In 2014, Photonics21 published a “multiannual strategic roadmap”, setting out a strategy for European photonics to solve the grand societal challenges and to generate sustainable economic growth in Europe. On a practical level, this document outlined priorities for Horizon2020 funding calls between 2014 and 2020. Photonics21 has continued to refine and update this priorities and propose call topics to the European Commission since then. On the 1st and 2nd March this year, the Photonics21 annual meeting kicked off the process to propose the final photonics calls of Horizon2020, with SUPA and the UK photonics community very much involved.

Recognising the importance of European funding for Scotland’s universities and their industrial partners, the Scottish Funding Council has provided funding, known as PEER, to allow SUPA to compete for EU monies. The funding can be used to provide consultant support for proposals, and to travel for pre-proposal consortium meetings and networking events. Working with the UK Photonics Leadership Group, SUPA made strategic use of the funds for the Photonics21 meeting to ensure that the 7 different Photonics21 Work Groups were covered, and to allow SUPA academics to gain experience of the process by which calls are developed.

The Ultra-low vibration (ULV) labs in St Andrews are the most advanced of its kind in the UK and one of just a handful worldwide. The facility achieves vibration levels which are about two order of magnitude better than the best industry standard. They will allow for atomic scale characterization of the electronic states and magnetic structure in quantum materials. Since opening of the facility in May last year, three bespoke scanning tunnelling microscopes, which were developed by the research group of Dr Wahl, have been installed. The microscopes are operating at very low temperatures down to 7mK and in magnetic fields up to 14T, providing an energy resolution up to 10μeV. For characterization of the materials, a metal tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope is brought within a few atomic radii of a surface and held there with a stability on the order of picometers. It is this stability, which is required over extended periods of time, which necessitates the complex vibration isolation. The research carried out in the facility will aim at understanding unconventional superconductivity in quantum materials. In particular, the group of Dr Peter Wahl has, using these instruments, recently succeeded in imaging the magnetic structure of quantum materials at the atomic scale.

Dr Francisco J Perez Reche, of the Institute for Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology has recently published work in on models inspired by statistical physics to explain explosive social contagion (why things go viral) which has been enthusiastically picked up by the media following the University of Aberdeen’s press release: (

Dr Perez-Reche told us: Some ideas or products are accepted just because they are very convenient. In contrast, other phenomena might not be too appealing at first sight but they end up being accepted by many people overnight. The model suggests that the initial reticence of acquaintances is a key factor for social phenomena to become explosively viral.

Are your friends hesitant to accept an idea? Be ready… it could suddenly catch on!

I'm an STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellow working in galaxy evolution and observational cosmology at the School of Physics and Astronomy in St Andrews. I did my undergraduate and PhD at Edinburgh, after which I moved to Portsmouth as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation for 5.5 years. I moved back to Scotland in March 2014 when I took up my current fellowship in St Andrews.

I remember that as I filled in the application form it became clearer and clearer in my mind that I didn’t have much of a hope in receiving the award. But the format of the application is actually quite useful, and similar to applications for other prizes in that it invites you to review significant achievements to date separately to the more typical research proposal. Aware that practice makes perfect, and frankly desperate for some extra research money, I carried on regardless (with, I remember it well, a sick child on my shoulder the whole time). I was delighted to be shortlisted and that boosted my confidence enormously. The interview day, at the Royal Society in London, was a lot of fun in spite of my initial reservations.

Since passing on the SUPA baton to Alan in May I seem to have been busier than ever, mainly in the area of contributing to international planning for the future of the gravitational wave field but also in helping with the preparation of our collaborative consortium grant application to STFC and spending time - but not enough yet - in the lab with our graduate students, with me being taught how to do experimental research in the computer automated era.

So I am back to my old area of helping to measure mechanical loss, and am learning about how to measure thermal conductivities of bonded silicon elements at cryogenic temperatures, as well as solving wave equations for determining the elastic moduli of thin silicate bonds using ultrasonics.

This lab activity is real fun, at least for me – not sure about how the grad students find it (: .

The CM-CDT is a doctoral training partnership between SUPA Condensed Matter physics activities at St Andrews, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities. The CM-CDT has a threefold purpose: to provide students with a rigorous, broad graduate education across the spectrum of Condensed Matter Physics; to train them in skills that equip them for the workplace, be it industrial or academic; and to foster a vibrant, diverse research environment for their PhD projects.  This endeavor is supported by EPSRC, University, Scottish Funding Council and other funding sources.


