Department of physics cambridge

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Department of Physics, University of Cambridge

Training future generations of physical scientists continues to be a central pillar of the Cavendish’s programme. The Laboratory attracts large numbers of the brightest young scientists from the UK and overseas at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Address :

Department of Physics, Cavenish Laboratory JJ Thomson Avenue Cambridge

Post Code: CB3 0HE

Country: United Kingdom


Membership Type: Cambridge University Department

The Department operates on a devolved research basis, based upon a Research Group structure. Each Research Group has its own culture and strategy matched to the cutting edge of contemporary science in that area.  Collaborative projects between groups are strongly encouraged. 

The Research Group structure evolves over time in response to changing priorities and opportunities.

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Graduate Student orientation - August
Welcome, G1 physics students !

Academic Life in Cambridge and Boston
Harvard University's physics students are welcomed into an environment which is internationally renowned for its faculty, resources, and research initiatives. Commensurate with the academic surroundings are the outstanding cultural and recreational options available in the historic cities of Cambridge and Boston, which have been thriving on the banks of the Charles River for more than years.

Students can relax on the grass of the Cambridge Common, where George Washington took command of the Continental Army, or stroll the narrow streets around Harvard Square, where bookstores, restaurants and shops buzz with activity while street musicians and performers entertain those passing by.

On the other side of the Charles, the Boston Freedom Trail takes walkers through early American history, winding its way around landmarks from the days of the American Revolution, such as the Old South Meeting House in which the Boston Tea Party was planned, the Old State House where the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, and the "Cradle of Liberty", Faneuil Hall.

Cultural and entertainment opportunities are bountiful around Cambridge and Boston, from world-class orchestras, theaters, museums, and festivals, to professional sports of every stripe, to an endless variety of popular entertainment venues, superb dining, clubs, galleries, lectures, and screenings of rare films.

The natural environment of the Atlantic coast offers unlimited choices for recreation and relaxation. To the south are the magnificent beaches of Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard, and to the north sprawl the mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, popular with hikers and skiers. Picturesque towns like Marblehead and Kennebunkport hug the rugged seacoast and provide excellent destinations for weekend getaways. Greater Boston is home to at least six major research universities. Harvard students can benefit in many ways from the area's rich academic atmosphere by taking part in the many seminars, colloquia, and inter-university collaborations that happen on a regular basis throughout the year. Harvard students may also cross-register for classes at MIT, which is 20 minutes away from Harvard by bus or subway.

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Cavendish Laboratory

Physics Department of the University of Cambridge

The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the School of Physical Sciences. The laboratory was opened in on the New Museums Site as a laboratory for experimental physics and is named after the British chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish. The laboratory has had a huge influence on research in the disciplines of physics and biology.

The laboratory moved to its present site in West Cambridge in

As of [update], 30 Cavendish researchers have won Nobel Prizes.[2] Notable discoveries to have occurred at the Cavendish Laboratory include the discovery of the electron, neutron, and structure of DNA.


Sir Ernest Rutherford's physics laboratory- early 20th century

The Cavendish Laboratory was initially located on the New Museums Site, Free School Lane, in the centre of Cambridge. It is named after British chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish[3][4] for contributions to science[5] and his relative William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire, who served as chancellor of the university and donated funds for the construction of the laboratory.[6]

Professor James Clerk Maxwell, the developer of electromagnetic theory, was a founder of the laboratory and the first Cavendish Professor of Physics.[7] The Duke of Devonshire had given to Maxwell, as head of the laboratory, the manuscripts of Henry Cavendish's unpublished Electrical Works. The editing and publishing of these was Maxwell's main scientific work while he was at the laboratory. Cavendish's work aroused Maxwell's intense admiration and he decided to call the Laboratory (formerly known as the Devonshire Laboratory) the Cavendish Laboratory and thus to commemorate both the Duke and Henry Cavendish.[8][9]


Several important early physics discoveries were made here, including the discovery of the electron by J.J. Thomson () the Townsend discharge by John Sealy Townsend, and the development of the cloud chamber by C.T.R. Wilson.

Ernest Rutherford became Director of the Cavendish Laboratory in Under his leadership the neutron was discovered by James Chadwick in , and in the same year the first experiment to split the nucleus in a fully controlled manner was performed by students working under his direction; John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton.

Physical chemistry[edit]

Physical Chemistry (originally the department of Colloid Science led by Eric Rideal) had left the old Cavendish site, subsequently locating as the Department of Physical Chemistry (under RG Norrish) in the then new chemistry building with the Department of Chemistry (led by Lord Todd) in Lensfield Road: both chemistry departments merged in the s.

Nuclear physics[edit]

In World War II the laboratory carried out research for the MAUD Committee, part of the British Tube Alloys project of research into the atomic bomb. Researchers included Nicholas Kemmer, Alan Nunn May, Anthony French, Samuel Curran and the French scientists including Lew Kowarski and Hans von Halban. Several transferred to Canada in ; the Montreal Laboratory and some later to the Chalk River Laboratories. The production of plutonium and neptunium by bombarding uranium with neutrons was predicted in by two teams working independently: Egon Bretscher and Norman Feather at the Cavendish and Edwin M. McMillan and Philip Abelson at Berkeley Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.


