Phillips Group

Crystal engineering beyond crystallography


I was born and grew up in Perth and studied at the Universities of Sydney (B.Sc. Hons 1M 2007, B.A. 2007) and Cambridge (Ph.D. 2011). In 2011 I moved to the School of Physics and Astronomy at Queen Mary as an Academic Fellow in the Centre for Condensed Matter and Materials Physics. I was promoted to Lecturer in 2014 and to Senior Lecturer in 2018.

My research focuses on the relationship between the atomic structure of materials and their functional properties. I study the structural and dynamic response of materials to in situ perturbations such as changes in temperature or pressure, exposure to external electric or magnetic fields, or irradiation with light. I am particularly interested in coordination framework materials, whose unusual properties make them particularly susceptible to stimuli of this sort. As a result, these materials have potential applications in fields as diverse as sensing, energy harvesting, and environmentally friendly refrigeration.

Collaborating with Dr Helen Walker (ISIS), one major focus of my current work involves studying the dynamics of functional materials under pressure, especially using inelastic and quasielastic neutron scattering. Another, with my QMUL colleagues Dr Petra Szilagyi and Dr Chris Jones, involves structure and ionic dynamics in solid-state conductors. I have a longstanding collaboration with Prof. Martin Dove on materials with anomalous negative thermodynamic properties: for instance, that shrink as they are heated or become mechanically softer as they are compressed.

My work is both experimental and computational. On the experimental side much of my work takes place at central facilities, including synchrotrons and neutron sources. On the computational side I use both ab initio and empirical-potential modelling, especially using the density-functional theory code CASTEP.

I am also interested in the mathematical and computational problems that often arise in structural studies. These include problems of statistical inference (does an experimental data set provide sufficient evidence to posit a subtle structural change?), group-theoretical analysis of symmetry changes at phase transitions, and challenges associated with navigating a complex, multi-dimensional phase space when establishing a structural model and refining it against either experimental or computed data.

I gratefully acknowledge the research councils and institutions that support my work, which at present include EPSRC, the Royal Society, and ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.