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Dr Phil Lightfoot
Senior Lecturer



Having completed a BSc in Pure Physics at Bristol University, I transferred to an MSc in Solid State Physics mainly because of an interest in advanced semiconductor devices and because of the clear route into an industrial career. Although I loved the research element of the programme, I wasn't sure that I would be satisfied working long term in the field. At the end of the course I therefore completed a PGCE at Cambridge University before returning to Bristol to take up a PhD in Polymer Physics based around developing dielectric coatings for high power semiconductor components used in high speed trains.

I’ve always tried to see the sciences as a whole rather than split into narrower and narrower branches and at the end of my PhD I applied for a research associate position within the Particle Astrophysics group at Sheffield University developing cryogenic detectors in the search for Dark Matter. I worked at Sheffield for 11 years and at ETH Zurich University (CERN) for a further year.

In 2008 because of my teaching experience I was permitted to work as a temporary lecturer at Sheffield University. I enjoyed teaching greatly and applied to join the University of York Physics Department in 2009. Between 2009 and 2017 I worked in a variety of roles including responsibility for student welfare and career development. In 2017 I became the Deputy Head of Department with a focus on the development of teaching and scholarship within the Department and University. In 2017 I became a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


  • Lecturer, University of York, 2009 - present
  • Temporary Lecturer, University of Sheffield, 2008 - 2009
  • Senior Research Associate, ETHZ (CERN), 2007 - 2008
  • Research Associate, Particle Astrophysics Group, University of Sheffield, 1998 - 2007
  • PhD Polymer Physics, University of Bristol, 1998
  • PGCE, University of Cambridge, 1995
  • MSc, Advanced Electronic Materials, University of Bristol, 1994
  • BSc, Physics, University of Bristol, 1993

Departmental roles

  • Deputy Head of Department (Teaching)
    Chair of the Joint Lab Committee and Projects for undergraduate programmes
  • Thematic group leader for employability and transferable skills
  • Chair of Module Observation Panel for UG programmes

University roles

  • Special Cases Committee member
    PGCAP supervisor
  • University of York Learning and Teaching Award (YLTA) supervisor



My research expertise is in the field of particle astrophysics. My research interests are related to non-baryonic dark matter searches, neutrino astrophysics (supernova and solar neutrinos), and the development of micro-pattern avalanche devices. I am particularly interested in tasks that require cross-curricular involvement and enjoy drawing on my experience in chemistry, semiconductor physics, solid state, polymer physics, and particle physics, to assist my research.

I have expertise in the areas of micro-pattern charge readout systems and noble liquid gas detector technology. I was the first to see proportional scintillation light from a silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) and thick gas electron multiplier (THGEM) combination in single phase liquid argon. This is a key step in the development of simple large scale detectors with modular construction which could potentially form the basis of multi-tonne targets for neutrino physics or proton decay experiments, and will make large volume ‘low’ cost experiments feasible.

I have also developed new methods to improve liquid argon purity, essential for multi-tonne projects. This is being done in conjunction with a design for a novel cryogenic liquid pump for industrial applications in the LPG sector.

I led development of the world’s first mine safe heavily doped liquid scintillator containing 10% gadolinium from basic components, and successfully prepared gelled and plastic scintillators featuring 5% gadolinium with high attenuation lengths and light output. These scintillators performed on a par with traditional carcinogenic, low flashpoint alternatives, but allowed for the first time multi-tonne quantities to be considered in UK mines.

DRIFT (Directional recoil identification from tracks) is a low pressure gas filled time projection chamber experiment for directional identification of dark matter recoils. I was the first to demonstrate successful operation of Bulk Micromegas (a micropattern readout device) in a negative ion gas TPC filled with carbon disulphide. This is seen as the first step to replacing the current multi-wire grids in the DRIFT directional dark matter detectors with higher resolution mass produced micro pattern readout devices, and is a key component in the realization of large area readout gas detectors.


Although I continue to have an active involvement in particle astrophysics research, the nature of my teaching role means that I'm currently heavily involved in supporting the development of a distinctive pedagogy. This is supported through my work as Chair of the Learning and Teaching Forum which celebrates and raises the profile of learning and teaching across the University, nurturing and disseminating creativity and good practice. This is achieved through lunchtime workshops, a university magazine, a blog and an annual conference.

In 2016 the conference will explore ways in which key employability skills can be better embedded within the curriculum in order to prepare our graduates even better for the world of work.


Selected publications

P.K. Lightfoot , G.J. Barker, K. Mavrokoridis, Y.A. Ramachers, and N.J.C. Spooner, ‘Optical readout tracking detector concept using secondary scintillation from liquid argon generated by a thick gas electron multiplier’ , JINST 4, (2009), P04002.

Full publications list

Refereed contributions to journals

[1]          V. A. Kudryavtsev et al, ‘Characteristics of alpha, gamma and nuclear recoil pulses from NaI(Tl) at 10-100 keV relevant to dark matter searches’, Phys. Lett. B, 452 , (1999), 167-172.

[2]          N. J. C. Spooner, et al, ‘NaI dark matter limits and the NAIAD array – a detector with improved sensitivity to WIMPs using unencapsulated NaI’, Phys. Lett. B, 473, (2000), 330-336.

[3]          P.K. Lightfoot, J. Stejny, ‘ Effect of Water Desorption and Organosilane Coupling Agents on the Adhesion of Poly(p-xylylene) Films to a Silicone Wafer Surface’, Journal of Materials Science: Materials in Electronics Vol. 12, No. 10, (2001), 581-594.

[4]          V.A. Kudryavtsev et al, ‘Caesium Iodide (Tl) for WIMP dark matter searches’, Nucl. Instr. Meth. A456, (2001), 272-279.

[5]          D. Akimov et al, ‘Measurements of scintillation efficiency and pulse shape for low energy recoils in liquid xenon’, Phys. Lett. B , 524, (2002), 245-251.

[6]          V.A. Kudryavtsev, P.K. Lightfoot, M. Robinson, N.J.C. Spooner, ‘Study and suppression of anomalous fast events in inorganic scintillators for dark matter searches’, Astropart. Phys. 17, (2002), 401-408.

[7]          B. Ahmed, et al, ‘The NAIAD experiment for WIMP searches at Boulby mine and recent results’, Astropart. Phys., 19, (2003), 691-702.

[8]          M. Robinson et al, ‘Measurements of muon flux at 1070 m vertical depth in the Boulby underground laboratory’, Nucl. Instr. