Controlling the properties of new superconducting materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford


Global demand for low cost, efficient and sustainable functional materials is ever increasing due to pressing needs to address technological challenges of the 21st century, such as energy transfer and data processing. Superconducting materials have a wide range of applications, all of which could transform our daily lives, ranging from quantum computing to novel electric motors. Superconductivity is a phenomenon that describes a material's ability to conduct electricity without experiencing any resistance. This property allows them to lead the next generation of innovative and cutting-edge technologies, with the potential future uses including superconducting electric motors in the aerospace industry, superconducting magnets in advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, and superconducting transmission lines for highly efficient electrical energy transfer. There is also a big potential to contribute to the quantum technologies research through the development of superconducting qubits (quantum bits) for information processing and communication using superconducting electric circuits.
Despite the many potential ground-breaking uses of superconductors, their widespread application is hindered by the fact that they need to be cooled down to very low critical temperatures for superconductivity to emerge. Room temperature superconductors are regarded as the holy grail of condensed matter physics, being sought for more than a century. High temperature superconductors were first discovered in the 1980s and since then a considerable research effort has been dedicated to controlling the properties of these materials. Iron-based high temperature superconductors were first discovered in 2008 and since then a rich variety of superconducting materials displaying increased critical temperatures and high current densities were identified. A major advantage is the high natural abundance of iron, highest among all metals, which makes a potential widespread practical application of the technology feasible and sustainable, while the iron ore extraction is unlikely to cause geopolitical issues, as was the case of lithium or cobalt, the metallic constituents of the current battery technology. The focus of this project, which falls within the EPSRC Physical Sciences (Functional ceramics and inorganics) research theme, is to synthesise new iron-based superconductors, which are encouraging in terms of device applications. The aim of the project is to design new layered iron-based phases with unusual structural motifs and novel building blocks through exploratory hydrothermal and solvothermal syntheses. Determining composition-structure-property relationships will be central to investigating the origins of superconductivity in this class of materials and optimising their magnetic, electronic, and superconducting properties. Chemical and physical tuning of the newly synthesised structures will be explored to increase maximum critical temperatures and control the superconducting regime. The newly synthesised and optimised compounds will be studied with the state-of-the-art characterisation techniques at the Diamond Light Source and the ISIS facility.

Planned Impact

The primary impact of the OxICFM CDT will be the highly-trained world-class scientists that it delivers. This impact will encompass both the short term (during their doctoral studies), the medium term (subsequent employment) and ultimately the longer timescale defined by their future careers and consequent impact on science, engineering and policy in the UK.

The impact of OxICFM students during their doctoral studies will be measured by the culture change in graduate training that the Centre brings about - in working at the interface between inorganic synthesis and manufacturing, and fostering cross-sector industry/academia working practices. By embedding not only from larger companies, but also SMEs, we have developed a training regime that has broader relevance across the sector, and the potential for building bridges by fostering new collaborations spanning enormous diversity in scientific focus and scale. Moreover, at a broader level, OxICFM offers to play a unique role as a major focus (and advocate) for manufacturing engagement with academic inorganic synthetic science in the UK.

From a scientific perspective, OxICFM will be uniquely able to offer a broad training programme incorporating innovative and challenging collaborative projects spanning all aspects of fundamental and applied inorganic synthesis, both molecular and materials based (40+ faculty). These will address key challenges in areas such as energy provision/storage, catalysis, and resource provision/renewal necessary to enhance the capability and durability of UK plc in the medium term. To give some idea of perspective, the output from previous CDTs in Oxford's MPLS Division include two start-up companies and in excess of 30 patents.

It is not only in the industrial and scientific realms that students will have impact during their timeframe of their doctorate. Part of the training programme will be in public engagement: team-based challenges in resource development/training and outreach exercises/implementation will form part of the annual summer school. These in turn will constitute a key part of the impact derived from the CDT by its engagement with the public - both face-to-face and through electronic/web-based media. As the centre matures, our aspiration is that our students - from diverse backgrounds - will act as ambassadors for the programme and promote even higher levels of inclusion from all parts of society.

For our partners, and businesses both large and small in the manufacturing sector, it will be our students who are considered the ultimate output of the OxICFM CDT. Our programme has been shaped by the need of such companies (frequently expressed in preliminary discussions) to recruit doctoral graduates who can apply themselves to a broad spectrum of multi-disciplinary challenges in manufacturing-related synthesis. OxICFM's cohort-based training programme integrates significant industry-led training components and has been designed to deliver a much broader skill set than standard PhD schemes. The current lack of CDT training at the interface of inorganic chemistry and manufacturing (and the relevance of inorganic molecules/materials to numerous industrial sectors) heightens the need for - and the potential impact of - the OxICFM CDT. Our students will represent a tangible and valuable asset to meet the long-term skills demand for scientists to develop new materials and nanotechnology identified in the UK Government's 2013 Foresight report.

In the longer term, the broad and relevant training delivered by OxICFM, and the uniquely wide perspective of the manufacturing sector it will deliver, will allow our graduates to obtain (and thrive in) positions of significant responsibility in industry and in research facilities/institutes. Ultimately we believe that many will go on to be future research leaders, driving innovation and changing research culture, and thereby making a lasting contribution to the UK economy.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023828/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2404118 Studentship EP/S023828/1 01/10/2020 31/03/2025 Ludmila Taskesen