Rideal Travel Bursary recipient, Adam Stones, reports from Argentina

20 December 2019

20 December 2019

Adam Stones was awarded a Rideal Travel Bursary to attend the 27th International Conference on Statistical Physics in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As well as getting a chance to practice his Spanish, here he tells us about his poster presentation, the excellent talks he attended and how it has given him ideas for his future research.

‘I am a third-year doctoral candidate working in the Oxford Colloid Group, where I also completed the final year of my undergraduate degree in Chemistry. Prior to working in the group, I undertook research projects at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan, and in Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Oxford.

‘Colloidal particles are ubiquitous in nature, and are widely used in industry and technology, with applications ranging from personal care products to e-Ink. Moreover, they are widely accepted as excellent experimental model systems to study processes such as crystallisation. The diversity of their applications hinges on the ability to tune their interactions, but our knowledge of these is usually approximate and based on theoretical assumptions. In my doctoral research, I have applied liquid-state theory to develop a fast, cheap and scalable method to measure these interactions from microscopy data, enabling quantitative comparison with results from theory and simulation, and (hopefully!) providing useful insights for designing new materials.1

‘The method is rooted in the statistical mechanics of liquids, and works by comparing measurements of their structure using two different approaches: the traditional approach which considers the frequency of particle separations, and a more recent approach using test-particle insertion. In addressing the ‘inverse problem’ of characterising interactions from structure, the work also contributes to liquid-state theory. As a researcher with a strong theoretical focus, but based in an experimental research group, I wanted to attend StatPhys 27 to interact with theoreticians working in soft matter and related fields such as condensed matter, active matter and glassy materials. The conference covered a wide range of topics, combining traditional aspects of statistical mechanics with modern applications to social phenomena and artificial intelligence, and was a welcome opportunity to widen my outlook at a time when I am formulating my career direction.

‘At the conference, I presented a poster explaining how the new method works and demonstrating its application to measure the interactions between magnetic colloidal particles, which are widely used to separate biomolecules and found in smart materials such as those in artificial joints. The presentation itself led to many interesting discussions about the work, and I received a lot of useful feedback and suggestions for future applications. As expected, I also had the chance to attend some excellent talks in soft matter and beyond: a particular highlight was ‘The physics of epidemic spreading’ by Professor Alex Arenas (Universitat Rovira i Virgili). Perhaps most importantly, I was able to discuss research with many other scientists at varying stages of their careers.

‘Attending the conference was extremely beneficial: inspired by a different setting, I had many new ideas for my own research and learned a great deal about the work of others. I certainly feel much more informed and ready to make decisions about the next stage of my career. It was also a fantastic opportunity to engage with another culture and to practise my Spanish!

‘I would like to give particular thanks to the SCI-RSC Rideal Trust for this award, which helped me to attend this international conference, as well as Hertford College, Oxford for providing a travel grant. Finally, I would also like to thank my doctoral supervisors, Professors Dirk Aarts and Roel Dullens, for their ongoing guidance and support.’

1. A. E. Stones, R. P. A. Dullens and D. G. A. L. Aarts. ‘Model-Free Measurement of the Pair
Potential in Colloidal Fluids Using Optical Microscopy.’ Phys. Rev. Lett. 123, 098002 (2019)

Adam Edward Stones
PhD student
University of Oxford

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