Gavin Macauley

Physics, University of Glasgow

Tenure since 2016

Magnetism with a twist – chiral helimagnets

During the last half-century, the world has witnessed a technological revolution, fuelled by the exponential growth of microelectronics. From the earliest transistor to the latest supercomputer: these devices rely on pushing electrons – small lumps of electrical charge – around circuits. But there is a problem.

This relentless drive towards miniaturisation is reaching its limit. Soon, the size of individual bits – the smallest units of information that we can manipulate – will reach that of atoms. Perhaps the most pressing question of the digital age is this: how do we continue to store, transmit and use what we know?gmacauley

This research project looks at a solution involving an intrinsic quantum property of particles – their spin. Unlike conventional devices, in which information is physically stored by writing nano-scale structure into a material, ‘spintronics’ uses topologically stable arrangements of spin to carry and keep information.

In particular, we will focus on a particular class of magnetic materials – chiral helimagnets – in which collections of spins form helix structures along certain crystal axes. We hope to gain an experimental and theoretical understanding of the spin ordering and electronic transport properties of these materials in order to probe the mechanisms by which complex spin structures nucleate, propagate and annihilate. Our studies will be the first to examine the dynamic response of the chiral structure to magnetic fields and electric currents using electron microscopy, and should provide fresh impetus for new technologies based on chiral magnetism.


Gavin graduated from the University of Glasgow in June 2016 with an MSci in Physics, having also studied Maths and Italian. Throughout his undergraduate degree, he enjoyed the chance to participate in a variety of research projects. These included a Carnegie Vacation scholarship into designing ultra-fast readout systems for nuclear particle detectors; possible solutions to the hierarchy problem of the Standard Model; and the transformation optics required for invisibility cloaks.

During summer 2015, Gavin undertook a short project as part of the Materials and Condensed Matter Physics Group at the University of Glasgow. This looked at the unusual behaviour of ‘frustrated’ magnetic systems. Attracted by the chance to combine theory, modelling and experiment, he will start his PhD in the same group under the supervision of Dr Stephen McVitie and Professor Bob Stamps.