A team from the LCN has won the Research Project of the Year award at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards ceremony which took place on 25th November 2010 in the Grosvenor House Hotel, London.
Dr. Andrew Wills and Profs. Gabriel Aeppli, Steve Bramwell and Des McMorrow beat off strong competition from other British universities, whose shortlisted projects included the first artificial pancreas and news ways of identifying genetic defects in unborn children.
The winning project pioneered new types of materials magnetism, and included the discovery of "magnetricity", the magnetic equivalent of electricity, an important advance in physics that could have widespread practical applications.
Magnetic poles usually occur in inseparable north-south pairs. Discrete, separable poles called monopoles had been postulated since 1894 but never observed until the LCN team detected them at very low temperatures in a form of crystal known to physicists as spin ice.
The team was also able to use magnetic fields to make the monopoles flow in a similar way to electrons in an electric current. The current was detected by observing the behaviour of subatomic particles called muons created by the Science and Technology Facilities Council's ISIS facility in Oxfordshire.
The discovery of "magnetricity" reported in the journal Nature, hit the headlines last year and was the most-read story on the BBC's website when it was announced on 14 October 2009.
The judges said this breakthrough has changed our understanding of magnetic force in a way that "crosses the disciplinary boundaries of chemistry and physics, and has the potential for wider application".
The team of Wills, Aeppli, Bramwell and McMorrow were funded for their research by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in a grant called "Quantum Frustration" - a reference to the conflicting forces that determine magnetism at the atomic or quantum level.
(left to right: Profs. McMorrow, Bramwell, Aeppli and Dr. Wills)
Now in their 6th year, the Times Higher Education Awards represent a unique and high profile opportunity to celebrate the excellence and amazing achievements of UK higher education institutions, and reaffirm our commitment to the two core pursuits of higher education: teaching and research.