The functional electroceramics market is multibillion pounds in value and growing year by year. Electroceramic components are vital to the operation of a wide variety of home electronics, mobile communications, computer, automotive and aerospace systems. The UK ceramics industry tends to focus on a number of specialist markets and there are new opportunities in sensors, communications, imaging and related systems as new materials are developed. To enable the UK ceramics community to benefit from the new and emerging techniques for the processing and characterisation of functional electroceramics a series of collaborative exchanges will be undertaken between the three UK universities (Manchester, Sheffield and Imperial College) and universities and industry in Europe (Austria, Germany, Russia, Czech Republic), the USA and Asia (Japan, Taiwan and Singapore). These exchanges will enable the UK researchers (particularly those at an early stage of their careers) to learn new experimental and theoretical techniques. This knowledge and expertise will be utilised in the first instance in the new bilateral collaborative projects, and transferred to the UK user communities (UK universities and UK industry). A number of seminars and a two day Workshop will be held to help the dissemination of knowledge.
Tony Skyrme proposed that under special circumstances it is possible to stabilize vortex-like whirls in fields to produce topologically stable objects. This idea, effectively of creating a new type of fundamental particle, has been realised with the recent discovery of skyrmions in magnetic materials. The confirmation of the existence of skyrmions in chiral magnets and of their self-organization into a skyrmion lattice has made skyrmion physics arguably the hottest topic in magnetism research at the moment. Skyrmions are excitations of matter whose occurrence and collective properties are mysterious, but which hold promise for advancing our basic understanding of matter and also for technological deployment as highly efficient memory elements. Following the discovery of skyrmions in a variety of materials, several urgent questions remain which are holding back the field: what are the general properties of the phase transitions that lead to the skyrmion lattice phase, the nature of its structure, excitations and stability and how might we exploit the unique magnetic properties of this matter in future devices? These questions have only recently begun to be addressed by several large international consortia and are far from being resolved. For the UK to contend in this highly competitive field a major project is required that brings together UK experts in materials synthesis and state-of-the-art theoretical and experimental techniques. We propose the first funded UK national programme to investigate skyrmions, skyrmion lattices and skyrmionic devices. Our systematic approach, combining experts from different fields is aimed at answering basic questions about the status of magnetic skyrmions and working with industrial partners to develop technological applications founded on this physics.