Meet the YCG – James Cumby

By | March 20, 2018

This is our last Meet the YCG post before the BCA spring meeting! This week we have the pleasure to introduce James Cumby who sits on the YCG  committee as an ordinary member.

James Cumby

Current position
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions and School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh.

What do you currently research?
My work focusses on how atomic structure and materials properties (for instance magnetic and electronic ordering) couple together, often driving one another at phase transitions. A key example of this is magnetite (Fe3O4) which shows a substantial loss of symmetry (Fm-3m -> Cc) associated with a metal-insulator and charge-ordering transition. Another growing aspect of my research is focussed on distortions in local coordination shells, using an ellipsoidal approach to quantify this and relate it to material properties.

What is your favourite thing about being a crystallographer?
I enjoy being able to get so many details about atomic structure from such a (relatively) simple technique! My background is in powder diffraction, and I am still amazed at how complex structures can be solved from what is, in effect, one-dimensional data. I also like doing experiments at central facilities (e.g. Diamond, ISIS); although they are exhausting, I get a real buzz from trying to solve the structure of a new material in the early hours of the morning!

Who, or what, inspires you to do science?
I really like making new materials, and knowing you are the first person to have ever seen or held them. That feeling of stepping into the unknown (and trying to work out the truth) is terrifying and exciting, probably in equal measure. Although the way science is done has changed a lot over time, I’m inspired by the fact that previous scientists have (probably) all had that same feeling.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out in scientific research?
Don’t be disheartened by failure! It’s easy to go into research expecting ideas to turn into results, but more often than not things will go wrong. Try to enjoy the challenges (like getting a piece of equipment working or measuring the same thing 10 times) and learn something each time. Eventually things will work, and that moment of satisfaction is worth all the effort!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy playing music, particularly the challenge of learning a new instrument (some more successfully than others). I’ve also started doing woodwork, making small items of furniture. I find having a hobby with a physical result very satisfying, particularly when it’s useful as well!

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