Take 10 with... Ben Mallett

Dr Ben Mallett from the Department of Physics gives us 10 minutes of his time to discuss 'superconducting sandwiches'.

Dr Ben Mallett, Department of Physics
Dr Ben Mallett, Department of Physics

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or fewer.

Studying the physics of solids with correlated electrons using spectroscopy.

2.  Now explain it in everyday terms!

The properties of solids are determined by their electrons. In many cases we can calculate what these should be, given a big enough computer. However, for solids with correlated electrons, interactions between the electrons leads to properties that we cannot yet predict with theory. Many of these properties are fascinating and many are useful – like tuneable magnetism and high-temperature superconductivity. I study such solids using spectroscopy (e.g. how much a solid absorbs various colours of light) as a key tool to help elucidate the origin of these properties.

3.  Describe some of your day-to-day research activities.

Making stuff cold (-270degC cold) whilst measuring its electrical and optical properties, analysing and plotting data, reading papers, writing to collaborators.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

Being in the lab and collecting a nice spectra! I also enjoy meeting other researchers.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised you in the course of your research.

I’ve been privileged to meet and work with people from all over the world. I’m always struck by how much our similarities outweigh our differences.

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

Not always in the best possible way… which I now think is to (i) stop and take stock, then (ii) find people to discuss it over with.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

My main project currently, “Superconducting sandwiches”, has thrown up some fascinating questions about the nature of high-temperature superconductivity. In the ‘sandwiches’ we make, the superconductor behaves in the opposite way to stimuli as has been extensively studied for the previous 30+ years. Questions are always opportunities - and this project is offering new insights into the still enigmatic physics of the high-temperature superconductors.

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

For now, a unique and valuable contribution to understanding the physics of cuprate high-temperature superconductors – and, more generally, helping to inform predictive theories of a wider class of such solids with strongly correlated electrons. A deeper understanding allows us to use these solids to do things we never could before.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

I am very fortunate to be part of the Photon Factory team – who hail from biology to engineering. The diversity has given me many ideas of unexpected places to apply my research.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Always ask questions, and always write short summary reports about your experiments.