Skyrmion Project Mid-term Review

The Skyrmion Project is a world-leading experimental collaboration between scientists at Durham, Warwick, Cambridge, Southampton and Oxford Universities, undertaking internationally competitive research.  

 

The Project is funded by a multimillion pound Programme Grant for 6 years until 2022/2023, awarded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).  Programme grants are the largest research grants offered by EPSRC and are awarded to interdisciplinary research of strategic importance to the UK.

 

At Durham the group consists of Profs Peter Hatton and Tom Lancaster together with Postdoctoral Researchers Dr Murray Wilson (an NSERC Fellow from Canada), and Dr Ben Huddart as well as PhD students, Max Birch, Thomas Hicken, Luke Turnbull, Zachary Hawkhead and Sam Moody, and Research Administrator Penny Carse.

 

Magnetic skyrmions are nano-sized quasiparticles composed of self-organized magnetic spins, a new topological state of matter that is currently the focus of great research efforts due to their potential application in spintronic devices. The group are frequent users of international central facilities such as x-ray synchrotrons and neutron and muon sources to investigate magnetic skyrmions in bulk chiral magnets as well as in thin films.

 

In March 2019, at the midpoint of the grant, a Mid-Term review (MTR) panel visited Durham for 2 days to meet the entire Skyrmion Project (25 researchers) and assessed our research activities and outputs.  On all six criteria against which the Project was measured (Quality of Research, Added Value, Vision and Ambition, Leadership Quality, Management Strategy, Impact and Advocacy) we obtained the highest scores.  In the written report the MTR Panel noted:

The panel considered that the research team are very strong and conducting an internationally leading, challenging, adventurous, balanced programme of research. The research programme is comprehensive, including both bulk crystals and thin film work.”…

The grant has permitted groups from five separate institutions, geographically distant, to work synergistically, benefitting from clear but considered leadership. There are a number of research groups globally studying skyrmions, the team interacting and/or collaborating with most of them.”… “The management team have retained a clear vision for the project, making pragmatic decisions regarding the characterisation of skyrmions and associated spin textures and prioritizing accordingly.”…

“The coherence and vision of the whole team is notable and to be commended. The PI has delegated responsibilities to the Key Challenge Leaders, also encouraging a level of autonomy amongst all the researchers. This has led to the development of a committed, vibrant research group including PDRAs and PhD students. International engagement with counterparts at all levels demonstrates the world-leading nature of the research being undertaken.”… “The internal interactions of the management team across the five sites was well articulated during the meeting and found to be highly effective. The panel wish to commend the commitment, enthusiasm and passion displayed by the PhD students. They are clearly highly motivated and capable, also working closely together to support each other and contribute to the delivery of the research programme.”


As a result the Mid-term Review, the Review Panel and EPSRC were supportive of the team continuing their world-leading programme of research, and recommended that we apply for further funding.  We are now meeting with our advisory committees to formulate a Skyrmion Project 2 grant proposal.