This is a guest post and part of our ongoing Student Life series
 Steven (aka Frederick) Wells graduated with a BSc Advanced Physics Degree obtaining 1st class Honours and recently completed his PhD at ISEM/Physics working on ultra-fast MOI.

 

After recently graduating with my PhD from UOW (in December 2017), I have just been offered a postdoctoral research fellowship by the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology and will be working at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

I started at UOW in 2008 and graduated in 2011 with a BSc in Physics with Honours. For my honours research, I chose to study superconductors.

Superconductors carry electricity with 100% efficiency. They also act strangely near magnets, trying to push all the magnetic field out (you might have seen a superconductor hover above a magnet).

But honestly, that’s not why I chose this field. It was mainly because I liked the supervisor: Professor Alexey Pan.

After that year, though, I fell in love with superconductivity and decided to keep the same research topic for my PhD. I was looking deeper into the behaviour of magnetic fields around superconductors: specifically at tiny bits of magnetic field that can stay inside a superconductor by becoming something called “magnetic vortices”. I did things like turning on a magnetic field and watching lots of these vortices move into a superconductor in slow motion, using a high-speed camera.

There were lots of amazing opportunities given to me during my PhD: I went to two international scientific conferences and was a runner-up in the best poster at one of them (the European Conference for Applied Superconductivity). I also competed in UOW’s three-minute thesis competition in 2015, and won! Because of this, I got to fly to Brisbane to compete in the Trans-Tasman finals of the competition. This helped me to develop my speaking skills quite a lot, and from there I got to represent UOW again by presenting my research at the Australian Institute of Physics awards evening and was given the Award for Postgraduate Excellence in Physics.

Towards the end of my PhD, I met my now-fiancée Becky, and everything got turned on its head. She lived in New Zealand, and I was studying in Australia, which made things really hard for a while.

Eventually, I decided to move to Auckland, before my PhD was even finished! I finished all the experiments I could do in a couple of months, wrapped up everything in the lab, then flew to NZ at the end of 2015. I then spent the next year doing all the analysis of those experiments, writing my thesis and writing scientific papers, all from another country, while working several part-time jobs. As you can imagine it wasn’t easy – it was a really stressful time!

It all got much easier in mid-2017 when I was offered a job at the University of Auckland, working with Dr Geoff Willmott. At first, I was just a research assistant, but I didn’t care. I was just stoked to be doing some hands-on science again!

After a few months, I was offered a post-doctoral research position and was very happy to take it. The research is completely different to my PhD, the only similarity was that it used a high-speed camera. My current work is high-speed video of drops of liquid hitting surfaces (the way they splash, stick, bounce, and more). It’s interesting work, but I have really missed superconductors.

So, I thought of a way to combine fluids and superconductors: I applied for a grant from the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology to start this project. This would give me the funding to do my own research, self-driven and self-directed.

And the topic that will bring my two very different fields, fluids and superconductors, together? I want to mix superconductor powder into a liquid… to make a fluid that is also a superconductor!

Thanks in part to the presentation/pitching skills learned during my time at UoW, I was accepted! Over the next two years, I will now be making this project a reality.

A little more about the project: As I mentioned earlier, superconductors do interesting things near magnets. But what would a liquid superconductor do near a magnet? I want to watch how they interact in high speed, just as I currently do with other liquids.

Also, by looking deeper into how superconducting liquids dry, I hope to be able to spread them like paint to make solid superconducting cables. These might be sturdier than other superconducting cables. I want to find a way to stop them from cracking (electricity can’t flow through a crack!) and to fix cracks that are already there.

This could one day be applied on a national scale to make better power lines. Electricity transport is currently very wasteful, but with these improvements to superconducting cables, we might be able to transport huge amounts of electricity from power plants to wherever it’s needed without losing energy along the way.