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Tom McLeish FRS
Professor of Natural Philosophy

Profile

Biography

Tom McLeish, FRS, is a physicist, academic interdisciplinary leader, and writer. He is inaugural Professor of Natural Philosophy in the School of Physics, Engineering and Technology at the University of York, England, and is also affiliated to the University’s Centre for Medieval Studies and Humanities Research Centre.

His scientific research in ‘soft matter and biological physics,’ has inspired collaborations with chemists, engineers, and biologists to study relationships between molecular structure and emergent material properties, recognized by major awards in the USA and Europe. He has conceived, won funding for, and directed several large interdisciplinary collaborations and currently leads the UK ‘Physics of Life’ network. He holds a 5-year ESPRC personal research fellowship focusing on the physics of protein signalling and the self-assembly of silk fibres.

His interdisciplinary academic interests include the framing of science, theology, society and history, and the theory of creativity in art and science, leading to the recent books Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP 2014) and The Poetry and Music of Science (OUP 2019). He co-leads the Ordered Universe project, a large interdisciplinary re-examination of 13th century science. He has also contributed to the philosophy of emergence, and to research in cross-curricular education for post-16 pupils.

From 2008 to 2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University and was from 2012-2015 Vice President for Science at the UK Institute of Physics, and from 2015-2020 Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. He is currently a Council Member of the Royal Society, a trustee of the John Templeton Foundation, and chair of Harvard University’s Knox postgraduate awards.

He gives frequent public lectures in literature and science festivals, and in schools, on topics across the sciences and humanities, and regularly appears on local and national radio.

Career

  • PhD in Theoretical Polymer Physics, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge (1984-1987)
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow in polymer physics, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge and Supernumerary Fellow, Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1987-1989)
  • Lecturer in Physics (Sheffield 1989)
  • Professor of Polymer Physics (Leeds 1993) including Director of the UK Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Polymer Science and Technology (2004-2008)
  • Director of six-month international research programmes at: Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (University of Cambridge, with renewed Fellowship at Emmanuel College ) 1996 and 2004, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (University of California at Santa. Barbara) 2001.
  • Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (Durham 2008-2014) and Professor of Physics (2008-2018)
  • Visiting Fellow Institute of Advanced Study, University of Notre Dame (2017)
  • Inaugural Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York (2018-)
  • Author, Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP 2014), Let There be Science (Lion Hudson 2018), The Poetry and Music of Science (OUP 2019), Soft Matter: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 2020)

Roles in the School

  • Professor of Natural Philosophy, Physics of Life Research Group

University roles

  • Member of Management group for the Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Member of Research Centre for the Humanities 
  • Member of Humanities Research Centre (HRC)
  • Member of Science and Technology Studies Unit (SATSU)
  • Member of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies

External activities

Memberships

  • Fellow Royal Society (2011- and Council Member 2019-2022)
  • Fellow Institute of Physics (2003-)
  • Fellow Royal Society of Chemistry (2005-)
  • Fellow American Physical Society (2008-)
  • Member Scientific Steering Committee, Newton Institute, University of Cambridge (2001-2004)
  • Member, Finnish Academy University Research Profile Panel (2015-)
  • Invited Chair, Royal Society Education Committee (2014-2020)
  • Member AHRC Advisory Committee on Science and Culture (2014-2018)
  • Member, CNRS Conseil Chemie-CSI (2015-2016)
  • Honorary Life Member British Biophysical Society (2016)
  • Trustee of the John Templeton Foundation (2016-2022)
  • Principle Investigator of UK Physics of Life Network (EPSRC and BBSRC)
  • Research England REF Physics panel member (2021)
  • Chair, Harvard Knox Postgraduate Fellowships Panel (2014-)

Editorial duties

  •  Journal of Rheology Board; Soft Matter Board; reviewer for multiple journals

Invited talks and conferences

Since 2015:

  • Dieter Richter Festschrift conference, Jülich, March 2015
  • Alan Day Inaugural Lecture, University of Melbourne, September 2015
  • Leading Public Communicators Lecture, University of Otago, September 2015
  • ‘Transcending Orthodoxies’ conference on academic freedom, Notre Dame, October 2015
  • Keynote International Congress in Rheology, Kyoto, August 2016
  • Brightlands Lecturer, Maasctricht Campus, February 2017
  • Visiting Fellow Notre Dame IAS August 2017
  • Research Seminar University of Michigan, August 2017
  • James White Memorial Lecture, Akron, October 2017
  • Royal Society Discussion Meeting, London, June 2018
  • Flow and Assembly, Okinawa, September 2018
  • Science Literacy Congress, Beijing, September 2018
  • Science and Human Flourishing, Cyprus, November 2018
  • Physics Colloquium, University of Freiburg, February 2019
  • ACS Spring Meeting (keynote invitation), Philadelphia, March 2020
  • Cargèse summer school in Soft Matter August 2020
  • Boyle Lecture, London, February 2021

Media coverage

  • Regular newspaper reviews on BBC Radio York
  • BBC Radio 4: Science Stories 2017, The Sunday Programme 2017; The Secret History of Science and Religion, 2019
  • Appearances on BBC Songs of Praise 2015 and 2018
  • Overseas radio and television media on science and faith in Australia, New Zealand and USA
  • York Festival of Ideas, Theme Day organiser and Chair 2019, Session convenor 2020

Research

Overview

My research maintains a core of soft-matter and biological physics, especially concerning the role of random processes in protein dynamics, self-assembly of bio-molecular fibres and in evolution itself. I also retain an interest in molecular rheology – the physics of complex fluids such as polymer melts and their flow-properties. Currently these two fields are combining in the flow and self-assembly of silk.