The Cavendish Laboratory has had an important influence on biology, mainly through the application of X-ray crystallography to the study of structures of biological molecules. Francis Crick already worked in the Medical Research Council Unit, headed by Max Perutz[10][11] and housed in the Cavendish Laboratory, when James Watson came from the United States and they made a breakthrough in discovering the structure of DNA. For their work while in the Cavendish Laboratory, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in , together with Maurice Wilkins of King's College London, himself a graduate of St. John's College, Cambridge.

The discovery was made on 28 February ; the first Watson/Crick paper appeared in Nature on 25 April Sir Lawrence Bragg, the director of the Cavendish Laboratory, where Watson and Crick worked, gave a talk at Guy's Hospital Medical School in London on Thursday 14 May which resulted in an article by Ritchie Calder in the News Chronicle of London, on Friday 15 May , entitled "Why You Are You. Nearer Secret of Life." The news reached readers of The New York Times the next day; Victor K. McElheny, in researching his biography, Watson and DNA: Making a Scientific Revolution, found a clipping of a six-paragraph New York Times article written from London and dated 16 May with the headline "Form of `Life Unit' in Cell Is Scanned." The article ran in an early edition and was then pulled to make space for news deemed more important. (The New York Times subsequently ran a longer article on 12 June ). The Cambridge University undergraduate newspaper Varsity also ran its own short article on the discovery on Saturday 30 May Bragg's original announcement of the discovery at a Solvay Conference on proteins in Belgium on 8 April went unreported by the British press.

Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Dorothy Hodgkin, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl M. Oughton, were some of the first people in April to see the model of the structure of DNA, constructed by Crick and Watson; at the time they were working at the University of Oxford's Chemistry Department. All were impressed by the new DNA model, especially Brenner who subsequently worked with Crick at Cambridge in the Cavendish Laboratory and the new Laboratory of Molecular Biology. According to the late Dr. Beryl Oughton, later Rimmer, they all travelled together in two cars once Dorothy Hodgkin announced to them that they were off to Cambridge to see the model of the structure of DNA.[12] Orgel also later worked with Crick at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Present site[edit]

Southern aspect of the laboratory at its current site, viewed from across 'Payne's Pond'
The third iteration of the Cavendish Laboratory under construction in on its new site at JJ Thomson Avenue

Due to overcrowding in the old buildings, it moved to its present site in West Cambridge in the early s.[13] It is due to move again to a third site currently under construction in West Cambridge.[14]

Nobel Laureates at the Cavendish[edit]

  1. John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (Physics, )
  2. Sir J. J. Thomson (Physics, )
  3. Ernest Rutherford (Chemistry, )
  4. Sir William Lawrence Bragg (Physics, )
  5. Charles Glover Barkla (Physics, )
  6. Francis William Aston (Chemistry, )
  7. Charles Thomson Rees Wilson[15] (Physics, )
  8. Arthur Compton (Physics, )
  9. Sir Owen Willans Richardson (Physics, )
  10. Sir James Chadwick (Physics, )
  11. Sir George Paget Thomson[16] (Physics, )
  12. Sir Edward Victor Appleton (Physics, )
  13. Patrick Blackett, Baron Blackett (Physics, )
  14. Sir John Cockcroft[17] (Physics, )
  15. Ernest Walton (Physics, )
  16. Francis Crick (Physiology or Medicine, )
  17. James Watson (Physiology or Medicine, )
  18. Max Perutz (Chemistry, )
  19. Sir John Kendrew (Chemistry, )
  20. Dorothy Hodgkin[18] (Chemistry, )
  21. Brian Josephson (Physics, )
  22. Sir Martin Ryle (Physics, )
  23. Antony Hewish (Physics, )
  24. Sir Nevill Francis Mott (Physics, )
  25. Philip Warren Anderson (Physics, )
  26. Pyotr Kapitsa (Physics, )
  27. Allan McLeod Cormack (Physiology or Medicine, )
  28. Mohammad Abdus Salam (Physics, )
  29. Sir Aaron Klug[19] (Chemistry, )
  30. Didier Queloz (Physics, )

Cavendish Professors of Physics[edit]

Main article: Cavendish Professor of Physics

The Cavendish Professors were the heads of the department until the tenure of Sir Brian Pippard, during which period the roles separated.

