Researchers at the LCN have been nominated for the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Research Project of the Year 2010. Funded by the EPSRC grant on Quantum Frustration (2006 – 2009), the groups of Gabriel Aeppli, Steven Bramwell, Des McMorrow and Andrew Wills worked together searching for new types of magnetic behaviour that occur when conventional responses are ‘frustrated’. Frustration is a general concept that links at a fundamental level the folding of proteins to high temperature superconductivity. Related discoveries, correspondingly, have far reaching consequences.
The project was a great success, and has provided important new directions for two of the ‘grand challenges’ in magnetism: the search for magnetic monopoles, and for the quantum spin states and exotic quantum phenomena.
The imagination of the public has been fired up by one of the discoveries in particular, that of magnetic currents or ‘magneticity’ in spin ice (Bramwell et al., Nature, 461, 956, Oct. 2009) which generated a lot of press coverage and web discussion. This key observation builds upon the ideas first hypothesised by Pierre Curie in 1894 and Paul Dirac in 1931, has great potential impact as magnetism has a long history of use in information technology — magnetic fields are used to store information in computer hard drives, on credit cards, and to drive the newest forms of computer memory. Understanding how magnetic currents flow and interact within networks could provide important new directions for the computer industry.
These discoveries were some of the successes of the broader research project to establish what new kinds of magnetic behaviour are possible. As well as providing new ways to store and process computer information, they have the potential to revolutionise how we transport, sense and control the magnetic fields that lie at the heart of devices, such as MRI scanners and drive electric cars. The work was funded by the EPSRC, with further support from the Royal Society, the European Science Foundation, the STFC and UCL.
The LCN team short-listed for the Times Higher Education (THE) Research Project of the Year 2010. From left to right: Des McMorrow, Steven Bramwell, Gabriel Aeppli, and Andrew Wills.
Magnetic currents made up of North and South ‘monopoles' can be made to flow in spin ice by the application of a magnetic field.