Press Release of 11.04.2024

New Materials for Energy-Efficient AI

HZDR materials scientist receives prestigious ERC Advanced Grant

Dr. Denys Makarov from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant in the amount of 2.5 million euros. Over the next five years, this funding will enable him and his team to investigate a promising class of materials known as multiferroics. The aim is to develop novel materials on the basis of which computer chips could work with much higher energy efficiency, in particular for artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

Foto: Dr. Denys Makarov ©Copyright: HZDR / Detlev Müller

Dr. Denys Makarov

Source: HZDR / Detlev Müller


From smartphones through laptops to server farms that form a cloud infrastructure: all these devices are based on semiconductor technologies that, while powerful, are also energy-intensive when applied to AI-related tasks. This is evident, for example, when using AI algorithms such as ChatGPT. “If someone queries ChatGPT today, the query is first sent to the cloud,” explains Makarov. “It is processed there and the answer is then sent back to the user. This all consumes energy.” It would be more efficient if generic AI algorithms were directly executed on edge devices like smartphones. This, however, is not possible when relying on contemporary computer architectures.

Makarov’s team at the HZDR Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research is therefore focusing on a class of materials - known as multiferroics - that promises more energy efficient electronics. “We classify materials accordingly to their ferroic properties. Typically, materials possess a single ferroic property: for instance, it can be ferromagnetic or ferroelectric. Multiferroics, on the other hand, have a kind of multiple personality in that they can possess several properties simultaneously and, for example, be magnetically and electrically polarized at the same time.”

Efficient switching

This combination of magnetic and electric properties could facilitate a novel concept in future computer chips. “Multiferroics would allow us to switch non-volatile magnetic components with an electric field,” explains Makarov. “To date, magnetic fields or currents are used to manipulate magnetism, and this costs energy and space.” Multiferroics offer a paradigm shift in design of more efficient chip architectures, particularly for AI applications.

So far, the search for new multiferroics has been undertaken relying on material screenings. Researchers are constantly testing new material combinations for their suitability to specific applications. There are already several hundred multiferroic compounds discovered by now. These, however, typically work at low temperatures and therefore seem impractical for use in portables like smartphones.

Wavy structure as the key

Makarov envisions a new approach to the discovery of multiferroics, which will be addressed with the support of the ERC Advanced Grant. “The main research focus is typically on nanometer-thick planar layers,” he explains. “We, on the other hand, want to attempt it with geometrically curved wave-shaped nanomembranes.” The team will start with antiferromagnets — the materials that exhibit a special type of magnetism. If these nanomembranes will be geometrically curved, the resulting mechanical stresses should lead to the materials acquiring a new property called ferrotoroidicity, which should make them receptive to electric fields. This is how these wavy antiferromagnets will become multiferroic and enable switching of magnetic properties with an electric field—the basis for novel, more energy-efficient computer chips.

To bring his vision to reality, Makarov will address this new approach towards multiferroic materials experimentally, theoretically and via computer simulations. Among other aspects, the details regarding the shape and size of the nanoscale wavy pattern are still unclear and subject to further investigation. The objective is to have a prototype of a multiferroic switching element ready in five years. “The envisioned ferrotoroidicity in these wavy nanomembranes is yet to be explored,” says Makarov. “We already know some pieces of the puzzle, but the overall picture is far from being complete.”

The Advanced Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) are among the most prestigious grants in the European Union. This year, the Council is awarding a total of 652 million euros to 255 scientists to pursue their ground breaking research. “ERC grants are not only a success for award-winning scientists, but also for their institutions,” emphasizes Prof. Sebastian M. Schmidt, scientific director of the HZDR. “As HZDR, we are proud that our researchers have already acquired seven ERC grants. This proves that we attract the best minds nationally and internationally to our center, enable excellent research with optimal conditions and are internationally competitive. I warmly congratulate Denys Makarov on this success.”

Further Information:

Denys Makarov I Department of Intelligent Materials and Systems
HZDR Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research
Tel. +49 351 260 3273 | E-Mail:

Media Contact:

Simon Schmitt | Director and Press Officer
HZDR Department for Communication and Media
Tel.: +49 351 260-3400 | E-Mail: