Condensed Matter Physics underpins almost every conceivable aspect of our lives, from electronics (including the computer and screen this web page is being displayed on!) through advanced materials to biological systems. In addition to a myriad of 'real world' applications, condensed matter physics also enables us to study fundamental physics such as quantum behaviour and emergent phenomena through laboratory-scale experiments. In this laboratory there are a range of projects which demonstrate some of the breadth of this area of physics including the opportunity to make your own high temperature superconductors, optically probe the basic electronic structure of solids and measure phase transitions at low temperatures.
As outlined on the main page, the Level 3 laboratory projects are different from those at Levels 1 and 2 in that you take control of the direction of the project and, with advice and help from demonstrators and staff, steer it in the direction which you find most interesting and satisfying. Students in previous years have, for example, determined the sizes of the magnetic particles in a ferrofluid (which are of the order of a few tens of nanometres) by examining the magnetic properties of a macroscopic sample or tried to maximise the critical temperature of superconducting samples using approaches they have found in the literature. As a result each project will be different even if the starting point is the same. However, there are some generic skills the laboratory aims to develop, in addition to specialist skills associated with your project:
Each Project has a set of basic instructions giving preliminary goals and ideas about how to extend the project. They are intentionally quite brief since you are responsible for defining the overall scope of your project. The instructions are provided as a guide and starting point and are not a recipe.
It is expected that the projects will go significantly beyond what you will have met in your lecture courses, and you will need to consult textbooks and articles as necessary. This is deliberate since research skills include understanding the background science to the project and intelligently choosing a problem to tackle in addition to the practical activities undertaken in the laboratory itself. Note that at this stage academic databases (Web of Science, PubMed etc) should be used to search for material, and can be accessed through the library web pages. Similarly, you are expected to engage with the primary literature (journals and monographs) and not rely on Wikipedia!
All the experiments in the Condensed Matter Physics Laboratory have some element of computer control, which enables long measurements (for example, overnight) to be performed and provides an opportunity to develop the project/analyse results whilst data is acquired. In fact it is strongly recommended that you analyse data 'in real time' to make the most intelligent choices about what to do next. Automation of experiments is achieved by using industry standard software (LABVIEW) which provides a straightforward, graphical method of communicating with a wide range of equipment including multimeters, lock-in amplifiers, oscilloscopes, temperature probes etc.
Current project scripts for the Condensed Matter Physics Laboratory can be found on DUO. A list of typical projects are given below. Note that we regularly update our projects, so those available in a particular term may not exactly correspond to this list.
Safety is a particular concern in this section because of the use of cryogenic gases and vacuum systems and potentially hazardous chemicals. Please see the generic safety information, as well as the additional information found below:
Be sure to follow these guidelines and requirements to the letter. Note that some of the regulations are statutory in UK law. Failure to follow these rules may have serious consequences.