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Planet-hosting star gives up its innermost secrets

15 September 2015

Astronomers have successfully peered through the ‘amniotic sac’ of a star that is still forming to observe the innermost region of a burgeoning solar system for the first time

In a research paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of astronomers describe surprising findings in their observations of the parent star, which is called HD 100546. Emission from the innermost part of the disk of gas that surrounds the central star has been detected for the first time. Unexpectedly, this emission is similar to that of ‘barren’ young stars that do not show any signs of active planet formation.

HD 100546 is a young star (only a thousandth of the age of the Sun) surrounded by a disk-shaped structure of gas and dust, called a ‘proto-planetary disk’, in which planets can form. Such disks are common around young stars, but the one around HD 100546 is very peculiar: if the star were placed at the centre of our Solar System, the outer part of the disk would extend up to around ten times the orbit of Pluto.

Lead author of the research paper Dr Ignacio Mendigutía and a co-author, Professor Rene Oudmaijer, both from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Leeds, believe that these observations of the inner disk of gas in the HD 100546 system, are beginning to help us to understand the earliest life of planet-hosting stars on a scale that is comparable to our Solar System.

Read more…

The image shows an artist's impression ofthe star called HD 100546 (shown in blue, bottom-right). The gravitational influence of a planet could be boosting a transfer of material from the gas-rich outer part of the proto-planetary disk that surrounds the star to the inner regions.

Credit: David Cabezas Jimeno (SEA)


10 September 2015

The School of Physics and Astronomy will be hosting the Quantum Information Processing and Communication (QIPC2015), an international conference, from 13-18th September. The conference will bring together researchers from all aspects of Quantum Information Science.

The conference kicks off on Sunday with a registration for all delegates and will run through to the end of the week, closing on Friday 18th September. Dr Almut Beige from the School is Chairing the conference, which will include plenary talks from high profile speakers in the field, poster sessions and other contributed talks by delegates. Please visit the QIPC website for further details and programme information -

IoP conference presentation

10 September 2015

Dr Lorna Dougan from the Molecular & Nanoscale Physics group recently gave a talk at the Institute of Physics Conference at Manchester.

Dr Dougan's talk covered 'Single molecule studies of proteins from extremophile organisms', which is relevant to Dougan's current field of research.

The conference is taking place from 8-10 September and includes a host of speakers in Physical aspects of polymer science.

More information about the conference can be found here.

Undergraduate Award Success

4 September 2015

Congratulations to Adam Newman, a BSc student in Physics, who has been named as a Highly Commended Entrant in The Undergraduate Awards.

Adam’s paper performed in the top 10% of the 2015 programme. Adam has been shortlisted and is to be announced as one of the 50 winners of the award, identifying Adam as an outstanding student at the international level.

The School of Physics and Astronomy would like to congratulate Adam on this fantastic achievement.

Molecular trick alters rules of attraction for non-magnetic metals

6 August 2015

For the first time scientists have demonstrated how to generate magnetism in metals, that aren’t naturally magnetic, which could end our reliance on some rare and toxic elements currently used.

In a recent study researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Leeds have detailed a way of altering the quantum interactions of matter in order to “fiddle the numbers” in a mathematical equation that determines whether elements are magnetic, called the Stoner Criterion.

Being able to generate magnetism in materials that are not naturally magnetic opens new paths to devices that use abundant and hazardless elements, such as carbon and copper. Magnets are used in many industrial and technological applications, including power generation in wind turbines, memory storage in hard disks and in medical imaging. Yet, despite their widespread use, at room temperature only three elements are ferromagnetic – meaning they have high susceptibility to becoming and remaining magnetic in the absence of a field, as opposed to paramagnetic substances, which are only weakly attracted to the poles of a magnet and do not retain any magnetism on their own. These ferromagnetic elements are the metals iron, cobalt and nickel.

Having such a small variety of magnetic materials limits the ability to tailor magnetic systems to the needs of applications without using very rare or toxic materials. Having to build devices with only the three magnetic metals naturally available to us is rather like trying to build a skyscraper using only wrought iron. Why not add a little carbon and make steel?

Future technologies, such as quantum computers, will require a new breed of magnets with additional properties to increase storage and processing capabilities. The research at Leeds has taken a step towards creating such ‘magnetic metamaterials’ that can fulfil this need.

The condition that determines whether a substance is ferromagnetic is called the Stoner Criterion.  It explains why iron is ferromagnetic while manganese is not, even though the elements are found side-by-side in the periodic table. The Stoner Criterion was formulated by Professor Edmund Clifton Stoner, a theoretical physicist who worked at the University of Leeds from the 1930s until the 60s. At its heart, it analyses the distribution of electrons in an atom and the strength of the interaction between them. It states that for an element to be ferromagnetic, when you multiply the number of different states that electrons are allowed to occupy in orbitals around the nucleus of an atom – called the Density of States (DOS) – by something called the ‘exchange interaction’, the result must be greater than one.

The exchange interaction refers to the magnetic interaction between electrons within an atom, which is determined by the orientation of each electron’s magnetic ‘spin’ – a quantum mechanical property  to describe the intrinsic angular momentum carried by elementary particles, with only two options, either ‘up’ or ‘down’.

In the new study, the researchers have shown how to change the exchange interaction and DOS in non-magnetic materials by removing some electrons using an interface coated with a thin layer of the carbon molecule C60, which is also called a ‘buckyball’. The movement of electrons between the metal and the molecules allows the non-magnetic material to overcome the Stoner Criterion.

Researchers had previously noticed that creating a molecular interface changed how magnets behave. The next step was to test if molecules could also be used to bring magnetic ordering into non-magnetic metals and the researchers at Leeds have successfully demonstrated the technique, but further work is needed to make these synthetic magnets stronger. Researchers are confident that applying the technique to the right combination of elements will yield a new form of designer magnets for current and future technologies.

This research, led by Dr Oscar Cespedes as principle investigator, was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and published in a paper, ‘Beating the Stoner Criterion Using Molecular Interfaces’, in the journal Nature on 6 August 2015, with co-lead authors Fatma Al Ma’Mari and Tim Moorsom.

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