Department of Physics News Archive
July 2013, The Institute of Art and Ideas in London held a scientific debate entitled
Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
With Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King College London John Ellis, bestselling science writer and academic Lawrence Krauss, and Cambridge theologian Don Cupitt.
Heidegger held the most important question to be "why is there something rather than nothing?" Hawking believes science will one day provide an answer. But is this a delusion? Is explaining creation beyond us or is there really a chance we can solve the greatest mystery of all?
“Magic” Surface Clustering of Borazines Driven by Repulsive Intermolecular Forces" article is published
Professor Alan Michette passed away on 8th May 2013 whilst attending the Annual Lecture at Cumberland Lodge as a member of its Academic Committee.
Alan joined the Department of Physics of Queen Elizabeth College in 1981, and then moved to King's with the subsequent merger of Queen Elizabeth and King's College. During his time in the Department he has held numerous roles in the Department and School, most recently that of Head of Department. In the last ten years in particular he has been closely involved with the Maxwell Society and the annual Cumberland Lodge event, and with the development of a hugely successful programme concerned with cosmic ray detectors in schools.
Our thoughts are with his wife and his family.
Spotlight on Optics, Highlighted article: Linewidth Enhancement in Spasers and Plasmonic Nanolasers by Pavel Ginzburg and Anatoly V. Zayats
More details can be found on the link below: http://www.opticsinfobase.org/spotlight/summary.cfm?URI=oe-21-2-2147
January 2013, Professor Peter Higgs recognised in the 2013 New Year’s Honours list.
King’s alumnus and Fellow Professor Peter Higgs (BSc Physics, 1950, MSc Physics, 1952, PhD in 1954) received a Companion of Honour for services to Physics. In 1964 Peter Higgs predicted the existence of the scalar particle that is crucial for our understanding of three of the four forces of nature, making a fundamental contribution to physics with major consequences for our understanding of the origins of the universe. Known as the Higgs boson or ‘God particle’, compelling evidence for its existence was discovered by scientists at CERN in Geneva last year.
December 2013, Double Nobel Prize Success
Today two alumni of the Department of Physics at KIng's College are to be awarded Nobel Prizes at the 2013 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. Peter Higgs is a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics and Michael Levitt for Chemistry. Both studied Physics at King's, graduating in 1950 and 1967 respectively.
Peter Higgs FRS won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Awarded jointly with Francois Englert, the prize is in recognition for the theory of how particles acquire mass. Both Higgs and Englert proposed the theory independently of each other in 1964; their theory was confirmed in 2012 with the discovery of the so-called Higgs Boson particle at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.
Professor Higgs graduated with a First class Honours in Physics from King's in 1950. In 1954, he was awarded a PhD for a thesis entitled 'Some Problems in the Theory of Molecular Vibrations'; work which signalled the start of his life-long interest in the application of the ideas of symmetry to physical systems.
Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh since 1996, Professor Higgs returned to King's to deliver the inaugural Annual Higgs Lecture in the School of Natural & Mathematical Sciences in December 2012.
Professor Michael Levitt FRS studied for a Bachelor of Science degree at King's, graduating in 1967. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry jointly with Martin Karplus and Arieh Warshel, for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.
After graduating from King's, Professor Levitt went on to gain a PhD from Cambridge University in 1971. He has since worked as the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor in Cancer Research, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford.
October 2013, Professor Peter Higgs awarded Nobel Prize for Physics
We congratulate Peter Higgs on being awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1964 he and other theoretical physicists discovered a way to give masses to elementary particles. This is now the basis for the Standard Model that describes immensely successfully all the visible matter in the Universe. Peter Higgs pointed out that this theory required the existence of a new kind of particle, commonly called the Higgs Boson, which was discovered by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN in 2012, providing dramatic experimental confirmation of his theoretical ideas.
We are proud that Peter Higgs was a student in the King's Physics Department from 1947 to 1954, getting his BSc in 1950, his MSc in 1951 and his PhD in 1954. His links with King's continue: for example, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 2009 and gave the inaugural Higgs Lecture on the King's Strand campus in December 2012. Research on the properties of the Higgs Boson and related aspects of particle physics is an active theme of research in the King's Physics Department.
September 2012, Professor John Ellis spoke in the Parliament about what the 'Higgs Legacy' could be for UK science.
On September 5th there was an official reception at the Houses of Parliament to celebrate the UK’s involvement in the LHC at CERN, where John Ellis (Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics) was invited to speak. He used this opportunity to urge a concerted effort by Government, funding agencies, universities, researchers, schools and Science Centres to develop a ‘Higgs Legacy’ of a new generation inspired to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, leveraging the recent exciting discovery of a new particle resembling the long-awaited Higgs boson. Following the start-up of the LHC, UK physics student numbers have been rising, just as they did in the US following the Apollo moon landings. The ‘Higgs Legacy’ would be analogous to the expected ‘Olympics Legacy’, and it is encouraging that CERN, the LHC and the Higgs boson were referenced in both the Olympic and Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. Physics is currently very much in the public eye, and now is the time build on this interest.
Scientists shed light on glowing materials
Researchers at King's College London, in collaboration with European research institutes ICFO (Barcelona) and AMOLF (Amsterdam), have succeeded in mapping how light behaves in complex photonic materials inspired by nature, like iridescent butterfly wings.
Higgs boson discovery at CERN.
- John Ellis, Professor of Theoretical Physics at King's, has today joined his colleagues in CERN as they reveal compelling evidence that they have discovered a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.
- Further details can be found on the news page.
We are proud to announce that John Ellis has been awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to science and technology.
The Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has made the following statement: Professor John Ellis, formerly of CERN and a member of STFC’s Science Board, who is now Clerk Maxwell Professor of Theoretical Physics at King's College London, has received a CBE for services to science and technology. Professor Ellis is considered one of the UK’s most influential and eminent particle physicists of the modern era. He has been hugely influential in setting CERN’s strategic direction over recent decades and, as an advocate and supporter of new-generation accelerators, including the Large Hadron Collider, he has provided an important bridge between the experimental and theoretical domains. John’s activities at CERN have been wide-ranging and he is widely admired for his determined efforts to involve non-European nations in CERN’s scientific activities, helping to underpin the truly international character of CERN.
Professor Ellis said ’This is an honour for UK particle physics and recognition of the country's ongoing effort, at CERN and elsewhere, to understand the fundamental physics of the Universe’
Sergi Garcia-Manyes has been awarded the 2012 SBE Prize of the Sociedad de Biofísica de España, the Spanish Biophysical Society.
January 2012, Was Einstein wrong?
The world of physics was shaken in 2011 when the OPERA Collaboration reported that neutrinos may travel faster than light. King’s College physicists are in the forefront of attempts to understand this possible effect, and are involving King’s students in this effort.
If the OPERA result is confirmed, Einstein’s special theory of relativity must be modified in some way, a possibility that King’s physicists have been considering for several years. Any such modification of Einstein’s theory is strongly constrained by astrophysical observations, as also pointed out by King’s physicists. The jury is still out on the questions whether OPERA or Einstein was wrong.
Undergraduate students at King’s are now working with John Ellis (Clerk Maxwell Professor in the King’s Physics Department) and his colleagues Dr Jean Alexandre and Prof. Nikolaos Mavromatos to understand the possible implications of the OPERA result.
For a recent BBC TV interview with John Ellis on OPERA neutrinos (and the Higgs boson), see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/9661986.stm
The King’s Physics Department recently hosted a meeting discussing the OPERA results and its possible interpretation.
For recent highly-cited scientific papers on the OPERA result by King’s physicists, see http://arXiv.org/pdf/1109.4980 and http://arXiv.org/pdf/1109.6296.
13 December 2011
On 14 December King's College Senior Lecturer, Malcolm Fairbairn, appeared in the Daily Telegraph online to explain the significance of work at CERN on the Higgs Boson. To see Dr Fairbairn's contribution go to
The excellent performance of the LHC project makes it possible, for the first time, to determine whether the Higgs boson really exists. On Tuesday Dec. 13th from 1pm to 3pm London time there will be a special seminar at CERN to report the latest experimental results.
The King’s Physics Department is arranging for interested students and staff to watch this historic seminar via a webcast.
Members of the Theoretical Particle Physics and Cosmology (TPPC) Group in the King’s Physics Department do active research on the Higgs boson: Prof. John Ellis makes theoretical studies of its possible properties, Dr Bobby Acharya is a member of the ATLAS Collaboration that is searching for the Higgs boson, and Dr Jean Alexandre and Prof. Nick Mavromatos consider alternatives to the Higgs theory.
19 October 2011
Physics PhD student Joseph Bamidele won the 3rd place poster prize at the School Third year Poster Competition held on 19 October 2011.
19 October 2011
Prof. John Ellis featured on the BBC2 programme Faster Than the Speed of Light? Have scientists at the LHC discovered particles which challenge the theory of relativity? The programme was shown at 9pm on 19 October
26 September 2011
A touch of gold makes glass more see through
Physicists at King’s have discovered a means of making glass more transparent - by coating it in a thin layer of gold.
Full details of this research can be found at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/news/newsrecords/2011/09September/A-touch-of-gold-makes-glass-more-see-through.aspx
Physics PhD student wins a poster prize at the National Physical Laboratory
PhD student Linden Webster won a poster prize at the Nano Meets Spectroscopy meeting at the National Physical Laboratory, 15-16 September 2011. Her poster was entitled "Single Nanoparticle Enhanced Fluorescence", and Prof Joseph Lakowicz from the University of Maryland, USA, presented the prize to Linden.
