Next Generation Advanced Materials - Structure-Property Relationships

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Chemistry


This fellowship is situated at the interdisciplinary boundary of chemistry, physics and crystallography and will deliver transformative insights into the crystal structure-functional property relationships in next-generation advanced materials.

Advanced functional and quantum materials are an exciting frontier in current research. They are widely studied due to the intriguing properties they host such as ferroelectricity, multiferroicity, quantum magnetism and spin liquid phases. A number of them form a major part of our daily technology, ubiquitous in applications as wide ranging as touchscreens, loudspeakers in smartphones and sensors in medical ultrasound devices.

At the cutting edge of materials discovery, compounds are becoming ever more complex in structure, with new mechanisms driving their properties. To enable further targeted development and rational design, it is paramount to understand the microscopic structure-property relationships in these current materials in order to develop design pathways for the next generation of advanced materials. However, these complex materials pose two key challenges to traditional approaches to studying these - complexity and sensitivity. Their complexity makes it difficult to deduce the crystal structure with the required accuracy, even with advanced synchrotron, electron and neutron based techniques. The sensitivity of the properties to subtle details of the crystal structure as a function of e.g. chemical composition, temperature and magnetic field makes it extremely hard to correlate the (traditionally separate) determinations of structure and physical properties.

Through this fellowship I will apply a transformative cross-disciplinary approach to tackle these problems, combining (i) state-of-the art neutron diffraction, (ii) targeted materials synthesis, (iii) unique in-situ physical property measurements and (iv) isotopic enrichment to unravel the highly non-trivial structure-property relationships in advanced materials.

My expertise in chemistry, physics and crystallography, along with access to state-of-the-art facilities and collaborations with world-leading groups will drive this interdisciplinary research programme which will provide the foundations for tailored rational design of novel advanced materials.

The focus is on two key scientific themes. The first is the exploration and discovery of crystal structure-physical property relationships in a new generation of complex ferroelectrics and multiferroics. These have wide-ranging potential applications from specialised sensors and actuators in automotive and aerospace applications to affordable, sustainable mass-market devices for consumer technology. The second research theme will concentrate on materials in which atomic-level quantum phenomena coupled with unique structural motifs give rise to novel emergent quantum phases. These include complex quantum magnetism in non-centrosymmetric materials and elusive quantum spin liquid phases.

Planned Impact

(1) Economic and Societal Impact

The study of structure-property relationships in complex ferroelectrics / multiferroics (scientific target ST1) and quantum magnets (ST2 and ST3) is in its nature a fundamental science endeavour at this stage.

However, in particular for the research in ST1, important industrial and societal benefits can develop on intermediate to long term time scales through the provision of clear design pathways for high performance applications as well as affordable, non-toxic ferroelectrics in mass market devices. Throughout the fellowship I will work closely with Pyreos, as Project Partner, to identify and exploit opportunities, and also seek to build further industrial connections, exploiting the well-established links between academia and industry at St Andrews and ISIS.

In the long run it is expected that the materials investigated have the potential for important contributions to the UK Industrial Strategy by underpinning future technologies as well as providing sustainable functional materials.

(2) Capabilities Impact for fundamental and applied science

The key scientific approach of the fellowship is utilising an integrated interdisciplinary approach to maximise the efficiencies and impact of high resolution neutron diffraction studies on understanding advanced materials. Of particular interest to the wider scientific community (both academic and industrial) will be the in-situ instrumentation (dielectric/impedance spectroscopy and magnetic susceptibility) that will allow physical property measurements concurrent to neutron diffraction studies. Beneficiaries can include researchers working on battery materials such as lithium containing iridates, engineering users studying the effect of phase transitions in structural materials using high resolution powder diffraction, and groups investigating the physics of phase transitions in solar cell materials. The interdisciplinary environment at the Host Institution St Andrews with its strong international links offers excellent pathways to bring together these communities on both the chemistry and physics sides, as does Project Partner ISIS through e.g. regular workshops and the ISIS User Meeting.

In addition, in order to maximise the potential impact, a focused symposium and two day workshop arranged around the research topics and methodological developments of this fellowship will be organised.

(3) Public Engagement

By being located at St Andrews, and with ISIS as a Project Partner, the fellowship is ideally placed to maximise the impact through outreach. This will be achieved along two streams.

The first will provide progressively more involved opportunities for high school students to engage with our research through e.g. the Royal Society of Chemistry's ChemBus project, high school work experiences and summer student placements.

The second pillar will be proactive outreach activities of the group. Here we will take part in e.g primary school visits and teacher training workshops to educate both on the science and beauty of crystallography, the importance of functional materials, and to demystify neutrons and radioactivity.

In addition, the wider public is engaged through University and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory open days, local and national science fairs such as the Dundee Science Festival and The Big Bang science fair. For these hands-on exhibits focused on demonstrating the impact of ferroelectrics on everyday life and on visualising magnetic frustration on relevant structural lattices will be prepared.


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