University of Edinburgh
The exploration that I am part of is ‘materials research’ and its ultimate goal is to discover substances, often
not occurring in nature, which have properties that make them useful. But there is another dimension to it:
condensed matter physics is also about the pursuit of pure science for its own sake, a quest to understand nature
at the most fundamental level. It is this blend of the profound and the practical that drew me to the subject.
Whether driven by the hope to find tangible proof of a theory without any obvious application, or to identify a
new material for making coherent manipulations of quantum bits, condensed matter experimentalists are always
searching, and the landscape over which they search is so vast that the guidance provided by theory is essential.
My role is to devise and execute experiments that improve our physical understanding of solid-state materials
by critically testing current theories. Although I am quite far removed from the materials’ eventual application,
it is important to me that I am part of a field with practical objectives.
The materials that I am particularly interested in are metals in which the electrons acutely feel each other’s
presence, known collectively as strongly correlated electron systems (SCES). Electrons in SCES generally
behave in a much more interesting way than those in normal metals, precisely because they cannot act
independently. Usually these electronic idiosyncrasies emerge at low temperature where the averaging effect of
thermal fluctuations is small enough to allow fine structure and fragile phases to survive. This requires measurements to be made at extreme conditions of low temperature and high magnetic field and sometimes high pressure. The goals are highly motivating: to discover the materials that will give us future technologies, analogous to the silicon revolution of the twentieth century.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)