Professor Lidunka Vocadlo

Lidunka is Professor of Mineral Physics in the Earth Sciences department at UCL, where she has carried out her research for many years.

This predominantly revolves around the theoretical determination of the thermoelastic properties of iron and iron alloys at extreme conditions of pressure and temperature in order to understand Earth and planetary interiors. Lidunka also apply these ab initio computational techniques to materials likely to exist in the icy moons of the outer solar system.

Early on in Lidunka’s career she had the pleasure of working with two pillars of computational condensed matter physics: her PhD supervisor, David Price, and the brilliant Mike Gillan, “both of whom are able to explain the trickiest concepts in relatively simple terms – a sure sign of understanding”, and “for my own students, I know that if they do not understand something I have said, then either I am not making myself clear, or I do not understand it myself (often the case!)”.

Lidunka received a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (1999-2008) which provided a firm foundation for her academic career (and excellent support for having children), and which eventually led to her becoming the first ever female professor in the Earth Sciences department at UCL in 2009.

Outside of UCL Lidunka says “I am a keen walker, having completed all the Wainwright fells in the Lake District (it took 30 years) and, recently completed the entire Camino Frances, which runs for 500 miles between St Jean Pied de Port in southern France and Santiago in north-west Spain – the whole thing on foot! It was a fantastic experience which kick-started my interest in multi-day long-distance walks which I look forward to taking up again as soon as possible”.

Recent paper highlights include:

The top-down crystallisation of Mercury’s core (Edgington et al. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2019)

The regime governing the growth of Mercury’s core is unknown, but the dynamics of core growth are vital to understanding the origin and properties of the planet’s weak magnetic field. Here, we use advanced first-principles methods, which include a magnetic entropy contribution, to investigate the magnetic and thermo-elastic properties of liquid iron alloys and of pure liquid iron at the conditions of Mercury’s core. Our results support a ‘top-down’ evolution of the core, whereby solid iron-rich material crystallises at shallow depths and sinks. This process would likely result in a compositionally driven dynamo within a stably stratified uppermost liquid layer, providing an explanation for the observed properties of the weak magnetic field of Mercury.