DOE Physicists at Work
Profiles of representative DOE-sponsored physicists
doing research at universities and national laboratories
Compiled by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information
When he was a child, Ian Fisher's parents put up a periodic table of the elements in their family kitchen. While they used it to test the eyesight of their children, Dr. Fisher recalls it as an "early opportunity to learn the periodic table - and avoid a trip to the opticians!"
The Fisher children were also given molecular "ball and stick" models to play with. "We invented colorful, utterly unphysical, imaginary molecules just for fun," says Dr. Fisher, who now works as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Physics at Stanford University. "Our research aims to better understand the rich variety of physical properties of complex materials; to better understand what nature can do. Only this time it's with real materials, not toys."
Dr. Fisher was born and educated in the United Kingdom, and received his undergraduate degree in physics from Birmingham University, then a PhD from Cambridge. His thesis research explored the properties of high-temperature superconductors. Between degrees, he worked with Dr. Jeff Tallon at the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Zealand. "I didn't know exactly where New Zealand was, but I knew that I wanted to work with Jeff and learn some of his synthesis tricks."
After finishing his PhD, Dr. Fisher completed a post-doc at Ames Laboratory, in Ames Iowa, under Professor Paul Canfield. "That was a truly wonderful experience - a great opportunity to learn the science and art of crystal growth from a master," says Dr. Fisher. "I rediscovered the sheer joy of experiment - the process of forming a hypothesis and then testing it - in particular, applied to the synthesis and study of new materials."
Fisher, together with Canfield, continued to work on superconductors, but also expanded his horizons to include other exotic materials such as quasicrystals. At Ames Lab, physicists work alongside metallurgists, chemists and materials scientists. "Working together we were able to have a bigger impact, understand more about the materials that we were studying," says Dr. Fisher. This philosophy continues to shape Fisher's research at Stanford University, where he has worked since 2000 in the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials, a newly founded center dedicated to an interdisciplinary study of complex materials.
"In everyday terms, we are studying materials with unusual magnetic and electronic properties" says Dr. Fisher. "We figure out how to grow crystals of these materials and then carefully explore their physical properties. What we find is sometimes rather surprising." Some materials that the group studies are totally new to science; others can be very old, but new to the rarefied world of physics. For instance, recently Fisher and his students have teamed up with Department of Energy (DOE) physicists at Low Alamos National Laboratory to study an ancient pigment, called Han Purple, first discovered over 2500 years ago and used to color the Terracotta Warriors. "This material has some very exotic magnetic properties which we are only just beginning to understand," says Dr. Fisher, adding, "It is also a physically beautiful material given its rich purple color. There is a real aesthetic to materials, and especially to crystal growth. Sometimes nature can stun you with its beauty."
Dr. Fisher currently receives funding from the DOE to support his research in the synthesis and physical properties of exotic new materials. He is also a very new father. "I'll be happy and proud to support my son in whatever he chooses to do later in life," says Dr. Fisher. "But I think we'll definitely put a periodic table up in our kitchen."
Dr. Fisher’s articles accessed via OSTI:
Please search the Energy Citations Database for additional papers by this researcher.