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Department of Chemistry

The Durham Lectures

The “Durham Lectures” are the Chemistry Department’s flagship lecture series.

Every year we invite an internationally leading chemist to give a series of lectures within the Department to highlight a topic area of modern chemistry research. The first lecture is usually targeted to a general audience, with follow up lectures building on that material to address the latest research challenges in the field.

The series was inaugurated in 2006 by the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Professor Bob Grubbs. Details of each of the subsequent Durham Lecturers is given in the box to the right.

Durham Lecture Series 2018

Presented by Professor Nicola Spaldin, ETH Zürich

The Durham Lecture Series 2018 will run from June 4th – 8th. Professor Spaldin will present 3 lectures.

Monday 4 June 2018, 11 am, Wolfendale Lecture Theatre in the Calman Learning Centre

New Materials for a New Age

Every advance in human civilization, from the Stone Age to today’s Silicon Age, has been driven by a development in materials. Nicola will present a new class of materials – multiferroics – that are both a playground for exploring exciting fundamental science, and a potential enabler of transformative beyond-silicon technologies.

Tuesday 5 June 2018, 11 am, Chemistry Department CG85

From Materials to Cosmology: Studying the early universe under the microscope

The behavior of the early early universe just after the Big Bang is one of the most intriguing basic questions in all of science, and is extraordinarily difficult to answer because of insurmountable issues associated with replaying the Big Bang in the laboratory. One route to the answer -- which lies at the intersection between cosmology and materials physics -- is to use laboratory materials to test the so-called "Kibble-Zurek" scaling laws proposed for the formation of defects such as cosmic strings in the early universe. Here Nicola will show that a popular multiferroic material -- with its coexisting magnetic, ferroelectric and structural phase transitions -- generates the crystallographic equivalent of cosmic strings. Nicola will describe how straightforward solution of the Schroedinger equation for the material allows the important features of its behavior to be identified and quantified, and present experimental results of what seem to be the first unambiguous demonstration of Kibble-Zurek scaling in real materials. She will end with some very recent data showing that things might be less unambiguous than they seem.

Thursday 7 June 2018, 11 am, Chemistry Department CG85

Hidden magnetoelectric multipoles in multiferroics and superconductors

Most magnetic materials, phenomena and devices are well described in terms of magnetic dipoles of either spin or orbital origin. There is mounting evidence, however, that higher-than-dipolar order multipoles both exist (often in hiding) and lead to intriguing magnetic behaviors. In this talk she will discuss the relevance of the so-called magnetoelectric multipoles, which form the next-order term, after the magnetic dipole, in the multipolar expansion of the magnetization density with the magnetic field. First Nicola will describe how magnetoelectric multipoles underlie multiferroic behavior and in particular how they determine the magnetic response to applied electric fields. Then she will discuss signatures of hidden magnetoelectric multipolar order, how it can be unearthed using density functional theory calculations and possibilities for its direct measurement. Finally, she will argue that such magnetoelectric hidden order occurs in the high-Tc cuprate materials, where it is likely relevant for the superconducting behavior, and therefore provides a link between multiferroism and exotic superconductivity.

Short biography

Nicola A. Spaldin is the Professor of Materials Theory in the Department of Materials at ETH Zürich.

A native of Sunderland in the North East of England, Nicola studied at Cambridge University, where she obtained a B.A. in Natural Sciences in 1991. She then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned her PhD in Chemistry in 1996. She next worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Applied Physics Department at Yale University, before moving back to California, where she was Assistant Professor (1997-2002), Associate Professor (2002-2006) then Full Professor (2006 - 2010) in UC Santa Barbara’s Materials Department. She moved to ETH Zürich in 2011.

Nicola has received many honours and awards for her contributions to science, including the American Physical Society's James C. McGroddy Prize for New Materials (2010), the Fellowship of the American Physical Society (2008) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2013), the 2015 Körber European Science Prize for "laying the theoretical foundation for the new family of multiferroic materials”, the 2017 Lise Meitner Award of the German and Austrian Physical Societies, and the 2017 L'Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science.

She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2017.

Nicola is a passionate science educator, director of her department’s study program, and holder of the ETH Golden Owl Award for excellence in teaching. When not trying to make a room-temperature superconductor, she can be found playing her clarinet, or skiing or climbing in the Alps.

Research summary

Research in Nicola Spaldin’s Materials Theory group uses a combination of first-principles and phenomenological theoretical techniques to study the fundamental physics of novel materials that are of potential technological importance. Projects combine the development of new theoretical methods, application of the methods to existing materials, design of new materials with specific functionalities and subsequent synthesis of the "designer materials". Specific materials classes of interest are magnetoelectric multiferroics, which are materials that are simultaneously ferromagnetic and ferroelectric, and transition-metal oxides with "strong correlations", which often result in multiple coupled or competing instabilities, which in turn show strong tunable responses to electric or magnetic fields or strain.

Durham Lecturers

  • 2018 
    Prof. Nicola Spaldin
  • 2017 
    Prof. Marsha I. Lester
  • 2016
    Sir J. Fraser Stoddart
  • 2015
    Prof. James M. Tour
  • 2014
    Prof. David J. Nesbitt 
  • 2013
    Prof. Dr. Peter H. Seeberger
  • 2012
    Prof. John F. Hartwig
  • 2011
    Prof. Jacob Israelachvili
  • 2010
    Prof. Daniel G. Nocera
  • 2009
    Prof. Gerard Meijer
  • 2008
    Prof. Christian Amatore
  • 2007
    Prof. Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao
  • 2006
    Prof. Bob Grubbs