Research Fellows Directory
Professor Andrew Mackenzie
University of St Andrews
My research focuses on understanding the behaviour of electrons in solids in which metallic elements bond with oxygen ions. Oxides are often insulators, like most minerals. This does not have to be the case, however. Certain special oxides conduct like metals and also show even more exotic behaviour such as superconductivity, in which a current can pass through the material without dissipating any energy.
To observe this unusual behaviour, one must work with materials in which the electrons interact strongly with each other. You might think that since electrons are charged particles, they MUST interact strongly, but this is not actually true. In fact, one of the early triumphs of quantum mechanics was to understand why it is possible to have metals, and insulators, in which the electrons are able to move more or less independently of one another.
Going beyond this remarkable approximation is both more challenging and more interesting. It is also relevant to continuing the technological revolution that underpins society in the developed world. The semiconductor industry has optimised the performance of silicon with amazing ingenuity over the past thirty years, but it is clear that the limits of silicon’s capabilities are in sight.
If we are to maintain the rate of technological progress, we need to develop entirely new materials and methods. This provides one of the motivations for research into the esoteric properties of materials with strong electronic interactions. Oxides are an ideal platform because they can be combined to give hybrid structures with truly powerful properties.
Although I want my work to be of practical use, the thing that fascinates me most about research is the way that apparently unrelated and abstract advances in different fields can come together and drive progress. I consider myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity to seek out and understand these links.