I also have broad interdisciplinary research interests concerning science within wider historical and cultural contexts. These include collaborative work on medieval science (especially through the international interdisciplinary Ordered Universe project on the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste), the philosophy of strong emergence (including a contribution to the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Emergence), the entanglement of science with literature (for example, the book Poetry and Music of Science – OUP 2019), and the theology of science (currently through the major project with St. John’s College Durham Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science and the book Faith and Wisdom in Science – OUP 2014)

Projects

  • Dynamic mechanisms of Protein Allostery (collaborators in York biology, Durham, Harvard)
  • Self-assembly of Silk Fibres under Flow (collaborators in Sheffield)
  • Statistical Mechanics of Evolution (collaborators in Cambridge)
  • Interdisciplinary Readings of the Scientific Works of Robert Grosseteste (collaborators in York, Durham, Oxford, Rome Tor Vegata, Washington Georgetown, Montreal)
  • Early medieval science, especially Alcuin of York and the later Carolingians (collaborations in York Centre for Medieval Science)
  • Wisdom Literature and a Theology of Science (collaborators in Durham, Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham)
  • Comparative Creativity in Arts, Humanities and Sciences (collaborator in UC Berkeley)
  • New social narratives for science (collaborators in York sociology)
  • Phys Rev Lett: Power Law Stretching of Associating Polymers in Steady-State Extensional Flow (Charley Schaefer and Tom C. B. McLeish Phys. Rev. Lett. 126, 057801)
  • Schaefer, Charley, Peter R. Laity, Chris Holland, and Tom C. B. McLeish, ‘Silk Protein Solution: A Natural Example of Sticky Reptation’, Macromolecules53, 2669−2676 (2020)
  • New book (OUP October 2020): Soft Matter - A Very Short Introduction

Research group(s)

  • Physics of Life
  • New narratives for science (SATSU)
  • Medieval Science (CMS)

Grants

  • EPSRC Established Career Fellowship (PI 2017-2022): Physics of Life - Noise, Information and Evolution in Protein Binding (£1.4M)
  • UKRI/EPSRC/BBSRC/Rosetrees Network+ (PI 2020-2023): The Physics of Life (£450k)
  • AHRC Large Grant (Co-I 2016-2020): The Ordered Universe: Interdisciplinary Readings of Medieval Science (£1M)
  • Templeton World Charities Foundation: Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science (Co-I 2020-2023) £3.5M)
  • EPSRC Project Grant (Co-I 2017-2021): Molecular Migration in Complex Matrices (£1.3M)
  • National Formulation Centre (Co-I 2018-2020): 'Microstar' (£500k)

Collaborators

  • Martin Cann and Doctor Ehmke Pohl (Biology, Durham)
  • Chris Holland (Sheffield)
  • Eugene Shakhnovich (Chemistry, Harvard), Professor Peter Gallison (Philosophy, Harvard), Professor Avi Loeb (Astrophysics, Harvard)
  • Giles Gasper (History, Durham) Prof Hannah Smithson (Psychology, Oxford), Professor Cecilia Panti (History, Rome Tor Vegata), Professor Neil Lewis (Philosophy, Georgetown)
  • Mary Garrison (History and Centre for Medieval Science, York)
  • David Wilkinson (Theology, Durham), Professor John Milbank (Theology, Nottingham), Doctor Andrew Davison (Theology, Cambridge), Professor Peter Harrison (History, University of Queensland)

Personal research group

Available PhD research projects

  • Statistical Mechanical approaches to genotype-phenotype maps in evolution
  • Medieval science of optics and its metaphorical and methodological reception in early modern science

Supervision

  • Mr Peter Hannay (PhD on statistical mechanical approach to the evolution of dance) 
  • Nick Meadowcroft-Lunn (PhD on epistemology and Black Hole paradoxes, co-supervised with Doctor Mary Leng, York Philosophy)
  • Katherina Brinkert (PhD on the science of Bertold Brecht, co-supervised with Professor David Barnett, York Film, Television and Drama)

Prof Tom McLeish

School of Physics, Engineering and Technology
University of York
Heslington
York
YO10 5DD
U.K.

tom.mcleish@york.ac.uk
Tel: +44 (0)1904 322293
Fax: +44 (0)1904 322214
Web: Personal page
Room: P/A 023