The Department of Physics' Best Thesis Award for the academic year 2020/2021 goes to Dr. Magnus Rahm, for his dissertation entitled "There is an Alloy at the End of the Rainbow: Structure and Optical Properties From Bulk to Nano".
The award committee's motivation for the award is:
"This year's award for the best PhD thesis goes to Magnus Rahm. The committee selected his thesis for its strong scientific impact as well as its pedagogical qualities. The thesis reflects Dr. Rahm's ability to solve complex problems requiring not only a profound and comprehensive understanding of physics and materials science, but also advanced technical skills in data analysis and software development. The thesis is easy to read and succeeds to introduce a complex subject to readers not familiar with the field. The committee also appreciated the author's personal touch throughout the thesis and in the cover art.”
How does it feel to receive this award?
”I’m of course very happy. You put a lot of time and energy into your thesis so the fact that someone has read and appreciated it is of course delightful. I was a little surprised, there were many good theses this year,and it almost feels a bit unfortunate that not everyone can get an award. But I was very happy with my own thesis.”
What do you examine in your thesis?
“I have done simulations of materials, it is about material physics so they always start on the atomic or electron scale. I have looked at several different materials, but the common denominator is that there is some connection to nanoparticles and alloys, ie a mixture of metals. There is also a connection to hydrogen, as my project is partly funded by a larger project run by Professor Christoph Langhammer, which deals with hydrogen sensors made of nanoparticles.”
Why did this topic attract you?
”Doing physics through computer simulations appealed to me very much. Partly because I am clumsy in the lab, partly because this is the perfect way to do experiments as you have a precise view of what is happening. I also like data analysis and programming, so it was probably the combination of things I was drawn to.”
Your thesis is called "There is an alloy at the end of the rainbow". What is it at that you find at the end of the rainbow, more precisely?
“It’s those fantastic materials that you can only imagine before you have them. Through simulations you can search for materials in a simpler way than through physical experiments. You can test more variants and you do not have the same limitations, it does not cost time or money to change an element, so you are free to search the entire periodic table. In terms of results, it is difficult to point to one single thing because the thesis consists of several different articles with quite different orientations, but what I think will perhaps have the biggest impact in the long run is the software we developed in the group during the time of my thesis.”
In their motivation, the award committee writes that your thesis is easy to read and succeeds in introducing the reader to a complex subject. How was your writing process?
”It is a fairly scattered thesis - my challenge was to turn it into a whole. The thing that tied it all together at the end was the explanation for why I chose the subject from the beginning. I spent a lot of time writing an introduction that would tie everything together. I also think it's fun to write and to articulate, and I had a lot of help from discussions with my supervisor Professor Paul Erhart.”
What did you find difficult during the writing process?
”In addition to getting the whole thing together, I could sometimes have a writer’s block and difficulty getting started, but the most important thing then was to just start writing about what felt motivating for the moment, instead of thinking that I had to write it from the beginning to the end.”
Your dissertation also has a very special cover. Tell us more about it!
“In the world of physics for the past 10–20 years, it has been popular with photorealistic 3D renderings of nanoparticles, small atoms, and so on. I have made these types of illustrations myself and wanted to do something else. I googled around and stuck to an illustration with video game aesthetics that I was inspired by. That way I could get all the different parts and details in the same picture. In addition, the cover indicates that the thesis is about something digital, simulations with ones and zeros. I put way too many hours on the cover!”
What are you doing now?
”I'm still in Paul Erhart's group, now as a postdoc. So I now do research on other materials, but in the same place.”
Last but not least, do you have any good advice for those about to write a thesis themselves?
”That you should not be afraid to be personal. In everything else you write within academia, several names appear as the sender and you write for scientific journals with strict guidelines. In a thesis, it is not quite the same. The product of five years of doctoral studies is not only the articles, but also yourself – you have become a doctor. I think that the thesis to some extent can reflect who you are, so if you think that sounds like a good idea, you should not be afraid to be a little bold. I tried to put my personal stamp on the thesis by having a twinkle in the eye where it suited, especially in the introductory chapter, but also in the introduction of each chapter. Everything does not have to be bone dry!”
About the Best Thesis Award
The Best Thesis Award was founded in 2013, as one among several initiatives at the Department of Physics, to maintain and improve the research quality, as well as to show appreciation for the PhD students' hard work.
The management of the department also hopes that this award can help doctoral students receive an extra boost in their careers after the defence. These particular theses can serve as good examples for doctoral students in the early stages of their own thesis writing. Besides the honour, the award consists of a diploma and a monetary prize of SEK 10.000.
Members of the Best PhD Thesis Award Committee: Riccardo Catena, Hana Jungová, Yasmine Sassa, Philippe Tassin (chairman), Paolo Vinai, Björn Wickman, Julia Wiktor.
For more information, please contact:
Text: Lisa Gahnertz
Photo: Magnus Rahm (illustration), Lisa Gahnertz (portrait photo)