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Portsmouth and District Physical Society      

Lecture series: Session 2018-2019

Lectures for the general public interested in science 

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Dark Matter

Justin Read, University of Surrey 

Since its discovery by the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky in the 1930's, dark matter has continued to capture the public imagination.  It raises the velocity of stars and gas in galaxies, bends light around massive galaxy clusters and promotes the growth of structure in the Universe.  In this talk, I will explain the key evidences for dark matter, and our latest theories for what it is.  I will show that the latest data point towards dark matter being some new particle that lies beyond the standard model of particle physics.  If this is correct, then billions of these particles will flow through your head by the time you finish reading this paragraph (without effect thankfully).  This is such a striking thought that it has already inspired many artists and writers, from Cornelia Parker's "Cold Dark Matter" sculpture to Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials".  I conclude with a look to the future and our prospects for detecting or creating such a particle in the next five years.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Understanding thermal runaway in Li-ion batteries

Gareth Hinds, National Physical Laboratory

Joint lecture with the South Central Branch of the Institute of Physics

Thermal runaway of Li-ion batteries is of increasing concern to manufacturers and end users, a point highlighted by the recent Samsung mobile phone fires and the grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner fleet.  As the energy density of such cells increases to cater for emerging markets such as automotive propulsion and grid storage, the effectiveness of battery safety features becomes ever more critical.  The occurrence of just one fatality arising from explosion or fire of a large battery pack would have serious repercussions for this emerging industry.

This presentation will give an overview of a ground-breaking study of thermal runaway in Li-ion battery cells carried out in a successful collaboration between NPL, UCL, NASA, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the European Synchrotron Research Facility (ESRF).  In this work, a combination of high-speed radiography and thermal imaging was used to probe the internal structural dynamics of commercial 18650 Li-ion cells in the moments leading up to thermal runaway.

Use of a novel internal short circuit device allowed for the first time 3D imaging of the initiation and propagation of thermal runaway in real time at a pre-determined location within the cell.  Unprecedented images were obtained of the breakdown of cell components over a timescale of milliseconds, shedding new light on critical degradation mechanisms such as electrolyte decomposition, electrode de-lamination and gas generation.  This new approach shows great promise in informing the design of improved battery safety mechanisms.

Dr Gareth Hinds is NPL Fellow and Science Area Leader in the Electrochemistry Group at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).  His primary expertise is in the development of novel in situ diagnostic techniques and standard test methods for assessment of corrosion and material degradation in energy applications.  Gareth has a strong track record of delivering innovative solutions to engineering problems with demonstrable impact on industry in a range of sectors, including oil and gas, power generation and electrochemical energy conversion and storage.  He is the author of over 150 publications.

Wednesday 12 December 2018             

Christmas Lecture: Looking for life on Mars with the ExoMars 2020 rover

Andrew Coates, Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) University College London

Mars is one of our closest targets in the search for life beyond Earth, with other possibilities being Europa at Jupiter and Enceladus at Saturn.  Mars has changed significantly in the 4.6 billion years since its formation.  About 3.8 billion years ago, Mars had significant volcanism, a magnetic field, water on the surface and a thick atmosphere – at a time when life was starting on its closest planetary neighbour, the Earth.  Mars now is cold and dry, and has a thin carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, with a harsh surface environment unprotected by a global magnetic field.  Using results from recent Mars missions, including NASA’s current Curiosity rover, we will look at the difference between Mars 3.8 billion years ago and now, and the prospects for life there.  We discuss current and future missions to Mars, and in particular ESA’s ExoMars rover and its objectives.  We will describe the UK's key roles in the science instruments, where we lead the PanCam instrument and are building part of the Raman spectrometer, and on the industrial side where the UK is building the rover system.  This will drill up to 2m under the harsh Martian surface for the first time, to search for signs of past or even present life. 

