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Department of Physics

Rochester Lectures

This annual public lecture series honours Professor George Rochester, who came to the institution in the 1950s from the University of Manchester, and whose arrival ushered in a period of sustained growth for the Department of Physics. At Manchester in 1947, Rochester and Butler had discovered so called strange particles – which many regard as one of the biggest discoveries in physics not to be rewarded with a Nobel Prize.


The 2012 Rochester Lecture was given by Professor Alain Aspect (Institut d'Optique, Palaiseau, France) on "From Einstein to Wheeler: wave particle duality for a single photon". The lecture was very well attended and everyone left inspired by an enthusiastic presentation on the nature of light. The Rochester family attended and greatly appreciated the lecture and the audience it attracted. Professor Aspect was impressed with the size and quality of the department and the interest in the lecture.


The 2011 Rochester Lecture took place on Wednesday the 7th December 2011 at 4.30pm in the Appleby Lecture Theatre W103. The talk was given by Prof. Jeremy J. Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre, University of Cambridge.The talk was entitled 'Squeezing light into nanometre cages: putting the nano into photonics'.

Generations of students have been taught that light can be focussed down only as tightly as a spot of order of its wavelength. This several hundred nanometer scale limit would imply that nano-scale active elements cannot interact strongly with light. However this turns out to be untrue, and we are able to demonstrate the localisation of light tighter than 1nm. This has two principal benefits: spectroscopy can be used to probe such nano-scale architectures containing individual objects, and light can be concentrated to high intensity in ultra-small volumes. Both these have utility in a variety of new applications, which open up other areas of science.

Image of Sylvia Rochester, Prof Richard Abram, Tony Rochester, David Sills, Prof. Jeremy Baumberg FRS, Alastair Edge, Dorothy Sills, Prof Martin Ward.

From left: Sylvia Rochester, Prof Richard Abram, Tony Rochester, David Sills, Prof. Jeremy Baumberg FRS, Alastair Edge, Dorothy Sills, Prof Martin Ward.


The 2010 Rochester Lecture took place on Tuesday 15th June 2010 at 16:30pm in the Appleby Lecture Theatre W103. The talk was given by Prof Michael Charlton of Swansea University, Physics Department. The talk was entitled 'Antimatter: From Imagination to Application - and back.

Antimatter was predicted and discovered in the 1930's. The positron, the antimatter counterpart to the electron, has since numerous applications in material science, engineering and medicine, making use of its annihilation with electrons.

Recently, Physicists have learnt how to create atoms of antihydrogen under controlled conditions in a vacuum. These experiments were discribed as well as the motivation for undertaking them. This involved one of natures great conundrums: the absence of bulk antimatter in the current epoch of the universe.

(from left - right) David Sills, Sir Arnold Wolfendale, Dorothy Sills, Prof Charles Adams, Prof Michael Charlton, Prof Martin Ward, Tony Rochester, Dr Alistair Edge, Prof David Flower, Dorothy Rochester and Dr Gordon Love


The 2009 Rochester Lecture took place on Thursday 7th May 2009, 4.30pm CLC 202 of the Calman Learning Centre. It was given by Prof. Wilson Poon, EPSRC Senior Research Fellow, Professor of Condensed Matter Physics and Director of Research in School of Physics at the University of Edinburgh/SUPA. The talk was entitled 'It's a bug's life: a survey of the physics of bacteria'  

Bacteria are the `quanta' of biology - there are no known free-living organisms today smaller than the individual bacterium. In this lecture, Professor Wilson Poon argued that if physicists followed their usual methodology, the physics of life should have the study of bacteria as one of its main foci. He surveyed the life of bugs from a physics point of view, and showed how 'bug physics' not only gives unique insights into a technologically and medically important class of organisms, but also raises fascinating fundamental questions concerning the origins and evolution of life as we know it.

