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You are here: FRIAS Fellows Fellows 2019/20 Dr. Robert Bennett

Dr. Robert Bennett

University of Freiburg
Junior Fellow
Alexander von Humboldt Fellow
October 2018 - July 2019


I did my PhD at the University of Sussex, UK where I studied the changes in the anomalous magnetic moment of an electron when it is placed near a macroscopic surface. Following this I spent two years as a postdoc at the University of Leeds, UK, before moving to Freiburg to work in the group of Stefan Buhmann, where I hold an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship. My interests at the moment include interatomic Coulombic decay (ICD), cellular van der Waals forces and photonic Bose-Einstein condensates.

Selected Publications

  • The influence of retardation and dielectric environments on Interatomic Coulombic Decay. J.L. Hemmerich, R. Bennett and S.Y. Buhmann, in press at Nat. Comms (2018).
  • Strong van der Waals Adhesion of a Polymer Film on Rough Substrates.
    J. Klatt, P. Barcellona, R. Bennett, O.S. Bokareva, H. Feth, A. Rasch, P. Reith and S.Y. Buhmann, Langmuir 33 (21), 5298-5303 (2017)
  • Spectroscopic signatures of quantum friction.
    J. Klatt, R. Bennett and S.Y. Buhmann, Phys. Rev A 94, 023621 (2016)
  • A generalized bag-like boundary condition for fields with arbitrary spin. A. Stokes and R. Bennett, New Journal of Physics 17 073102 (2015)
  • Magnetic moment of an electron near a surface with dispersion. R. Bennett and C. Eberlein, New J. Phys. 14 123035 (2012)

FRIAS Research Project

The Quantum Vacuum and Biology

Quantum field theory and biology are at first glance quite unrelated, the former concerning itself with highly idealised situations and the latter taking place in the messy contexts of living organisms. However, many of the phenomena that are considered fundamental in biology can be expressed in a quantum field theoretic language, a prominent example being the van der Waals force that contributes to various adhesion processes in the life sciences. While in biology this is usually thought of as a fundamental and immutable aspect of the interactions between atoms and molecules, from a quantum field theoretic point of view it is explained on a deeper level as being mediated exchange of virtual photons. Adopting the latter point of view reveals previously obscured facets of the interaction, e.g. the effect of the finite speed of light or of nearby reflecting surfaces. In this project the applicant will apply these ideas in two contexts; the forces between red blood cells that cause their clumping together into stacks known as rouleaux, and to a novel decay pathway known as interatomic Coulomb decay that causes atomic and molecular clusters to fragment. The former is of obvious biological relevance, while cutting-edge explorations of the latter is are finding relevance in biology due to its potential to damage DNA. The use of the powerful formalism of quantum field theory will enable the study of these phenomena in nontrivial environments and under realistic conditions.