8 June 2011
Physics Research Student Wins the Tadion Rideal Prize Physics alumnus
Manuela Mura won the prize (worth up to £1000) for her thesis entitled: ‘Theoretical characterisation of STM images of assemblies of flat organic molecules on metal surfaces’ supervised by Professor Lev Kantorovich.
30 May 2011
Rosalind Franklin features on the BBC's One Show
Rosalind Franklin, famous for her pioneering work on DNA while working in the Physics Department at King's, was featured on The One Show on BBC1 on 30 May.
Filmed on the Strand Campus, in the actual laboratory where Franklin worked - a lab still used by the Physics Department - the film examines Franklin's pivotal contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA.
The piece is still available to view on BBC iPlayer by following this link:
17 May 2011
Maxwell at King’s
On 17 May the Department of Physics began a series of events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of James Clerk Maxwell's great achievements while at King's from 1861-65.
The event on 17 May highlighted Maxwell's successful attempt to produce the world's first colour photograph. For anyone interested but who could not attend on the day, you can read all about Maxwell and colour in a BBC article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/13411083 or in New Scientist at http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/05/happy-birthday-colour.html
On 19 May Dr Malcolm Fairbairn, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics explains Maxwell's achievement on BBC Radio Four's Material World - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio/bbc_radio_four/20110519
And for Russian speakers, Professor Anatoly Zayats, head of the Experimental Biophysics & Nanotechnology research group has recently given an interview on Russian television all about James Clerk Maxwell. See: http://www.1tv.ru/news/world/176684
King's scientists developing remote bomb detection sensors
Scientists from the Department of Physics are embarking on an EU-funded project to develop a network of state of the art sensors capable of detecting hidden explosives. The King’s team, led by Professor Anatoly Zayats and involving Professor David Richards and Dr Gregory Wurtz from the Department of Physics will be working with colleagues across Europe, with €4 million split between 12 teams for a four year project. The partnership, led by Italian National Agency for New Technologies, involves scientists from Queen's University of Belfast and a number of other European centres and companies, including the Scientific Police Institute at the University of Lausanne and the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation. The consortium represents the entire chain from basic research to field deployment, in order to guarantee that the networks can be used by security services as soon as they are built.
The sensors will work by detecting the chemical traces of explosive vapours in the air in order to provide early warning to security services and protect vulnerable urban populations from the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), often used by terrorist organizations. Professor Zayats and his team will be focusing on a technique called Raman scattering, which involves using lasers to identify the chemical fingerprints of explosives in the air. This technique detects tiny changes in the colour of light when it interacts with molecules.
Describing the technique, Zayats explains that ‘If you shine a laser on to a molecule, you can measure the Raman response,’ said Zayats. ‘At the moment we can do this right down to a single molecule, but the signal strength is too weak for applications outside the research lab.’ The team will employ metal nanostructures in order to enhance the signal, so eventually a sensor can be developed to warn when the concentration of key chemicals in the air reaches a certain threshold.
Professor Zayats hopes that once the network is fully developed, security forces will be able to identify a bomb inside a building or vehicle by sensors monitoring the chemical composition of molecules in the air outside. The sensors, specifically designed to be sensitive and easily hidden, could also be installed in a network to protect high profile public buildings, so as to provide an early warning for police if any traces of explosives are detected. ‘Once the project is finished it will require minimum effort to make it available to the police and security agencies,’ said Professor Zayats.
The contribution from the Department of Physics, together with a variety of other detection devices being developed across Europe, will enable a broad spectrum of chemicals to be picked up and also prevent false alarms.
‘This project is a perfect example of how the academic and commercial partnership can efficiently use new technologies to make the world a safer place for everyone,' said Professor Zayats. 'We are very excited that our research into nanostructures can contribute to this.’
- Local schools visit Department of Physics
Two groups of Year Twelve pupils from Preston Manor High School, Wembley and William Ellis School, Highgate visited the Department of Physics on Tuesday 22nd March. Organised by three third-year Physics students, Claudio Emma, Siddharth Mehta and James Hayes, the day offered pupils a taster of student life within the Physics Department at King's. The day included a campus tour, thought-provoking lecture from Dr Malcom Fairbairn on Dark Matter and an inspiring talk about student life from Chris Tuckley, President of the Maxwell Society. The pupils were also given the opportunity to experience Physics at King's during a lab session on the Waterloo campus, conducting experiments related to CD diffraction and finding the viscosity of caster oil. Feedback from the pupils was very positive and we hope that the visit will have encouraged the pupils to consider a Physics degree at King's.
The day's organisers have been participating in the University Ambassador Scheme, a nationwide scheme designed to allow undergraduates to gain valuable transferable skills whilst exploring the teaching profession first hand by spending a ten week placement at a local secondary school. In return the pupils receive an enthusiastic role model for pursuing Physics beyond the School and an opportunity to find out more about university life. This year the Physics department have ten undergraduates participating in the Scheme, all of whom have done an excellent job in raising the profile of STEM subjects at university.