UoA 19  : UCL Physics

Physics research at UCL is answering some of the most fundamental questions about the physical universe - from ‘what is the mass of the neutrino?’ to ‘how do galaxies form and evolve?’ It encompasses technological developments and applications in domains such as information processing, health-care, energy and the environment. The achievement of excellence drives our endeavours.

Activities span three departments and several interdisciplinary research centres. The departments and one of the centres - Physics & Astronomy (PA), Space & Climate Physics (SCP), Medical Physics & Bioengineering (MPB) and the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) - are distinct entities with independent management and finances but with strong interactions in both research and teaching. PA, LCN and MPB are located in Bloomsbury, central London while SCP occupies the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in Surrey. MSSL is the UK’s largest university-based space-science organisation. At present, there are 16 instruments developed or calibrated at MSSL operating on 14 satellites. MSSL is currently developing instrumentation for the Herschel, GAIA, Astrosat and the James Webb Space Telescope satellites. MPB has research collaborations with over 20 clinical units and 6 specialist hospitals in the UCL Hospitals group.  Research is grouped into 6 broad areas: Atomic, Molecular, Optical & Positron Physics (AMOPP); AstroPhysics (AP); Solar System Physics (SSP); High Energy Physics (HEP); Medical Physics (MP) and Condensed Matter & Materials Physics (CMMP). Our return includes 46 professors, 17 readers, 5 senior lecturers, 24 lecturers and 14 research fellows. It includes 18 Royal Society/PPARC/EPSRC and 2 UCL-funded long-term fellows; 11 of these have a promise of a permanent academic position.

The period (2001-2007) has witnessed major advances and investments in both established activities and emergent lines of research. We have published >40 refereed papers/staff (~10% in high-impact journals such as Nature, Science and PRL) and have won >£180M in external peer-reviewed competitions. UCL has spent >£50M in the construction of new buildings and in the refurbishment and provision for labs and offices. Thirty-two new members of academic staff have been appointed, including 5 professors. Four of the 2008 Institute of Physics Prizes have been awarded to scientists at UCL.

Since the last RAE, opportunities for interdisciplinary research have been greatly enhanced with the creation of UCL- (or London-) wide Research Centres, most notably the LCN, a joint venture between UCL and Imperial College (IC) inaugurated in 2006 in purpose-built premises. The LCN, empowered by its strong capabilities in disciplines (engineering, physical sciences and biomedicine) bridged by nanotechnology, aims to enable work at the forefront of science and technology. Other centres include those for Mathematics and Physics in Life Sciences and Experimental Biology (CoMPLEX), Cosmic Chemistry and Physics (CCCP), Planetary Sciences (CPS), Advanced Instrumentation Systems (CAIS), Medical Image Computing (CMIC), Materials Research (CMR), the Materials Simulation Laboratory (MSL) and the London Thomas Young Centre for Materials Modelling (TYC).

Developments are steered to fruition by 5 year strategic plans which all departments provide on a rolling basis and which are reviewed at the Faculty level and by the UCL senior management team. These plans input into inter and intra faculty themes, e.g. nanotechnology and the “Origins” theme, jointly developed by HEP, AP, SSP and UCL Department of Earth Sciences (ES), which has identified neutrino physics, galaxy evolution, mathematical foundations and planetary science as key endeavours. The formation and evolution of research centres are shaped by scientific advances and needs. New centres in Ultrafast Laser Science and in Nuclear Technology are currently under discussion; MP plans to reinforce hybrid imaging from Electrical Impedance Tomography, Magnetic Resonance and Nuclear Medicine.

Over and above plans outlined in our RAE 2001 submission, the following have been implemented (throughout this document the names of Early Career Researchers (ECR) are in italics):

Nanotechnology: outstanding opportunities with the completion of the LCN and major EPSRC Science and Innovation award (joint with IC) to develop new tools for nanoscale characterisation and metrology; new appointment (Hoogenboom). This is backed by structural analysis, especially expansion into Coherent X-ray diffraction imaging with new professorial appointment joint with Diamond Light Source (Robinson) and participation in the new EPSRC Basic Technologies initiative to develop X-ray ptychography methods to be used in the study of phase transitions and nanomaterials structure (Robinson). New professorial appointment (McMorrow), joint with CCLRC, in Neutron Scattering for studies of magnetism and strongly correlated electron systems; leading team designing and building world-leading MERLIN spectrometer at ISIS, now undergoing commissioning (McEwen), and external coordination of the NIMROD instrument on the Second Target Station at ISIS (Skipper).

