UK superconductivity prize for Oxford scientist

27 November 2020

Professor Amalia Coldea and cryostat

Professor Amalia Coldea from Oxford University’s Department of Physics has been awarded the Institute of Physics’ Brian Pippard Prize. The prize is awarded every two years to a scientist working in the UK who has made a significant contribution to the field of superconductivity, with particular emphasis given to recent work.

Professor Coldea has been awarded this prize for her pioneering studies of the electronic structure and electronic properties of iron-based superconductors. She used a combination of quantum oscillation measurements, angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy and band structure calculations to make precise models of the Fermi surface of these novel materials. Her work, together with that of her collaborators, has provided the foundation of today’s accepted electronic models for understanding iron-based superconductivity.

‘I am incredibly honoured to receive this prestigious prize,’ she comments. ‘It is more than the recognition of a single individual however, rather it reflects the joint effort of my whole research group and that of numerous collaborators around the globe that contribute to our recent research advances in understanding iron-based superconductivity. It is also recognition for my family as without their constant support, I wouldn’t be able to pursue the exciting world of science working part-time as a scientist and as a parent of young children. I hope that this achievement will encourage all female physicists to pursue their dreams and believe in themselves to help to advance challenging scientific problems of our world.’

Iron-based superconductivity

A superconductor is a material that displays zero resistance with no dissipation, thus making it an ideal candidate for energy transmission and storage. It also displays intriguing quantum interference effects in devices and expels magnetic fields. Since 2008, superconductivity has entered its own ’iron age’ which has opened up a new area of experimental exploration and theoretical development in the understanding of the complex strongly correlated phases displayed byquantum materials. These materials can be tuned in a variety of ways using chemistry and extreme conditions and the regime where superconductivity is stabilised can be controlled and understood in relation to other electronic competing phases. Furthermore, iron-based superconductors are stable in two-dimensional form at liquid nitrogen temperature; this raises the possibility that they could be the building blocks of future quantum technologies that rely on the Josephson effect found in superconducting quantum bits.

Intensified effort

This year marks the amazing discovery of room temperature superconductivity in light elements under extreme pressures, similar to those inside the Earth’s core, (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2801-z). This discovery brings additional excitement and renewed determination that efforts need to be intensified to discover the ultra-high-temperature superconductors that can operate in bulk and device forms in ambient conditions for their easy implementation in practical applications.

Find out more about Professor A Coldea’s research group: https://www2.physics.ox.ac.uk/research/quantum-matter-in-high-magnetic-fields

Find out more about the new Oxford Centre for Applied Superconductivitythat offers unique opportunities to pursue both the fundamental understanding of new candidate materials with improved superconducting properties, but also to devise strategies for their future practical explorations.