Heads of department[edit]

Cavendish Groups[edit]

Areas in which the Laboratory has been influential include:-

Cavendish staff[edit]

As of [update] the laboratory is headed by Andy Parker [1] and the Cavendish Professor of Physics is Sir Richard Friend.[22]

Notable senior academic staff[edit]

As of [update] senior academic staff (Professors or Readers) include:[34]

  1. Jeremy Baumberg FRS, Professor of Nanoscience and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge
  2. Jacqui Cole, Professor of Molecular Engineering
  3. Athene Donald FRS, Professor of Experimental Physics, Master of Churchill College, Cambridge
  4. Sir Richard Friend FRS, FREng, Cavendish Professor of Physics and Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge
  5. Stephen Gull, University Professor of Physics
  6. Sir Michael Pepper FRS, Kt, Honorary Professor of Pharmaceutical Science in the University of Otago, New Zealand
  7. Didier Queloz, professor at the Battcock Centre for Experimental Astrophysics
  8. James Floyd Scott FRS, professor and director of research
  9. Ben Simons, Herchel Smith Professor of Physics
  10. Henning Sirringhaus, FRS, Hitachi Professor of Electron Device Physics and head of Microelectronics and Optoelectronics Group
  11. Sarah Teichmann, principal research associate and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge

Notable emeritus professors[edit]

The Cavendish is home to a number of emeritus scientists, pursuing their research interests in the laboratory after their formal retirement.[34]

  1. Mick Brown FRS, emeritus professor
  2. Volker Heine, FRS, emeritus professor
  3. Brian Josephson, FRS, emeritus professor
  4. Archibald Howie, FRS, emeritus professor
  5. Malcolm Longair, CBE, FRS, FRSE, Emeritus Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy
  6. Gil Lonzarich, FRS Emeritus Professor of Condensed Matter Physics and professorial fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge
  7. Bryan Webber, FRS Emeritus Professor of Theoretical High Energy Physics and professorial fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Other notable alumni[edit]

Besides the Nobel Laureates, the Cavendish has many distinguished alumni including:


  1. ^ ab"Andy Parker FInstP, CPhys, Professor of High Energy Physics". University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on
  2. ^"Nobel Prize Winners who have worked for considerable periods of time at the Cavendish Laboratory". Archived from the original on
  3. ^"The History of the Cavendish". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 17 August
  4. ^"A history of the Cavendish laboratory, ".
  5. ^"Professor and Laboratory "Archived at the Wayback Machine, Cambridge University
  6. ^The Times, 4 November , p. 8
  7. ^Dennis Moralee, "Maxwell's Cavendish"Archived at the Wayback Machine, from the booklet "A Hundred Years and More of Cambridge Physics"
  8. ^"James Clerk Maxwell"Archived at the Wayback Machine, Cambridge University
  9. ^"Austin Wing of the Cavendish Laboratory". Archived from the original on
  10. ^Blow, D. M. (). "Max Ferdinand Perutz OM CH CBE. 19 May - 6 February Elected F.R.S. ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 50: – doi/rsbm JSTOR&#; PMID&#;
  11. ^Fersht, A. R. (). "Max Ferdinand Perutz OM FRS". Nature Structural Biology. 9 (4): – doi/nsb PMID&#;
  12. ^Olby, Robert, Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, , Chapter 10, p. ISBN&#;
  13. ^"West Cambridge Site Location of the Cavendish Laboratory on the University map".
  14. ^"Cavendish III — Department of Physics". Archived from the original on Retrieved
  15. ^Blackett, P. M. S. (). "Charles Thomson Rees Wilson ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society. 6: – doi/rsbm
  16. ^Moon, P. B. (). "George Paget Thomson 3 May -- 10 September ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 23: doi/rsbm
  17. ^Oliphant, M. L. E.; Penney, L. (). "John Douglas Cockcroft. ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 14: doi/rsbm
  18. ^Dodson, Guy (). "Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, O.M. 12 May - 29 July ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 48: – doi/rsbm
  19. ^Amos, L.; Finch, J. T. (). "Aaron Klug and the revolution in biomolecular structure determination". Trends in Cell Biology. 14 (3): – doi/j.tcb PMID&#;
  20. ^O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "John William Strutt", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews
  21. ^ abLongair, M. S.; Waldram, J. R. (). "Sir Alfred Brian Pippard. 7 September -- 21 September ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 55: – doi/rsbm
  22. ^ ab"FRIEND, Sir Richard (Henry)". Who's Who. (online Oxford University Press&#;ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.(subscription or UK public library membership required)(subscription required)
  23. ^"Quantum Matter group".
  24. ^Gilbert George Lonzarich's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  25. ^"Theory of Condensed Matter group".
  26. ^"Electron Microscopy Group".
  27. ^Graham-Smith, F. (). "Martin Ryle. 27 September October ". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 32: – doi/rsbm
  28. ^"Semiconductor Physics Group".
  29. ^"AMOP group".
  30. ^"Nanophotonics Group".
  31. ^"Structure and Dynamics Group". Archived from the original on Retrieved
  32. ^"Laboratory for Scientific Computing".
  33. ^"Biological and Soft Systems".
  34. ^ ab"Academic staff at the Cavendish Laboratory". University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on

Further reading[edit]

  • Longair, Malcolm (). Maxwell's Enduring Legacy: A Scientific History of the Cavendish Laboratory. Cambridge University Press. ISBN&#;.

External links[edit]

Media related to Cavendish Laboratory at Wikimedia Commons


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