Emilio Artacho: improving first-principle simulations in condensed matter

Emilio ArtachoIn JPCM’s first featured author interview we ask Emilio Artacho about his work and life in physics. A computational and theoretical condensed matter physicist at the University of Cambridge and CIC nanoGUNE in Spain, he studies oxide heterostructures, liquid water and interfaces, as well as and non-adiabatic processes related to radiation damage of materials.



Q: What research projects are you and your group currently working on?
We work in the first-principles simulations of condensed matter. In addition to methodological advances we are focusing mainly on three lines. (i) The simulation and understanding of non-adiabatic effects in radiation-damage processes, with the ambition of addressing fundamentals in the context of nuclear materials and of radiation damage in living tissue. (ii) Hydration and nano-confined water, with an ambition of pushing our understanding of hydration in bio, geo and nano contexts. (iii) Functional oxide materials.

Q: What motivated you to pursue this field of research?
Ten wonderful years at the Department of Earth Sciences in the University of Cambridge made me face problems motivated by nature and the environment. The radiation-damage line started there within a wider project in the department of finding good solutions for nuclear waste, a pressing environmental problem even if only considering legacy waste, irrespective of whether nuclear power is used in the future. The nano-scale hydration problem also arose very naturally in the geo context, although it is much broader, and oxide materials in general was a recurring theme in that environment. My present research environment at Nanogune, a top nano-science institute in San Sebastian, Spain, and in the Basque Foundation for Science (Ikerbasque) offer great opportunities for the development of these lines in different, stimulating contexts.

Q: Where do you think this field is heading?
The first-principles simulation of condensed matter has expanded immensely in the last two decades. Developments in efficiency, in which I have participated, allowed the introduction of such simulations to many sciences beyond physics. Such methods are improving in accuracy, in efficiency (allowing the study of even more complex systems) and in functionality (more properties of condensed matter are becoming amenable to first-principles simulations). Our non-adiabatic techniques are starting in some niche applications, but they should soon expand to wider contexts. Key challenges we are facing relate to emerging phenomena (especially as related to highly correlated electrons) and the effective spanning of time scales.

Q: What current problem facing humanity would you like science to provide a solution to?

Q: What interests you outside of science?
Films, literature and hiking.

Q: What advice would you give to young scientists?
There are obvious traits that are easy to relate to success in science, such as intelligence, creativity, communication skills, self-confidence, ambition. My more specific advice would be for passion and honesty. One’s passion for good (and honest) science should govern one’s ambition, and not the other way around. One corollary: the systematically following flares of fashion can make apparently brilliant careers, but it is never the making of a good scientist.


On behalf of the journal I would like to thank Emilio for answering our questions and for publishing his most recent work with us, “Effects of stoichiometeric doping in superconducting Bi-O-S compounds”. You can read the full paper, J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 27 135501, now.


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Image copyright Emilio Artacho; used with permission.

Categories: Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter

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