Dr Andrew Princep, Keeley Rutherford Junior Research Fellow at Wadham College, University of Oxford, describes his research to explore new kinds of magnetism through the creation of crystals in the lab, making way for new technologies.
Andrew explains how the Low Energy Transfer neutron spectrometer measures the 'excitations' of materials, revealing the magnetic interactions between atoms in a crystal and describes the workings of a neutron diffractometer to look at the structure of crystals.
Andrew’s research focuses on magnetism in materials, particularly crystalline materials featuring elements from the ‘exotic’ end of the periodic table like osmium and iridium as well as rare earths.
Andrew uses chemistry to grow specifically engineered crystals of materials which contain magnetic elements in order to study these magnetic properties. “We can control the environments and geometry around the metals that are magnetic and use this to engineer new magnetic materials,” he comments.
Explaining further he adds: “A really nice example of the relation between atomic structure and properties is graphite, the material which is in a pencil lead. Graphite has a two dimensional structure made of honeycombs of carbon stacked on top of each other. These stacks don’t really talk to each other which is why when you write with a pencil, these layers will peel off and remain behind on the paper – which makes them ideal for writing. They also have two dimensional electronic properties and graphite will conduct electricity very well in the horizontal plane but very poorly in the direction perpendicular to that.”
This research not only explores new Physics, it will hopefully generate new technologies in the future.