Professor Andrew Coates gained a BSc in Physics from UMIST in 1978, and MSc (1979) and D.Phil. (1982) in plasma physics from Oxford University.  He has been at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) since 1982, with temporary guest positions at Max Planck Institute for Solar System Physics (Germany), University of Delaware (USA) and the BBC World service (media fellowship).  He is now Deputy Director (solar system) at UCL-MSSL.  Space mission involvements include the ExoMars 2020 rover where he is PI for the PanCam instrument (the scientific 'eyes' of the rover), Cassini, where he led the electron spectrometer team (part of the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer), Venus Express, Mars Express and Giotto.  Scientific interests include plasma interactions with planets and comets, planetary surfaces and space instrumentation; he has authored and co-authored over 500 publications, including over 380 refereed.  He is active in space and science outreach.

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Quantum Physics and Quantum Engineering - aspects of a new technological era

Phillip Meeson, Royal Holloway, University of London

Professor Phil Meeson is a physicist whose research focuses on understanding and engineering superconducting quantum devices.  Fundamental and universal, quantum physics has been, in the century since its discovery, more thoroughly explored and more precisely tested than any other physical law.  It stands as a shining beacon of human achievement resisting all attempts to undermine it and yet, even as we begin now to engineer useful devices operating on quantum principles, the field remains hugely enigmatic.  Phil will demonstrate the famous single-photon double-slit experiment as an introduction to the topic and discuss some of the hopes and achievements of the field of superconducting quantum engineering.

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Imaging human physiology in-vivo using Nuclear Medicine

John Dickson, University College London Hospitals

Joint lecture with the South Central Branch of the Institute of Physics

X-ray, CT and MRI are well known and heavily used modalities in medical imaging.  However, their use is typically restricted to imaging human anatomy to determine the presence or absence of features in the body.  Conversely, the modality of Nuclear Medicine offers the ability to image human physiology in-vivo by using radioactively labelled drugs to help assess the functionality of organs and tissues.  However, unlike X-ray, CT and MRI, very little about nuclear medicine is known in the wider community.

In this talk, the processes and technology behind nuclear medicine imaging will be presented, together with its development from relatively simplistic instrumentation to complex modern systems costing up to several million pounds.  Examples will be given on how nuclear medicine can help us understand and ultimately treat various medical conditions.  The manner in which the technology helps compliment standard anatomical imaging will also be discussed.

John Dickson Ph.D. is Head of Clinical Nuclear Medicine Physics at University College London Hospitals and is an honorary associate professor with University College London.  He has over 20 years’ experience in clinical nuclear medicine physics, while his research interests are in the use of medical imaging to quantify and understand physiological processes – with a particular focus on the brain.  In addition to his clinical and research pursuits, John is a keen educator, helping set-up and improve nuclear medicine services in the UK and abroad.

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Organic Semiconductors and their Applications

Sebastian Wood, National Physical Laboratory

Joint lecture with IET Solent Young Professionals

For the last 50 years progress in electronics has been based on inorganic semiconductors, primarily silicon.  We’ve seen amazing developments in consumer electronics, but there are some fundamental limitations to what can be achieved using inorganic semiconductors: they are hard, brittle materials, and require expensive processing equipment.  In contrast, organic semiconductors (carbon-based molecules with semiconducting properties) offer a completely new paradigm for electronics where semiconductors can be printed onto any surface to make flexible, robust, and lightweight electronics using simple techniques. 

A wide range of exciting applications for organic semiconductors have recently been demonstrated in research laboratories around the world: flexible solar panels, wearable sensors, smart packaging, novel medical devices, and many more.  However, attempts to scale-up production of these technologies for commercialisation have been largely unsuccessful.  The difficulty is that the electronic performance of organic semiconductors is extremely sensitive to their processing conditions.  Overcoming this problem relies on having accurate ways to measure the properties of organic semiconductors, which we have been developing at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).  I will explain how precise measurements at the nanometre-scale will help to get organic semiconductors out of universities and into everyday use.

Sebastian Wood is an active research scientist at NPL in the field of printable and novel electronic devices, with a focus on developing new experimental techniques for characterising nanomaterials.  He works closely with both academia and industry to overcome measurement challenges with important economic and social impact.  NPL is the UK’s National Measurement Institute, and is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology.



Meetings will be held at 7.00pm in Lecture Theatre 1, Richmond Building, University of Portsmouth, Portland Street, Portsmouth PO1 3DE, by kind permission of the Vice-Chancellor and Governors of the University.

Please be seated by 6.55pm.


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