(Front, left to right): Richard Abram, George Rochester's daughter Dorothy and son Tony, Professor Wilson Poon, Molly Corner, David Wagstaff and Derek Corner. (Back, left to right): Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS, Martin Ward, Ian Smail and David Sills


The 2008 Rochester Lecture took place on Thursday 1st May 2008 at 4.30pm in CLC 202 of the Calman Learning Centre. It was given by Professor John Ellis (Theory Division, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland) and was entitled ``Gauguin’s questions in particle physics: Where are we coming from? Where are we now? Where are we going?''

Within particle physics and cosmology Gauguin’s questions may be interpreted as: What is the status of the Standard Model? What physics may lie beyond the Standard Model? What is the ‘Theory of Everything’? What were the early stages of the Big Bang? What is the material content of the Universe today? What is the future of the Universe? In the lecture Professor Ellis highlighted how new facilities and ideas in particle physics and cosmology can shed light on the questions raised by Gaugin.


Professor John Ellis FRS (centre) with George Rochester's son Tony and son-in-law David (next right) and senior members of the Physics Department (Georg Weiglein, Nigel Glover, Richard Abram and Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS)


The 2007 Rochester Lecture took place on Wednesday 25 April 2007 at 4.30pm in W103.  It was given by Professor Sir John Pendry FRS (Imperial College) and was entitled "A Cloak of Invisibility: Harry Potter Does Electromagnetism".

Refractive materials gives us some limited control of light: we can fashion lenses, and construct waveguides, but complete control of light is beyond simple refracting materials.  Ideally we might wish to channel and direct light as we please, just as we might divert the flow of a fluid.  Manipulation of Maxwell's equation shows that we can achieve just that provided we have access to some highly unusual material properties. Metamaterials open the door to this new design paradigm for optics and provide the properties required to give complete control of light.  One potential application would be to steer light around a hidden region, returning it to its original path on the far side. Not only would observers be unaware of the contents of the hidden region, they would not even be aware that something was hidden.  The object would have no shadow.

Professor Sir John Pendry FRS (seated, centre) with Rochester family members (Tony and Sylvia Rochester, David and Dorothy Sills) and senior members of the Physics Department (Richard Abram, Brian Tanner and Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS)


The 2006 lecture took place at 3.00 p.m. on Wednesday 3 May 2006 in CG93 (Scarborough Lecture Theatre). The speaker was Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale FRS (14th Astronomer Royal and Emeritus Professor of Physics at Durham). His title was Time: From Harrison's clocks to the possibility of New Physics.

Time: From Harrison's clocks to the possibility of New Physics

In the eighteenth Century, the brilliant horologist, John Harrison, solved the "Longitude Problem" and effectively won the 1714 Longitude Prize of £20,000. Since then, the accuracy of measuring "time" has improved continuously. An advance occurred 50 years ago with the introduction by Louis Essen of an "atomic clock". Each improvement has led to developments in our physical knowledge. The present accuracy, and that expected soon, leads to the possibility of discovering "New Physics".


The 2005 lecture took place at 4.30 p.m. on Thursday 28 April 2005 in W103 (Applebey Lecture Theatre). The speaker was Professor Sir Michael Berry FRS (Bristol University). His title was Making Light of Mathematics.

Making Light of Mathematics

Many 'mathematical phenomena' find application and sometimes spectacular physical illustration in the physics of light. Concepts such as fractals, catastrophe theory, knots, infinity, zero, and even when 1+1 fails to equal 2, are needed to understand rainbows, twinkling starlight, sparkling seas, and simple experiments on interference, polarization and focusing.

