Putting the Squeeze on Molecule-Based Magnets

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


How the physical properties of any material change as their structures change is a fundamentally important question to answer in science. If this relationship can be understood, it can then be exploited to tune properties in a specific manner, making the material useful in a range of important commercial applications. In chemistry one very important relationship is that between structure and magnetism. Magnetic materials find use in information storage in computer hard-drives and mobile electronic devices, in hospitals in MRI scanners and in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, in the security industry where they are employed in airport scanners, and in outer-space research where they are used in the cooling of analytical instrumentation. Before any magnetic material can be taken to the industrial marketplace the fundamental relationship between molecular structure and magnetic behaviour must be examined and understood. The best way of doing this is to apply pressure to the material and monitor its magnetic response.

In this program of research we will continue to examine our core chemistry projects focusing on a variety of important magnetic materials under pressure, employing a breadth of complimentary characterisation techniques. We will also expand our research to examine high risk, high reward feasibility studies on more exotic, hitherto unexplored materials. For example, the application of extreme conditions to magnetic nanoparticles and the host-guest chemistry of micro- and mesoporous magnets. We will hire the best new researchers as they become available in order to explore ambitious and speculative new projects, employing PDRAs with expertise/skills in areas not currently covered by the team - for example the addition of theoretical expertise to cover a wide range of calculations. The PDRAs will be given licence to explore their own ideas within the theme of the award. Reactive projects will permit rapid response to exciting and unexpected new discoveries from our own research or from international groups, and exploratory projects will allow potentially ground-breaking research ideas with a high degree of technical risk.

The platform grant will ensure a high profile for UK extreme conditions research and for CSEC, maintaining its position at the forefront of high pressure science. International collaborations will be strengthened by involving the whole Platform team, and will facilitate new links to other internationally-leading groups. Inviting research lecturers and exchanging research staff with such groups will be a further benefit. The Platform award will also augment the cross-disciplinary nature of the training that we can provide to our PDRAs. Working together in a common group will provide a stimulating atmosphere to generate new ideas and world-leading discoveries in extreme conditions research.

Planned Impact

Magnetic materials and the use of pressure are ubiquitous in society, greatly impacting both academic and industrial sectors. Data storage, biomedical imaging/diagnosis/treatments, instrument cooling in the security sector and in outer space research, are just a few examples of modern, applied science based on magnetic materials, whilst the food industry routinely employs high pressure in the manufacture of several foodstuffs, e.g. in the pasteurisation of orange juice. These are multi-billion pound per annum industries with clear benefits to the UK economy, the continual evolution of which ensures vast potential for future exploitation, with technological improvements equating to significant added-value. While extreme conditions research is most actively pursued in academia, the generic aims - how changing structures affects physical properties - will have transferable value to all materials-based industries, since it is a fundamental property of all chemical compounds. The engineering expertise and the skills in design for extreme conditions are also of value to industries such as aerospace, renewable energy and advanced machining. Our extreme conditions research has already fostered partnership with, for example, the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre on methods for the calculation of intermolecular interaction energies and visualisation of voids.

Policymakers and the Public
Computers, smart phones and tablets, anticancer diagnostics and treatments, outer space exploration, and the food industry are simple popularity hooks that can drive public interest. The world-leading academic outputs from the Platform grant will be disseminated widely to academia, the public, to industry and government. The principal host university has the unique advantage of being in the same city as the home of the Scottish Government, and the College of Science and Engineering exploits this via regular 'Science in the Parliament' days at Holyrood. This is an opportunity to talk to, and influence, government decision makers, allowing academics to highlight the importance of supporting fundamental scientific research. The diverse public engagement and outreach program of all partner universities targeting UK HEIs, schools and the wider public will ensure our fundamentals-to-application impact message clarifies the importance of academic science on evolving modern industry and society.

Education, Training and Mobility
The Platform team will provide a world-class environment for scientific research, training and career development. The PDRAs will be trained to think and work in an interdisciplinary manner, to instigate their own novel research ideas, to present their work internationally,and to apply for independent funding. Collaboration with an international network of renowned scientists will allow access to a plethora of techniques and methodologies, equipping them with experience/expertise in a variety of key skills. Visits to our collaborators will serve to further enhance their contact base that will be invaluable in any technical or intellectually challenging line of work in the future. The partner universities are recognised centres of excellence for the provision of transferable skills, and the early career researchers will benefit from the enormous range of training opportunities available to them. The generation of very high pressures and the effect these have on materials rapidly attracts the interest of participants at public engagement activities. We regularly take on high-school students and undergraduates in summer projects based on our research and many of these have gone on to take science degrees or PhDs. We exploit the broad range of public engagement activities currently available in all partner universities to provide training in ways to optimise presentation of complex material to the public to achieve greatest impact, a skill which will also prove extremely valuable in any profession.


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Canaj AB (2019) Boosting axiality in stable high-coordinate Dy(iii) single-molecule magnets. in Chemical communications (Cambridge, England)

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Dearle A (2019) An [Fe III 34 ] Molecular Metal Oxide in Angewandte Chemie International Edition

Description The use of high pressure to manipulate/improve the magnetic ordering temperature of molecular magnets.
Exploitation Route Initial use of combined HP crystallography and HP magnetometry to uncover the structural features responsible for increasing Tc.
Sectors Chemicals