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Materials Theory Group


Research Assistant/Associate (Fixed Term) - Exploiting XFEL for High Energy Density and Materials Science

Department/Location: Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, West Cambridge Site

Salary: £26,243-£30,395 or £32,236-£39,609

Reference: LJ20045

Closing date: 31 August 2019

Applications are invited for a postdoctoral research position in the Materials Theory Group led by Professor Pickard at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge.

The successful candidate will hold (or be close to obtaining) a PhD in condensed matter or materials physics, materials science (or similar) and have significant experience in density functional based first principles methods (CASTEP/VASP/QE).

You will have a proven track record in the development and application of first principles methods to the study of materials, and preference will be given to candidates with experience in high pressure research or a proven track record in a closely related research field.

The postholder for this computational project will be expected to be comfortable in a UNIX-like environment, developing tools for the high throughput control of computations and analysis of results. Structure prediction will be performed using the AIRSS package, but prior experience in structure prediction is not required. An interest in modern approaches to data analysis and management would be an advantage, as would a theoretical appreciation of novel phenomena.

The ability to work in close collaboration with experimental groups / project partners in this research area is essential. The candidate must have the ability to manage their own workload and research data, and to publish scientific results in a timely manner.

The project will run in collaboration with the Universities of Edinburgh, York and Oxford and the postholder will be expected to attend and contribute to project meetings.

Project Details

At ambient conditions, the light alkali metals Li, Na and K are nearly free electron (NFE) metals. But rather than becoming more free-electron like when compressed, these metals undergo transitions to unusual and complex structural and electronic forms as a result of density-driven changes in the interactions of the ions and electrons. While such behaviour is expected in all high-density matter, the physics is most evident in the alkali metals due to their NFE behaviour at ambient conditions, and their very high compressibility. They thus offer a unique insight into the behaviour of all other metals at very high densities. We aim to exploit the Edinburgh/ York/ Cambridge/ Oxford team's expertise in experimental and computational high-pressure physics to create solid and fluid simple metals (both alkali metals and others) at unprecedented densities using dynamic compression, and then determine their structural behaviour using X-ray diffraction techniques at X-ray free electron lasers (XFELs). We will then use electronic structure and quantum molecular-dynamics calculations to predict structural behaviour, understand the physics behind the observed behaviour, and thereby develop new understanding and improved predictive capabilities in the behaviour of matter at ultra-high densities. Creating these materials at pressures up to 10 Mbars is exceptionally challenging, and will utilise the DiPOLE laser to be installed at European-XFEL in 2020.

Job application timeline and length of tenure

This is a fixed-term position, and the funds for this post are available for 2 years in the first instance.

Applications close 31 August 2019. To apply, follow the online application link at Interviews will be conducted in early September and the anticipated starting date is October 2019.

Please quote reference LJ20045 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.


For informal enquiries please contact Prof. C. Pickard,

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