 SUPA physicists have had pivotal roles during the first year of operations of the LHC detectors during Run 2, at 13 TeV proton-proton collision centre-of-mass energies. After the discovery of the Higgs boson, the main goals have been to characterise the main Standard Model processes at 13 TeV and to search for phenomena beyond the Standard Model. There was great excitement on 15 December 2015 when ATLAS and CMS presented their preliminary results from the 2015 data taking at a CERN seminar*, in which both experiments observe an unexpected excess in the two-photon resonant channel at around 750 GeV. The ATLAS and CMS results are consistent with a 3.6 sigma and 2.6 sigma excess, respectively (see for example Figure 1). When one looks in a wider mass window (the “look-elsewhere effect”), the global significance of the excess is smaller (2.0 sigma and 1.2 sigma for ATLAS and CMS). While the theoretical community is very excited at the prospects for new physics beyond the Standard Model, the experiments are cautiously suggesting that we should wait for the 2016 results to check whether this is a statistical fluctuation or not. 



Calling on Scotland’s brightest ideas

Scotland’s leading company creation competition and start up development programme for students, graduates and staff from the country’s universities and research institutes is today (Monday 8 February) launching its 2016 programme – its biggest to date with new partnerships and a new award to attract a wider range of applicants.

In a recent publication in Nature Physics [Gonzalez-Izquierdo et al,], a team of researchers led by Prof. Paul McKenna have discovered that diffraction of ultra-intense laser light passing through a normally opaque plasma can be used to control charged particle motion. The results have potentially important implications in the development of laser-driven particle accelerators and radiation sources (which rely on controlling the motion of plasma electrons displaced by the intense laser fields) and for the investigation of aspects of laboratory astrophysics.

SUPA continues to be proud to support a range of Distinguished and International Visitors and Events. In the last year, we have supported visits by:

We were delighted to hear that Cait MacPhee, Professor of Biological Physics at the University of Edinburgh, was recognised in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list with a CBE for services to Women in Physics.   Cait is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Society of Biology, and is a member of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland. Her core interests are on protein self-assembly and intrinsically disordered proteins.  Much of her research is industry focussed and she is part of the management committee of the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership whose aim is to advance and innovate formulation and complex fluid design and processes. Additional interests include Astrobiology and the origins of life, the challenges of interdisciplinarity and overcoming the challenges and barriers to women in STEM fields.   

Again in 2014/15, we were delighted to be able to offer funding for some of our brightest and best PhD students, Postdocs and Early Career Researchers to visit partner institutions around the world to undertake collaborative research and experiments. Funding was awarded to SUPA by SFC for this programme for the fourth time in 2014/15, and some of the funded visits were:

Christopher Bryce from University of Strathclyde visited Centre de Recherche sur l’Hetero-Expitaxe ses Applications (CNRS –CHREA) in Valbonne, France to work on a project focused on the growth, fabrication and characterisation of advanced GaN-based nanostructures. While there, Christopher had the opportunity to see the operation of the new generation Metal-Oxide Chemical Vapour-Phase Deposition MOCVD reactor from AIXTRON which CNRS-CHREA had just had installed and to work with a number of researchers there.  Christopher was compare the characterisation systems at CNRS-CRHEA with those he uses in his project at Strathclyde, and not only has he developed his understanding of the semiconductor growth process and how the technology of the reactors affects the wafers produced, but is hopeful of opening up new avenues of research between the two institutions.

IllumiNations, the closing event for the International Year of Light in Scotland too place on the 3rd December at Heriot-Watt University. School children and adult visitors attended a range of science exhibits, a lecture by BBC science communicator Professor Jim Al-¬Khalili and a spectacular science-based light show. SUPA shared a stand with the Institute of Physics and displayed information about IYL activities that had taken place in Scotland during year, and information on Scottish physics more widely.

Back in 2014, recognising the importance of the Year of Light to Scottish physics, and the many links to Scotland, SUPA, together  sought to establish a distinct Scottish contribution to the Year’s activities, as well as playing a role in the UK and global programmes. SUPA, together with IOP Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, made a case to SFC to support a core programme of IYL2015 events in Scotland. SFC’s funding of £50k was more than matched by the SUPA universities, alongside contributions from RSE, M Squared Lasers, the Knowledge Transfer Network, Gas Sensing Solutions and others.

SUPA has recently received a further tranche of funding from the Scottish Funding Council to compete for, and participate in, European funding. The purpose of the funding, known as PEER, is to enable SUPA:

  • to submit applications for European funding under Horizon 2020 and as part of that process
  • to engage and build partnerships with industry, particularly (but not exclusively) Scottish SMEs
  • to establish network connections, showcase skills and capabilities and participate in specific networking activities

SUPA PEER funding is available to support applications to current and future EU funding calls. This might include funding specialist consultants, finding company partners to join consortia, funding academic travel for consortium or networking meetings, or other relevant activity.

PEER funding has been successfully used to support pre-proposal consortium meetings across Europe and to attend networking events and call development events such as Photonics 21 meetings. We have also used PEER funding to help pay for consultant support. To date, 50% of proposals using PEER funded consultant support have been successful (versus 14% overall and 20% in the ICT theme).