Prof Graeme Ackland has been awarded a 2.5m euro (£2m) European Research Council Advanced Fellowship, the most prestigious and lucrative grant available from the Council. The grants provide "Attractive long-term funding for exceptional research leaders only in projects being highly ambitious, pioneering and unconventional". Here Prof Ackland explains his project, "Hydrogen at Extreme Conditions: Applying Theory to Experiment" (HECATE), which involves the study of high pressure solid hydrogen.

    Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. It exists under extreme conditions in stars and planets, and nuclear fusion requires creating such extreme temperature and pressure on earth. Lightweight storage of hydrogen in condensed form would unleash its potential as a fuel.

    The behaviour of a collection of protons and electrons presents an iconic challenge in fundamental physics. Diamond anvil cells (DAC) recently generated pressures above 400GPa, accessing conditions where the mechanical work of compression equals the chemical bonding energy. Most elements undergo dramatic structural changes in this regime, and rival predictions for hydrogen include molecular and atomic metals, superfluidity, superconductivity and one-dimensional melting. Yet when the new phase IV was discovered in 2011, it was none of these things: it was a totally unexpected complex molecular insulator.

    At these conditions experimental data is sparse: we must exploit it to the fullest extent, yet previous theoretical work has concentrated on routine density functional theory (DFT) simulation producing unmeasurable predictions. I will conduct a programme combining neutron scattering and Raman spectroscopy with theory and simulation focused on measurable quantities. This will require developing and implementing heuristic theories which do not currently exist. 

    I will develop methods to find free energy, theory to extract Raman frequencies and linewidths from simulation, and techniques to determine the signature from entanglement of quantum rotors. This requires a thorough re-examination of the quantum scattering processes in the framework of DFT, including the interaction timescale and in metals, and a full quantum treatment of indistinguishable nuclei. Thus HECATE will be uniquely placed not only to produce new phases of hydrogen, but to reliably identify what has been found.

    Statue of
    Hecate from
    British Museum

    The HECATE project is named for the eponymous three-faced Greek goddess, echoing the plasma, liquid and solid phases of hydrogen.  The  research has nothing whatsoever to do with her Roman equivalent, Trivia. 

    Congratulations to Professors Annette Ferguson and Cait MacPhee of the School, who were today among the 56 distinguished individuals elected to become Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

    Annette is Professor of Observational Astrophysics and leads the stellar populations research group in the Institute of Astronomy. Her research focuses on understanding how galaxies form and evolve based on data taken with the world’s forefront telescopes. On her election, she said:

    "I am very happy to be recognised by the Society and look forward to contributing towards its many aims and objectives.”

    Cait is Professor of Biological Physics in the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems. Her research focuses on the behavior of biomolecules, their role in health and disease, and their possible use in industry. On her election, she said:

    "I have very much enjoyed being a member of the RSE’s Young Academy of Scotland and I am delighted to have been elected to the Fellowship. The breadth of disciplines that is represented within the Fellowship makes the RSE a vibrant community."

    “It is fantastic to welcome such a range of outstanding individuals to the Fellowship. Each newly elected Fellow has been nominated on their notable and extensive achievements. In joining the Fellowship, they will strengthen the RSE’s capacity to advance excellence across all areas of public life; both in Scotland and further afield.” - Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

    The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)

    The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy, is an educational charity established in 1783. Unlike similar organisations in the rest of the UK, the RSE’s strength lies in the breadth of disciplines represented by its Fellowship. Its membership stands at approximately 1600 Fellows from across the entire academic spectrum – science and technology, arts, humanities, social sciences, business, and public service. New Fellows are elected to the RSE each year through a rigorous five-stage nomination process.  This range of expertise enables the RSE to take part in a host of activities such as: providing independent and expert advice to Government and Parliament; supporting aspiring entrepreneurs through mentorship; facilitating education programmes for young people, and engaging the general public through educational events.

    A PhD student in the School of Physics and Astronomy has been chosen to present his research at the House of Commons as a finalist in the highly competitive SET for BRITAIN 2016 competition. Flaviu Cipcigan, a PhD student jointly funded by the University of Edinburgh and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), will present his research, “A model of the water molecule using electrons on a spring”, at Westminster on Monday 7th March 2016.

    Flaviu’s research concerns the creation of a new method to accurately and efficiently calculate intermolecular forces using ‘electrons on a spring’ – quantum Drude oscillators. These are model oscillators that behave according to laws of molecular mechanics within a force field, and can thus be used to simulate models of electronic polarizability. His work is crucial to advancing our ability to use computer simulations to design molecules with specific intended functions. This work is directly applicable to a number of important fields, such as drug design and the creation of new materials for energy storage.

    Flaviu and his team utilised the technology to create a broad, but predictive model for water, and in doing so advanced our understanding of this vital substance. He and his team discovered the reasons for one of water’s most interesting properties – its unusually high surface tension. The work of Flaviu and his team discovered previously unrecorded structural motifs within the molecule which are thought to be responsible for this property. His PhD work is as a result of a joint collaboration between NPL (Vlad Sokhan and Jason Crain) and IBM (Glenn Martyna).

