The Institute of Physics announced its 2014 award winners this week (Tuesday 1 July). Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, Reader in Experimental Physics, was awarded the Moseley medal for distinguished early career research in experimental physics.
Dr Blackburn was recognised by the Institute of Physics for her pioneering experimental work in the field of novel superconductors and magnets using neutrons and X-rays, often in extreme conditions, to elucidate their complex structure and response.
Blackburn is a talented experimentalist who has built a formidable reputation on the international stage for the quality, depth and insightfulness of her work. Her work involves trying to unravel the nature and origin of some of the most complex behaviour and ordering seen in materials – properties which originate from the interactions between electrons. Unusual forms of magnetism and also superconductivity are just some examples of new ordering that can occur, but these states can contain subtle patterns which are the key to their understanding. To reveal those patterns one must test the new order using probes which couple directly or indirectly to that ordered state. Blackburn brings the tools of neutron and X-ray scattering to bear in these problems and has developed new experimental techniques and instrumentation to do this.
Her work on the high temperature superconductor YBCO is an example of where her development of instrumentation has opened a new window on these materials. She built a 17T magnet which can fit within a neutron or X-ray beamline. With this, she has revealed an ordering of electronic charge that develops in parallel with the superconducting state and which had been conjectured on the basis of quantum oscillator experiments. This work has attracted widespread international interest as the puzzle of the under-doped materials and their electronic structure had been much debated. Blackburn’s work has brought new insight and her instrument is being used by other groups.
That theme of the coexistence of different types of order is echoed in Blackburn’s work on the heavy fermion superconductors CeCoIn5 and UPd2Al3. In both cases, she investigated the rather unusual magnetic order which lives within these superconductors but is incredibly sensitive to applied magnetic field.