Ultralow-Temperature Atomic and Molecular Physics: considerable expansion with three new appointments (Barker, Köhler and Renzoni) to supplement existing interests (P.Jones, Monteiro). Using SRIF money, a new lab has been created for Barker who holds an EPSRC AF. Köhler is a RS URF.

Ultrafast Laser-Field Dynamics: two new appointments (Underwood and Faria, another EPSRC AF) in this increasingly strategic area of research, supplementing existing presence in AMOPP (Newell) and Chemistry (HH Fielding). SRIF funding has provided a new lab for Underwood who holds a joint appointment with STFC at the Rutherford Appleton Labs.

Biophysics: complementary activities pursued by AMOPP and CMMP. New appointments in CMMP (Hoogenboom; Professorial: Duke, Robinson) enhancing existing activities (Bowler, Finney, Ford, Pankhurst, Stoneham). £1.6M SRIF investments in AMOPP new labs and ultrafast lasers as well as two appointments with key interests in this area (Barker, P.Jones), supplementing those of Bain.

Major new initiatives include the following:

Quantum Information: vigorously and collaboratively pursued by AMOPP and CMMP, with joint publications, students and seminars. Major funding from EPSRC Basic Technology programme (Stoneham, Fisher) and EPSRC ARFs (Bose, Lynch). Three new appointments in AMOPP (Bose, Browne and Serafini).

Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: professorial appointment (Lahav, Perren Chair of Astronomy) plus two lecturers (Bridle, Weller) leading the UK consortium for the Dark Energy Survey. Expanding into galactic formation with the upcoming launches of Herschel and GAIA supported by a new academic post (Ferreras) and PPARC funding. This will bring to scientific fruition the technology developments and instrument build over the past few years for these missions.

Planetary Science: UCL strengths in planetary science (across SCP, PA and Earth Sciences, ES) brought together under the Centre for Planetary Sciences, backed by long-term fellows G.Jones (STFC AF) and Tinetti (STFC Aurora and UCL). Prime space on the UCL campus under redevelopment to provide a physical focus and electronic access to a comprehensive source of planetary data (extending the NASA Regional Planetary Imaging Facility). Themes include: structure and history of planets; origin and evolution of planetary atmospheres; exoplanets and astrobiology.

Neutrino Physics: investment in both staff (Saakyan, Nichol, Waters, Connolly) and building (new £1.5M facility at MSSL) fostering strategic link between HEP and MSSL; scientific leadership in Neutrinoless Double-Beta Decay (Saakyan, Thomas); measurement of rare double beta decay processes with NEMO-III and instigation of international SuperNEMO collaboration; new initiative in Ultrahigh Energy Neutrino Science, which could open up a new window on astrophysics and particle physics; contribution in R&D for acoustic (ACORNE) and radio (ANITA, LOFAR) detection techniques (Lancaster, Nichol, Waters).

Materials Simulation Laboratory: interdisciplinary activity underpinned by major grants from EPSRC Materials Modelling initiative (Shluger, Harding, Gillan, Stoneham, Bowler, Fisher), UKAEA Culham-funded modelling of radiation induced processes in materials for fusion reactors (new appointment: Duffy), and UCL provision of High Performance Computing.

Wolfson Centre for Medical Physics and Bioengineering (£1,25M RS Wolfson)  provides new laboratory facilities for the Biomedical Optics and Implanted Devices groups (last being returned under UoA24) enabling new optical sensing and imaging techniques of biological molecules and the development of new implantable stimulators for muscle control in paraplegics.

Over the next 6 years, we plan to build on strengths represented by our major investments. Further staff appointments are planned in mm-wave astrophysics, optical instrumentation, astrobiology and HEP phenomenology. We also envisage an expansion in biophysics research, fuelled by the projected £85M move of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) to UCL. Plans in the biophysics area will be informed by an external review to be held during 2008. Reviews of PA are conducted annually, the last two were chaired by Professor M Longair (Cambridge).

Download full text of the RA5a statement for Physics (pdf 288Kb)

Staff names below link to submitted publications [UCL staff only]:

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Page last modified on 13 jan 08 23:47