• Question: I hear you have been working very hard finding out about on spontelectric materials. Could you please explain to me in simple terms what this is as I don't understand it.

    Asked by Innes McGuinness to Martin on 13 Mar 2019.
    • Photo: Martin McCoustra

      Martin McCoustra answered on 13 Mar 2019:

      Many simple molecules are dipolar… they have a slight positive end and a slight negative end. When you condense these molecules into films then you would expect that to reduce the total energy of the system that the molecules would be arranged with their dipoles in opposition… positive to negative and negative to positive… a bit like bar magnets. This doesn’t happen with some molecules… they orient themselves with all the positive sides together and all the negative sides together. This is energetically unstable. We don’t know why this happens but we’ve been involved in finding out that it does. We hope that in the next few years we can work out why and predict this behaviour.