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Benjamin Mallett

2016: Dr Benjamin Mallett, University of Auckland, has been awarded Rutherford Foundation postdoctoral fellowship for research entitled: “Shining a light on the interface: Spectroscopy of superconductor thin-film meta-materials”

With this Fellowship, Dr Mallett aims to develop a better understanding of the complex (and often mysterious) physics behind superconductors. A superconductor can conduct electricity with no resistance, but only at very cold temperatures – more than one hundred degrees below freezing. Because superconductors have no electrical resistance, they are needed for a variety of machines, such as medical MRI scanners and powerful magnets. However, to make the next generation of more-efficient wind turbines, portable MRI scanners, or electric intercontinental passenger-aeroplanes for example, we will need the unique properties of new materials called high-temperature superconductors. High-temperature superconductors work at higher temperature than normal superconductors (although still about one hundred degrees below freezing) and can carry massive electrical currents in tiny wires. On the world stage, New Zealand leads the way in the industrialisation of this special class of superconductors. There are still tricky problems to be solved though before their full potential can be realised, and one of these problems goes right back to the beginning; what makes them superconductors at all?

Whilst working on this problem, Dr Mallett made a startling discovery that a superconducting material sandwiched between a specific magnetic material completely changes the behaviour of the superconductor. This unique ‘superconductor sandwich’ meta-material gives us a novel way to figure out how these superconductors work as well as a new way to control their properties. Also, the superconductor sandwich is unique in that its performance actually improves in a magnetic field, and this may have important implications for the burgeoning superconductor industry in NZ. In this project Dr Mallett will shine light on these superconductor sandwiches, quite literally, to study their electronic properties and understand how the magnetic material interacts with the superconductor at the interface. Hopefully, the project will help New Zealand to be at the forefront of this exciting research area, and at the same time grow New Zealand’s capability to study the broader class of thin-films and meta-materials.