Gustau Catalán

Gustau Catalán

Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia

Experimental Sciences & Mathematics

Gustau Catalán graduated in Physics at the Universitat de Barcelona (1997) and obtained his PhD, also in Physics, at the Queen's University of Belfast (2001). This was followed by a one-year round-the-world climbing expedition, the highlights of which were the setting up of a new route in the Dogon country of Mali ("The man with no name", 6c/250 metres, Ouro N'guérou) and the first ascent of a peak in the Himalayas (Draoich Parvat, 6200m, Garwhal). Upon returning to research, he has worked at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA, 2002-2004), at the University of Groningen (2004-2005) and at the University of Cambridge (2005-2009).  He joined ICREA in 2009 as a Research Professor and leader of the Oxide Nanophysics group at the Institut Català de Nanociencia i Nanotecnologia (ICN2), where he remains. His research centres on the physics of oxides at the nanoscale, with emphasis on ferroics.

Research interests

A common denominator of my work is the search for emerging physical phenomena at the nanoscale. Much of my better-known research concerns the coupling between electrical polarization and strain gradients (a phenomenon known as flexoelectricity) which happens to be very large at the nanoscale. Over the last decade, and with the help of an European Research Council (ERC) grant, I set up in Barcelona one of the world's first specialized laboratories specifically dedicated to this phenomenon (there are a number of them now). Prominent discoveries in this area from our group have been the large flexoelectricity of semiconductors, the existence (and important physiological role) of flexoelectricity in bones, and the identification of the participation of flexoelectricity in fracture physics. In parallel, I have also worked on other nanoscale phenomena in oxides: metal-insulator transitions, the physics of domain walls, antiferroelectricity and photovoltaic effects of polar materials.   

Selected publications

- Arias I, Catalan G & Sharma P 2022, 'The emancipation of flexoelectricity', Journal Of Applied Physics, 131, 2, 020401.

- Shu L, Wang Z, Liang R, Zhang Z, Shu S Tang C Li F, Zheng R-K, Ke S & Catalan G 2022, 'Intrinsic flexoelectricity of van der Waals epitaxial thin films', Physical Review B, 106, 2, 024108.

Selected research activities

2022 has been rather unproductive in terms of publications, probably an after-shock of the reduced access to the lab during the Covid lockdown of 2020. On the other hand, experiments done since the return to (relative) normality have been very productive indeed, and our pipeline of articles submitted, which can be found in the arXiv preprint repository, includes some very exciting results, including the discovery of flexoelectricity and ferroelectricity in frozen water and the giant flexophotovoltaic effect of halide perovskites. Watch this space next year.

In terms of outreach, now that international air travel is re-opening we are also starting to spread our wings.  The highlights of the conference calendar in 2022 have been the keynote talk at the International Symposium on Ferroic Domains (ISFD) in Kofu, Japan, and a plenary talk at the IEEE International Symposium on Applications of Ferroelectrics (ISAF) in Tours, France. It is nice to meet colleagues in person again!

The proudest achievement of 2022 is on the human side: two PhD students of our group have graduated in 2022 with flying colors. Congratulations and best wishes for the future to Dr Christina Stefani and Dr Irena Spasojevic. Onwards!