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The University of Manchester at Harwell

Electronic structure and magnetism

Quantitative spectroscopy for revealing the mysteries of f-block electronic structure and bonding.

Society benefits from using compounds composed of f-block elements. Lanthanides are used widely in manufacturing because they have strong magnetism, catalytic properties and luminescence. Actinides are radioactive and are used in generating nuclear power. However, although actinides and lanthanides are widely used, knowledge concerning their electronic structure and chemical bonding preferences lags many decades behind knowledge of other elements.

Towards better management of nuclear waste

Civil nuclear waste contains mixtures of f-block metal ions including both lanthanides and actinides, with radioactive half-lives that range from tens of years to tens of thousands of years. Current technology has limited ability to separate elements in accordance with half-life and radiation hazard; this creates a bottleneck in waste processing that is a major burden to energy, environment and health sectors.


Principal Investigator

PhD students

  • Timothy Burrow
  • Myron Huzan

MChem student

  • Sut Kei Chong

One way to separate and pacify highly radioactive elements is to exploit differences in the chemical properties of f-block ions. However, making progress in this area requires more understanding of the chemical bonding preferences of f- block elements. Additionally, an increased understanding of f-block reactivity will help guide the design of better long-term nuclear waste storage solutions.

Our research focuses on using intense X-rays generated at Diamond Light Source and neutrons at ISIS to increase understanding of f-block electronic structure, magnetism and chemical reactivity.

Comprehension and control of quantum states on the molecular scale

Molecular materials with physical properties that can be controlled via external stimuli are attractive candidates for increasing data storage densities and the implementation of quantum algorithms. In recent years, researchers have successfully synthesised molecules with magnetic properties that are sensitive to a variety of external stimuli including, light, electric field, temperature and pressure enabling us to control the electronic structure and magnetism of individual molecules.

Our interest lies in transition metal and lanthanide molecular complexes that exhibit unusual magnetic properties. We apply X-ray, neutron and muon spectroscopies to obtain microscopic insights into exotic phenomena including switchable electronic structure, valence delocalisation, quantum tunnelling of magnetisation and single molecular toroics.