Doctoral Student Wins Same National Physics Prize as his PhD Supervisor a Decade on

4 September 2020

A research student from the University of Lincoln, UK, has won a prestigious national Physics prize for his doctoral thesis a decade after his PhD supervisor won the same award.

A research student from the University of Lincoln, UK, has won a prestigious national Physics prize for his doctoral thesis a decade after his PhD supervisor won the same award.

Javier D­az Bra±as, a PhD student in Lincoln’s School of Mathematics and Physics, received the 2020 Institute of Physics PhD Thesis Prize in Computational Physics. First presented in 2001, the annual prize recognises the PhD thesis that in the opinion of the IOP’s committee “contributes most strongly to the advancement of computational physics” for that year. It is open to students from research institutions in the UK and Ireland with recent winners from King’s College London, the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh.

Javier’s research provides new computer simulation techniques to model the complex behaviour of a class of materials known as ‘block copolymer nanocomposites’. His co-supervisors were Prof Andrei Zvelindovsky, Head of Lincoln’s School of Mathematics and Physics, and Dr Marco Pinna, who won the same prize from the Institute of Physics in 2009 for his thesis on a related topic.

Block copolymers are ‘blocks’ of polymers which can be structured into molecular chains of varying complexity. Scientists are particularly interested in methods to combine block copolymers with nanoparticles to produce new ‘nanocomposite material’s because of the potential to apply these to particular uses in industry or medicine. Accurate computer simulations can help researchers predict how stable new combinations might be – but must take account of the complex behaviour of interacting particles at the ‘nano’ scale.

Javier said: “Block copolymer melts can form fascinating structures in the nanoscale, self-organizing into complex, ordered structures without the need for any external electrical field. This characteristic makes them perfect candidates to control the position of nanoscopic particles by tuning the properties of the particles surface.

“He said he received “constant support” from his supervisors and an international group of researchers and students within Lincoln’s School of Mathematics and Physics, which created “a great environment” to study with regular guest speakers and conferences. He also spent some time studying in Barcelona, where he developed further links to international subject specialists.

“Establishing scientific connections with other researchers was very important as collaboration is crucial in research,” said Javier, who is now in the first year of a postdoctoral role at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, continuing research in soft matter physics.

“Probably the biggest challenges I faced in my thesis were learning new coding skills and being able to organise my own work. It was a great surprise to learn that I had been awarded the Institute of Physics prize in the same category as my supervisor, Dr Marco Pinna.”

Professor Waqar Ahmed, Deputy Head of the School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Lincoln, said: “This is a tremendous achievement for Javier and the whole School is incredibly proud of him. He joins a prestigious list of past winners of this prize – including his PhD co-supervisor – and this demonstrates the strength of the growing specialism for computational physics research here at Lincoln.”

The Institute of Physics is the professional body and learned society for physics in the UK and Ireland and aims to inspire people to develop their knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of physics.