Three physics PhD students, David Chapman, Tom Machon and Davide Michieletto have shared the 2016 Faculty of Science thesis prize. This also carries a cash prize of £250 each. Below the students describe their background and the work that won them the prize in their own words.
"I started my undergraduate studies at the University of Exeter in 2001 reading mathematics and theoretical physics, from where I graduated in 2004 with a 2:1 BSC (Hons) degree. I undertook a post-graduate course in plasma physics run by Imperial College in 2007 and then completed graduate training in full-time employment in 2008. I began studying for a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Warwick in 2010 under the supervision of Dr Dirk Gericke, completing my thesis in 2015 and graduating in July 2016. I have since been made an associate fellow of the university, which enables me to maintain close links with the university and continue to work collaboratively with my former group.
The subject of my Ph.D. thesis centred on developing theoretical modelling capabilities for analysing data from x-ray scattering experiments performed under extreme conditions. Such states of matter are relevant to astrophysical objects and the 'grand challenge' of inertial confinement fusion. The work presented in my thesis extends and improves upon existing theoretical models in several areas relevant to this field of research. Most notably, I developed accurate and robust approaches to modelling the scattering signals expected from highly transient, non-equilibrium and inhomogeneous states of matter. During my Ph.D., I authored and contributed to a number of research papers in peer-reviewed journals. I also won the student prize for best presentation at the IFSA conference in Seattle in September 2015 and was nominated for the 2015 IoP Bates Prize for young physicists.”
"I am originally from the island of Jersey, and I did both my and undergraduate and PhD degrees at Warwick, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I have continued in academia as a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania.
My thesis studied liquid crystals, the material in your computer screen, using the methods of geometry and topology. Amongst other things, I extended the traditional theory of topological defects (singularities) in liquid crystals to account for global information coming from their knotting and linking. This revealed a number of new topological states in liquid crystals via a connection to knot theory. I also studied the differential geometry of chiral liquid crystals, showing how their characteristic twisted line-like structures can be described very simply as natural geometric degeneracies, and showing how they fit into the developing mathematical field of contact topology."
"After graduating at the University of Padova in 2011, where I have completed my under-graduate and post-graduate studies in Statistical and Computational Physics. I won an EPSRC Scholarship [the only one made available to non-UK citizens in that year] to attend the Doctoral Training Centre in Complexity Science at the University of Warwick. During the four years spent in Warwick, I had the opportunity to interact with a broad range of disciplines. While the research topics covered by Mathematical Neuroscience attracted me at first, I ultimately decided to join Prof Turner’s Soft Matter group in September 2012. Since then, I have been working on problems within Material Science and Biology. These are fields that have fascinated me since my early university years. I successfully passed my PhD viva in September 2015 and since then, my PhD work has been awarded with the “Ian MacMillan Ward” Prize for best PhD student publication given by the IOP Polymer Physics group and with the Springer 2016 “Outstanding Thesis” prize. I currently hold a Post-Doctoral Research position at the University of Edinburgh, working with Prof Marenduzzo on understanding the biophysical principles regulating DNA and chromatin organisation in bacteria and eukaryotes.
Ring polymers represent one of the last big mysteries in Polymer Physics. My thesis tackles the problem of describing their behaviour when they interact in dense solutions and in complex environments. It reports findings on their conformation and dynamics. The systems that motivated me are not just synthetic polymer systems but also biopolymers. One of the most remarkable findings is the unambiguous evidence that rings inter-penetrate when in dense solutions; and that, in the limit of large rings, this topological interaction leads to the emergence of a glassy state solely driven by the topology of the constituents. This novel glassy state is unconventional in its nature and thanks to its universal properties inherited from Polymer Physics, it might offer a novel and fresh perspective into the Physics underlying the glass transition."