Rochester Lecture



 YearName of lecturer  Institution at time of lectureTitle of lecture 
 2012 Professor Alain Aspect Institut d'Optique, Palaiseau, France From Einstein to Wheeler: wave particle duality for a single photon
 2011 Professor Jeremy J. Baumberg The NanoPhotonics Centre, Cambridge University Squeezing light into nanometre cages: putting the nano into photonics
 2010 Professor Michael Charlton Swansea University Antimatter: From imagination to Application - and back
 2009 Professor Wilson Poon   University of Edinburgh  It's a bug's life: a survey of the physics of bacteria
 2008 Professor John Ellis FRS Theory Division, CERN, Geneva, Switzerland Gauguin's questions in Particle physics: Where are we coming from? Where are we now? Where are we going?


Professor Sir John Pendry, FRS Imperial College A cloak of invisibility: Harry Potter does electromagnetism 
 2006 Professor Sir Arnold Wolfendale, FRS Durham University Time: From Harrison's clocks to the possibility of new physics 
 2005 Professor Sir Michael Berry, FRS  University of Bristol Making light of mathematics
 2004 Dr Monica Grady  Natural History Museum  Cosmic collisions and catastrophes 
 2003 Professor Ed Hinds  Imperial College, London Taming the wild atom 
 2002 Dr Michael Perryman  ESTEC, Netherlands Our galaxy in three dimensions 
 2001 Professor Laurence Krauss Case Western University, USA  Einstein's biggest blunder 
 2000 Professor Tony Hey University of Southampton Feynman, Einstein and quantum computers 
 1999 Professor Richard Friend, FRS  Cambridge University Plastic electronics 
 1998 Professor Peter McClintock  Lancaster University  Liquid helium, superfluidity and the dawn of time 
 1997 Professor Roger Cashmore  University of Oxford  From electrons and strange particles to the depths of the proton 
 1996 Professor Norman Ramsey  Harvard University, Cambridge  Atomic clocks and their applications 
 1995 Professor Frank Close  Rutherford Appleton Laboratory  The search for the seeds of the universe 
 1994 Professor Mario Parrinello IBM Zurich  Molecular dynamics simulations in physics and chemistry
 1993 Professor P Day, FRS  Royal Institution of Great Britain  Molecular chemistry as a route to new physics 
 1992 Professor Jack Steinberger  PPE Division, CERN  A personal view of the evolution of particle physics 
 1991 Professor Sir Nevill Mott, FRS  University of Cambridge  Sixty years of physics 
 1990 Professor A W Wolfendale, FRS  Durham University  Cosmic rays and cosmology 
 1989 Professor J D Jackson  University of Oxford, and Berkeley, California  Muon catalysis for fusion 
 1988 Professor Sir Denys Wilkinson, FRS University of Sussex  The changing atomic nucleus 
 1987 Professor S K Runcorn, FRS  University of Newcastle upon Tyne  The moon - an enigma 
 1986 Professor M Hart, FRS  University of Manchester  Opportunities in the future with synchrotron radiation 
 1985 Professor M J Rees, FRS  Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge  Will the universe expand forever? 
 1984 Dr Garry Hunt  Centre for Remote Sensing, Imperial College  Remote sensing: current activities and technological demands for the future 
 1983 Professor Sir Bernard Lovell, FRS Jodrell Bank Radio astronomy - the way ahead
 1982 Professor D H Perkins, FRS  University of Oxford  Baryon and lepton conservation - the death of a myth?
 1981 Professor R V Jones, FRS  University of Aberdeen Science and war 
 1980 Professor Sir Hermann Bondi, FRS  Department of Energy, London  Energy 
 1979 Professor P H Fowler, FRS  University of Bristol  Ultra heavy cosmic rays 
 1978 Dr J W White  Institute of Max Von Laue, Paul Langevin, Grenoble  Neutrons - a growth point for European physics, chemistry and biology 
 1977 Professor Sir Fred Hoyle, FRS  Victoria University of Manchester  Interstellar clouds as the site of the origin of life 
 1976 Professor J C Polkinghorne, FRS  University of Cambridge  Elementary particles? 
 1975 Professor J M Ziman, FRS  HH Wills Physics Laboratory, University of Bristol  Is physics finished?