    Flaviu has been shortlisted from hundreds of other applicants to the SET for BRITAIN 2016 competition, a national poster competition for early-career scientists across all major scientific disciplines. The competition gives early-stage and early-career researchers the chance to present their research and win a prize of up to £3,000. Gold medal winners in all the categories will be chosen after the presentation at the House of Commons. It also allows these researchers to engage with a number of Parliamentarians, and raise the profile of their research, their institutions, and themselves.

    This is an excellent opportunity for Flaviu and we wish him all the best in the final. 

    Work has begun on constructing the Higgs Centre for Innovation at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh.

    £11 million investment

    The Centre will support start-up businesses with the aim of creating new market opportunities, especially in big data and space technologies. It is funded through a £10.7 million investment from the UK Government. The Science and Technology Facilities Council will invest £2million over five years to operate the centre.

    Entrepreneurial boost

    The centre will aim to link industry with cutting-edge scientific and engineering expertise at the STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre. It will focus on supporting business both through incubation activities and access to facilities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Connecting engineers, academics and PhD students directly with small businesses will help boost their entrepreneurial experience at the start of their research careers.

    The stand-alone building at the Royal Observatory will be run by the Science and Technology Facilities Council in partnership with the University. The centre is due to be completed in 2017.

    “The construction of the Higgs Centre for Innovation is an exciting new development in the long established collaboration between STFC and the University of Edinburgh at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. The new centre will cement Edinburgh's reputation as a world leader in the fields of astrophysics and big data, and provide new opportunities for knowledge exchange between astronomers, particle physicists, engineers and industry.” Prof. James Dunlop, Head of the Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh

    A huge amount of work has been put in by all partners over the past year to develop plans for the Higgs Centre for Innovation and now we begin the exciting phase of seeing it built before our eyes. We look forward to the completion of this important project and the benefits it will bring to both future generations of scientists and industry." Gillian Wright, Director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre

    The construction of the Higgs Centre for Innovation is an exciting new development in the long-established collaboration between STFC and the University of Edinburgh at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh. The new centre will cement Edinburgh's reputation as a world leader in the fields of astrophysics and big data, and provide new opportunities for knowledge exchange between astronomers, particle physicists, engineers and industry.

    The Higgs Centre for Innovation is named in honour of Professor Peter Higgs of the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. The pioneering scientist received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013 for his prediction of the existence of the Higgs boson particle, which enables other particles to acquire mass. This fundamental particle was discovered by scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in 2012.

    Dr Rosalind Allen of the School's Institute of Condensed Matter & Complex Systems has been awarded a 1.8m euro Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC).

    The award will support the next five years of Rosalind's work on the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections - a current major global health issue. Together with collaborators including the School's Dr Bartek Waclaw, she will use experiments and computer simulations to understand why some infections, in which the bacteria form dense colonies called biofilms, are especially hard to treat with antibiotics. Rosalind will also investigate whether these spatially structured infections could act as important sources of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    "I am delighted to receive this funding from the ERC. Biological physics has been an expanding area within the School for some years now, and the School's investment in labs and both experimental and computer support has been an important factor in helping me to get this grant. Antibiotic-resistant infections are a growing and widely recognised problem worldwide. As physicists we can bring a new perspective to understanding the factors that control the emergence of these resistant infections and I am delighted to contribute to this effort." Dr Rosalind Allen, Institute of Condensed Matter & Complex Systems

    Prof Jim Dunlop of the School of Physics & Astronomy has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s (RAS) Herschel Medal for his pioneering research into galaxy formation.

    The prize, to be presented at an event in June, is one of a series presented annually by the RAS.

    Award citation

    In the golden age of our current paradigm for galaxy formation, the hierarchical Cold Dark Matter Universe, and before the discovery that the Universe needs an unknown Dark Energy to explain its present acceleration, Jim Dunlop was discovering that galaxies as old as the Universe - perhaps, even older - existed just a couple of billion years after the Big Bang.

    This surprising discovery towards the end of the ’90s found corroboration among colleagues in a series of papers which led to the acceptance of another seemingly contradictory paradigm, the baryonic downsizing in galaxy formation, which sees the most massive galaxies forming first in the Universe. Jim Dunlop’s fortitude to trespass the known territory pushed the frontiers of extra-galactic astrophysics and observational cosmology towards the limits of knowledge. He discovered the first dust-enshrouded galaxies just two at redshift larger than 3 and played a key role in shifting the understanding of galaxy evolution into the yet unknown territory of sub-millimetre cosmology.

    Presently Professor Jim Dunlop, Head of the Institute of Astronomy in Edinburgh, leads the most ambitious international programme to discover and understand the first galaxies, at epochs when the Universe saw its first light. Understanding cosmic re-ionisation, which tells about the link between the primordial Universe and galaxy formation, is a primary goal of modern astrophysics and cosmology. 

    For these reasons, Professor Dunlop is awarded the Herschel Medal.

    Experiments by researchers in the School's Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions (CSEC) have reached the highest ever recorded pressures on dense hydrogen, in excess of the pressures found at the centre of the Earth.

    As reported in the prestigious "Nature” magazine, the study provides evidence that at above 350 GPa (3,500,000 atm) and at room temperature hydrogen adopts a novel structure. Interestingly the  results are suggestive that this new phase could prove to be the precursor to the long sought metallic phase of hydrogen, predicted over 80 years ago by theory.

    As the simplest, lightest and most abundant element of the Universe, hydrogen is of fundamental interest in many fields of science. At high pressure and low temperatures, hydrogen is predicted to transform from a molecular system to a metallic (atomic) state. This behaviour is crucial to planetary science as hydrogen is believed to be found in the centre of Jovian planets and to be the source of their exceptionally high magnetic fields. This predicted state is also believed to exhibit rich phenomena such as superconductivity and super-fluidity, which would result in many technological breakthroughs. Reaching such conditions with hydrogen in the experimental laboratory however has been a great challenge in the field of high pressure research: only 4 years ago it was limited to less than half of the pressure recorded in the study.

    Through new technological breakthroughs in the containment of hot hydrogen in diamond anvil cell experiments, Philip Dalladay-Simpson, Ross Howie and Eugene Gregoryanz at the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions report that above 350 GPa hydrogen adopts a novel phase, phase V.

    Tracking this transformation over a large pressure regime up to 400 GPa  and up to 450 K through Raman spectroscopy and comparing with theoretically predicted structures, the team suggest that phase V could be the precursor to the experimentally elusive, completely metallic and atomic phase of hydrogen. The work will undoubtedly reinvigorate both theoretical and experimental efforts to understand these newly discovered phases and hydrogen’s evolution to a purely metallic (atomic) structure. 

    "The past 30 years of high-pressure research saw numerous claims of the creation of metallic hydrogen in the laboratory with the latest being made in 2011, but all these claims were later disproved. Our study presents the first experimental evidence that hydrogen could behave as predicted, although at much higher pressures than previously thought." Prof. Eugene Gregoryanz, Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions

    Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics, has been made a CBE.

    Congratulations to Cait MacPhee who was recognised in the Queen’s New Year's Honours list for her services to women in Physics. 

    Cait works with primary school teachers across Scotland, increasing their confidence in incorporating science into their day-to-day lessons. She also led the School's succesful bids for the Athena SWAN Silver and Project Juno Champion awards.

    Project Juno and Athena SWAN

    The Institute of Physics' Project Juno recognises and rewards departments that can demonstrate they have taken action to address the under-representation of women in university physics and to encourage better practice for both women and men. 

    Athena SWAN supports women in science, engineering and technology, and in the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students.

    The Edinburgh Particle Physics Experiment group has been successful in obtaining combined funding of £3m from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). 

    This award will support the group's work over the next 4 years for the ATLAS and LHCb experiments at CERN, the dark matter experiment Lux-Zeplin, and plans for a neutrino experiment (Hyper-Kamiokande) in Japan.

    The activities of these major international experiments include research into the properties of the Higgs boson, the search for new particles beyond the standard model such as dark matter, and investigations into the difference between matter and antimatter in beauty hadrons and neutrinos.

    "This is excellent news. The LHC successfully started operating again this year at almost twice the beam energy. Over the next few years, Edinburgh physicists  are looking forward to recording and analysing even larger data samples. We hope this will allow us to shed light on three of the major unsolved questions about how nature works, namely the origin of mass, dark matter and the asymmetry between matter and antimatter." Prof. Franz Muheim, head of the Particle Physics Experiment group at the University of Edinburgh

    "This funding is welcome news for the Atlas experiment group in Edinburgh! By supporting our team of academics, researchers, engineer and technicians, we can take the next steps in investigating the Higgs boson particle, and in answering some outstanding mysteries of our universe, such as the existence of dark matter and how to incorporate the force of gravity into theories of quantum mechanics." Dr Victoria Martin, Particle Physics Experiment group 

    Postdoctoral Research Associate Flavia Dias has joined 40 other scientists in this year's fast-paced live chats with pupils from nearly 160 UK schools.

    Between the 9th and 20th of November, the scientists will be competing for the school pupils’ votes by answering questions on everything from particle physics, to the ageing body, to the heart, to changing fish populations.

    "I find it very satisfying to interact with students and share my enthusiasm about the beauty of Particle Physics and how it helps us understand the Universe. Talking to the young generation also reminds me to look back into the bigger picture and to think outside the box. It's a great experience that both students and scientists can benefit from."  Flavia Dias, Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics

    What is ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here’?

    ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here’ is a free online event where school students get to meet and interact with scientists. It’s a free X Factor-style competition between scientists, where the students are the judges. Students challenge the scientists over intense, fast-paced, online live CHATs. Then they ask the scientists all the questions they want to, and vote for their favourite scientist to win a prize of £500 to communicate their work with the public.

    Twitter: @imascientist#IASUK.