David Mills

2021 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

David Mills

Current Position:
Reader in Chemistry

The University of Manchester

Synthetic Chemistry

Recognized for: Making a critical discovery that revitalized the field of single-molecule magnets, paving the way for their practical use. Single-molecule magnets have potential applications in high-density data storage and quantum computing.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Single-Molecule Magnets, Lanthanide and Actinide Chemistry

Previous Positions:

MChem in Chemistry, Cardiff University, UK
PhD in Chemistry, Cardiff University, UK
EPSRC and ERC Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Nottingham, UK

Research Summary:

The f-block elements are a group of metallic elements that reside at the bottom of the periodic table, often separated from the other elements due to their unique physical and chemical properties. Some, like uranium and plutonium, are radioactive, while others, such as dysprosium and neodymium can form powerful magnets when combined with other metals in alloys. David P. Mills, PhD, is interested in exploiting the magnetic properties of these elements by combining them with other elements to form single-molecule magnets (SMMs). As their name implies, SMMs are single molecular entities that have magnetic properties that can be exploited and used in high-density data storage and quantum computing.

SMMs have been known since the 1990s, but progress in the field was slow at first because SMMs were only capable of storing magnetic data at extremely cold, liquid helium temperatures (~4 Kelvin). Above that temperature, the SMMs were unable to store magnetic data. In order for SMMs to see practical use in consumer electronic devices, liquid nitrogen temperatures of around 77 Kelvin must be achieved. In 2017, Mills lead a team that used the element dysprosium to develop a SMM—dubbed dysprosocenium—that was capable of maintaining magnetic properties at a temperature of 60 Kelvin. Though this temperature is still incredibly cold, it was the first major increase in SMM operating temperature in nearly 25 years, and brought chemists ever closer to the desirable liquid nitrogen temperatures that are required for these compounds to be of use commercially. Currently, Mills and others are working hard to create new dysprosocenium SMMs that are capable of higher temperatures, while maintaining or extending magnetic relaxation times—another key property that can be manipulated by changing the atoms attached to the dysprosium metal core.

“I am both humbled and delighted to be selected as a Blavatnik Awards honoree in recognition of the combined work of my group and our collaborators over the last eight years. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank family, friends, colleagues and mentors for their continued help and support. Our group at Manchester continues to target making and measuring challenging molecules that have no right to exist, which inspires me on a daily basis.”

Key Publications:

  1. C.A.P. Goodwin, D. Reta, F. Ortu, N.F. Chilton, D.P. Mills. Synthesis and Electronic Structures of Heavy Lanthanide Metallocenium Cations. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017.

  2. P. Evans, D. Reta, G.F.S. Whitehead, N.F. Chilton, D.P. Mills. Bis-Monophospholyl Dysprosium Cation Showing Magnetic Hysteresis at 48 KJ. Am. Chem. Soc., 2019.

  3. C.A.P. Goodwin, F. Ortu, D. Reta, N.F. Chilton, D.P. Mills. Molecular Magnetic Hysteresis at 60 Kelvin in DysprosoceniumNature, 2017.

  4. A. Formanuik, A.-M. Ariciu, F. Ortu, R. Beekmeyer, A. Kerridge, F. Tuna, E.J.L. McInnes, D. P. Mills. Actinide covalency measured by pulsed electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopyNature Chemistry, 2017.

Other Honors:

2020The University of Manchester Student’s Union Award for Best Academic Advising
2019RSC Radiochemistry Group Bill Newton Award
2019IUPAC Centenary Periodic Table of Younger Chemists Awardee
2018RSC Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize


In the Media:

Nature Research Chemistry Community Forum – The Story Behind Dysprosocenium, Friday I’m in Love

Chemical & Engineering News – Single-Molecule Magnet Breaks Performance Records

Chemistry World – Dysprosium Molecular Magnet Sets New Temperature Record