvie Morin with some of her research equipment, and VP Research & Innovation Stan Shapson presenting her with a certificate from CFI

Your computer could store more data and your medical diagnostic tests could be cheaper and done faster. That’s why many scientists and engineers are currently searching for new materials with improved properties.

Sylvie Morin, Canada Research Chair in Surface and Interfacial Chemistry at York University, is one scientist searching for new materials. With funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, she and her research team are studying very thin metal films and the possible use of modified surfaces for protein analysis, among other things.

Morin’s group is examining magnetic films that are very thin – typically one atom to 20 atoms thick – of ferromagnetic metals (nickel, iron and cobalt). The films are created using electrochemistry.

Using scanning microscopy, Morin and her fellow researchers study how the film grows under different conditions. Under good experimental conditions the instrument used in scanning microscopy can reach atomic resolution. The magnetic properties of the thin film are investigated using visible light, making use of the Magneto-optic Kerr effect. By combining the information obtained from the structure of the film and its magnetic properties, they gain fundamental knowledge that can be used in the design of better performing magnetic materials.

Morin’s team is involved in several collaborative projects. One project is seeking to understand how thin metal films – used to make tin cans – grow, so that corrosion protection properties can be optimized. This has a direct impact on how long food can be preserved in such containers.

Another collaboration involves studying ways to produce organic thin films on silicon surfaces to be used for protein analysis. This could lead to faster and better cancer diagnostics. This project is done in collaboration with chemistry Professor K.W. Michael Siu and his group at York’s Centre for Research in Mass Spectrometry.