Keith T. Butler

Materials Hipster #1: Anna Regoutz

May 15, 2018 | 6 Minute Read

tags: [ materials_hipster  oxides  ]
I caught up with Anna when she was visiting Diamond Light Source to do some spectroscopy. Anna is an Imperial College Research Fellow. She does X-ray spectroscopy of materials, with an emphasis on oxides and semiconductors. Anna also just won the Student Academic Choice Awards award for best undergraduate teaching at Imperial College!
Fig1. - Anna winning that award

What’s your all time favourite material?

It’s a bit niche, but it all starts with David Scanlon, he told us that thallium doped indium oxide was the next big transparent conducting oxide. So, I had to start working with thallium oxide and as a result I have a soft spot for thallium and osmium oxide. They are so poisonous and horrible, nobody really wants to work with them, which means they are really unexplored. As a result, they are these glorious things that are so useless in a way - well we don’t even really know what they do. It’s really exciting because there is this feeling and idea of actually discovering something new - because nobody else would dare. Now my top goal is to make thallium osmate because you cant go worse than that!

What material is super hot right now?

I work a lot in oxides and there ruthenates are obviously really hot right now, with people looking at them because of the strongly correlated electrons. Then, with my other hat on, as a device physicist, I have to say that GaN is still super hot. The big semiconductor companies are really interested in GaN and that’s exciting, because its something where you can see real application coming from research. Also, new generations of dielectrics that can replace Si, from an applications side they are really important right now. This is kind of the other side of my research interest, I love the pure science of the thallium osmate, but I also have worked in industry and get really excited by the applications end.

Fig2. - Toxic thallium oxide

Do you have any top tips for the next big thing?

Well I think there are lots of simple oxides that are coming back and people are starting to re-investigate them. But it’s hard to predict which one will win!

If you could only read one journal, which one would it be?

That question is complicated because I kind of sit between fields, so I deal with the spectroscopy, method developments, the fundamentals of solid state chemistry and then also the applications and devices. If I have to pick one journal it’s going to have to cover a wide range. I think I’d have to go for something from the Advanced Materials family, because they tend to cover the full range. I think if it’s going to be one from that family, then it’s Advanced Functional Materials. It still has a lot of characterisation of materials and understanding electronic structure, but then you also tend to get a lot of I-V curves!

Tell me about a criminally underrated journal?

Here I go the other way. Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena. I don’t even know if it has an impact factor, I never checked. But from the spectroscoper’s point of view, it has some brilliant papers in it. The papers tend to be beautifully written and there’s clearly a certain culture within the community that you can tell from reading these papers. I found some real nuggets of information in there.


PRL, although I am a chemist by training, what I do is closer to physics, so definitely PRL. Without even thinking about it!

Best crafted paper you’ve read recently?

Recently I was writing an introduction to a paper and I had to give some historical perspective. I went back to a paper from the guy who won the Nobel Prize for X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy in the 1980s, Kai Siegbahn, and started to read his papers. I found one from the 1970s, and it was beautiful. It’s a long paper, I think 30 pages, it covers so many aspects in real depth and its beautifully written (A Discussion on photoelectron spectroscopy - Electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis). And the spectra are incredible, when you think these were collected in the 60s and 70s and they are better than many things we collect today. It’s in Phil. Trans. which is another journal I love.

Who’s papers always make you read deeper?

There is one person, Nicola Spaldin. I had to - on very short notice - jump into teaching dielectrics and magnetism to first years at Imperial and write a 10 lecture course. I came across some of her papers on the modern theory of polarisation and the way she writes it just makes you want to know more and to go further. I give my students links to her papers and it’s surprising how many of them actually read them and come back to me to talk about them. It’s so accessible and yet it goes so deep. They have this special touch, no matter if you are a first year undergrad or an established researcher, they get you interested.

Anna’s choice cuts from Nicola Spaldin:

Favourite conference?

MRS fall meeting. I mean, its just that everyone I want to meet is there. It’s maybe not necessarily the conference, but the social aspect of it and getting to see all the Americans that I collaborate with.

Best conference catering?

Well, it’s not going to be MRS!! They had the European Solid State Conference in Vienna a few years back. I might be biased as I am Austrian, but the catering was amazing, sausages, pretzels, pastries and even good coffee, which is not something you often find at a conference! And they had the conference dinner in the town hall of Vienna, which is a beautiful grand setting.

Worst Conference catering?

I once went to a conference in Taiwan and chicken feet was a reoccurring theme. I found that a bit hard to deal with!

What do you do outside materials?

Horticulture! This is my go to, when I need to not think about work. I love to garden, you can do a little or you can do a lot. I have a lot of veg, a lot of flowers, I propagate seeds and cuttings. There’s a lot of slugs this year, but I have a materials scientist solution - copper tape everywhere!

Any top tips of botanical gardens?

Actually I mainly go when I travel for conferences. So - Phoenix is really different, because it’s in the desert. San Fransisco is also great. I have never been to Edinburgh, but apparently it is incredible and has the best alpine section. Oh and also, Isles of Scilly, there’s a garden in an old friary, on one of the islands and it is awesome, hard to get to but worth it!

Whiskey or gin?

Both! But also Tequila, Tequila is my go to drink after a hard day.