Miscellaneous research musings

In these valuable weeks before the new semester begins, I’ve been dividing my time between preparing new lectures and research, or at least research planning. In this post I’ll discuss my research plans for the coming year.

I normally hope to get ideas for new research topics from conferences I’ve attended, and Eurodim 2014 certainly gave me some ideas. For the past few years I have been concentrating on modelling materials for optical and energy applications, and there were a few talks that suggested possible new materials. A talk by Philippe Smet on Eu, Dy doped SrAl2O4 got me thinking, as I’ve modelled CaAl2O4 before. I’m thinking of getting one of my final year project students to look at this system; if it looks promising it could lead to further work and hopefully a publication. My friend and co-author Zelia Macedo gave a talk on NaYP2O7 doped with various ions, and this also seemed interesting as I have modelled metal phosphates and have working potentials. However my initial attempts suggest it will be a challenge even to model the perfect lattice, so it’s unlikely to be suitable for a final year project. However it will be kept on the list, hopefully to be returned to later. Then there was a talk from Volkmar Dierolf on doped GaN (gallium nitride), an important technological material which Mário Valerio and myself have tried to model before. The problem with this material is representing the covalency of the bonding while retaining sufficient ionic character in our potential model to be able to carry out doping. Again, this seems a bit too complex for a final year project, but I think it’s something we should be working on in the near future.

I also have a paper to write before the end of the month based on my Eurodim talk. I’m hoping to get this done in the next couple of weeks, but it should be straightforward to extract text from my presentation!

I mentioned final year project students earlier. My usual approach is to give them a real research problem, and if it works we can sometimes get a paper from it, or it may lead to a new project, potentially for a PhD student. In the new semester I will have 3 project students with varying requirements in terms of credits and time they need to spend on their projects. One of them will look at SrAl2O4, but the other two are still undecided. Of these, one might look at ZnO/ZnS as these have some new applications in transparent conductors, and one might look at an old interest of mine – zeolites. With environmental issues on mind, their use in cleanup operations is once again relevant. A colleague in the Earth Sciences part of my school mentioned a possible project in this area which could benefit from modelling, and involving a project student in this area is a definite possibility. Anyway, these need to be finalised in the next two weeks. An update might appear if I have time!

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