Peter Williams

Favourite Thing: To design and build a machine that goes on to revolutionise a scientific field with its results is a pretty big buzz.



GCSEs (1993), A-Levels (1995) both at Hymers College in Hull. Then Edinburgh U. 1995-2000, then Durham U. 2000-2003


MPhys in Mathematical Physics, PhD in Particle Physics

Work History:

Summer jobs during 1st degree, ranging from picking tomatoes(!), to a summer at CERN. After PhD, 2 years postdoc in the US. Been at Daresbury for 5 years.

Current Job:

Accelerator Physicist – employed by STFC (one of the research councils). Stop press – now Senior Acc. Phys. – I got a promotion :-)

My STFC Facility:

Daresbury Laboratory – Accelerator Science

Me and my work

I design particle accelerators, make computer models of them and also do experiments on real ones.

I would argue that particle accelerators are THE tool that enabled the scientific advances of the 20th century.  The largest ones tell us about the nature of matter and the evolution of the universe. Medium-sized ones reveal the secrets of life, let us design new medicines, higher yielding crops and better materials. Small ones save lives through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

At Daresbury, we are involved in all these applications of particle accelerators.

My own work at the moment is focused on designing and building a “Free-Electron Laser”. Here’s a toy one at Daresbury that we call ALICE myimage4 An FEL is a video camera for the atomic and molecular scale. At the moment, machines like the Diamond Light Source give us static information at the atomic scale – like a still picture camera. A free-electron laser would, like a video camera, take lots of still pictures separated by short periods of time. These can then be strung together into a moving image. This is just starting to become reality and will revolutionise chemistry, biology and materials science. For the first time, we may be able to understand the dynamics of chemical reactions like catalysis. As an example of a possible application, this knowledge may enable us to design cheap, 90% efficient solar cells.

Another machine we have at Daresbury is called EMMA (Electron Model with Many Applications)  myimage7 this is the world’s first accelerator of it’s type. If we can make it work the applications are huge – from  better cancer treatments to safer nuclear power. The Mail on Sunday wrote an article about it.

Here I am giving a tour of the accelerators at Daresbury

And here’s an interview with me

My Typical Day

No such thing really…

Some days are quiet – I sit in my office and read research papers or write computer simulations. Using these, I can predict effects in accelerators, explain observed data, or design new machines.

Some days are busy – I may give a seminar to the institute, or there may be a meeting of physicists from around the world to discuss recent developments in the field.

Some days I run shifts on our paticle accelerators at Daresbury – trying to put theory into practice, or providing beam to experimental users from the universities.

Some days I am abroad – gaining experience on other accelerators around the world, or at an international conference. In the past 2 years i have been to the US, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland.

Some days are managerial – participating in technical meetings to decide the next research direction, interacting with senior managers at STFC to secure funding, or going to the Institute of Physics in London.

What I'd do with the money

It would be great to get a broadcast quality head mounted camera & mic set.

When we can, we run tours for the public of the accelerators at Daresbury. However sometimes this is not possible for operational reasons. We’d use a head mounted camera to give virtual tours of the machines, if this was done over a web link we could answer questions and point things out live.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Really. Bad. Jokes.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

My most listened to goes: The Fall, Boards of Canada, Mogwai, Dirty Three, Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian, Delgados, Do Make Say Think, Mono, Squarepusher, Gravenhurst, Flying Saucer Attack

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I can’t tell you, i’ll get too excited and my leg will fall off. No really, when I was a postdoc i took a couple of months off and did a huge road trip through the state – i think we clocked up 35/50 states

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Well, if you ask anyone on shift with me in the middle of the night they would say that I would wish for pies, cheese and coffee.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be doing physics research, which is how it has turned out :)

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Of course not! I was a very good boy.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Getting my ideas published, then having people from all over the world wanting to talk to you about them.

Tell us a joke.

What do you call a deer with no eyes? No idea. What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs? Still no idea.

Other stuff

Work photos:

Here’s a picture of Daresbury Lab, deep in the heart of darkest Cheshire. My office is in the building at the bottom left, the accelerators are in the tower and the big shed in the middle myimage2 Here’s me contemplating the nature of matter, or maybe finding out that i don’t need sunglasses in the woods myimage1 Here is a picture of me and the gang celebrating the first lasing of the ALICE free-electron laser last year myimage5  Here’s an image of the alignment laser coming out the hole in the FEL resonant cavity (the FEL light is brighter than all the lights in London, so i can’t show you that as it would break the camera!) myimage6This is me on a visit to the US to see another FEL myimage8And to finish… atmospheric Daresbury at night myimage3

The best time to visit:

We love showing visitors around, but you do need to book in advance as we need to switch off the machines to do tours. We’re easy to get to – just off the M56, nearest rail in Warrington and Runcorn. Contact to arrange a tour.