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Understanding quantum materials using high magnetic fields and applied pressure

Department of Physics

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Dr P Goddard Applications accepted all year round Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Many of today’s most interesting, innovative and potentially useful materials display states of matter that seem to be explicable only by applying quantum mechanical models that are on the edge of our current understanding. This is perhaps unsurprising as these materials can be host to a complex medley of ingredients that include many-body interactions between spins, electrons and phonons. The ground states that emerge from this complexity frequently exhibit cooperative properties (superconductivity, Bose-Einstein condensation, charge or spin-order, multiferroicity) or exotic excitations (fractional excitations and composite fermions, anyons, magnetic monopoles, skyrmions, Majorana fermions). Besides the fundamental interest in understanding such materials, there is also the prospect of controlling their properties and putting them to use. Potential applications include efficient electrical power generation, transmission and storage; fast and secure communications; medical imaging and treatment; architectures for processing and caching quantum information; and compact solid-state devices, sensors and actuators. For these reasons, deciphering what causes quantum states of matter to form remains one of the most pressing challenges facing modern physics.

This PhD project aims to advance our knowledge of these states by using magnetic field and pressure to enable a continuous, clean and reversible tuning of quantum interactions, thereby shedding light on the building blocks of quantum materials. The project takes as its starting point recent theoretical and experimental discoveries in the area. In particular, we will focus on a selected series of materials that are on the verge of a phase instability. For example, recently my research team has shown that using molecular-building blocks it is possible to construct near-ideal examples of one and twodimensional magnets that exhibit some deeply quantum effects in high fields (see Fig.1) [1,3]. We also investigate exotic metallic systems, such as CeOs4Sb12 whose ground state has a most unusual, highly pressure dependent phase diagram governed by proximity to a topological semimetal state and a quantum critical point driven by applied magnetic field.

Taking these systems and others, we will use ultra-high fields and applied pressure to push them through the critical region where the state of matter changes and the inherently quantum effects dominate. Electronic, magnetic and structural properties will be measured as the tipping point is breached and the resulting data compared with predictions of theoretical models. We hope that the results will provide answers to questions of deep concern to modern physics, such how quantum fluctuations, topology and disorder can be used to create states of matter with fascinating and functional properties.

Funding Notes

A full 3.5 year studentship for UK or EU students (fees and maintenance) is available. Candidates should hold or expect to hold a 1st (or high 2.1) in Physics or related subject area.

Applications are accepted at any time, but it is likely that interviews will be from January 2020 onwards.

The Physics department is proud to be an IOP Juno Champion and a winner of an Athena Swan Silver Award, reflecting our commitment to equal opportunity and to fostering an environment in which all can excel.


[1] J. Liu, et al., Physical Review Letters 122, 057207 (2019)
[2] K. Gotze et al., arXiv:1907.09181 (2019).
[3] R. Williams et al., arXiv:1909.07900 (2019).
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