National recognition of research in theoretical condensed matter physics

Congratulations to Dr Flaviu Cipcigan whose PhD thesis was recognised by the Institute of Physics as a leading contribution in advancing theoretical condensed matter physics.

The annual “Sam Edwards Prize”, offered by the Theory of Condensed Matter Group of the Institute of Physics, searches for the PhD thesis that contributes most strongly to the advancement of theoretical condensed matter physics. This year, University of Edinburgh student Flaviu Cipcigan received the runner-up prize. Flaviu proposed a novel method to calculate long-range intermolecular interactions between molecules and applied it to create a predictive model for the water molecule.

The prize is highly competitive, with entry open to all students from the UK and Ireland whose PhD exam took place between January 2016 and April 2017. Flaviu believes he gained an edge through strong collaboration between universities, industry and governmental labs. His PhD was part of the Scottish Doctoral Training Centre in Condensed Matter Physics, with supervision from both IBM Research and the National Physical Laboratory.

I am honoured for my thesis to be recognised as one of the top theses in the UK contributing to the advancement of theoretical condensed matter physics. It is a delight to continue a research tradition of using path integral methods in complex systems, of which Sam Edwards was one of the pioneers. This award motivates me to continue performing research of the same quality and impact.  Flaviu Cipcigan

Coulomb and van der Waals forces determine the structure of water, from its crystal, through its liquid, vapour and supercritical phases. Many molecular models of water have replicated these forces using empirical functions with fixed parameters. Yet, these models do not generate realistic structures. The interaction between real water molecules is modified by the environment and thus changes character at each thermodynamic state point. A full treatment of the electronic structure is not possible, as it is beyond the capability of density functional theory and beyond the speed of accurate coupled cluster methods. Electronic structure can nonetheless be captured in an efficient yet realistic way by replacing the electrons with a simpler system: a quantum harmonic oscillator, beloved by physics undergraduates across the world. This is the core idea of electronic coarse graining, the focus of Flaviu’s thesis. Using this simple yet rich method, Flaviu created a model of water transferrable between different ice, liquid, supercooled and supercritical phases in a way that previous molecular force models are not.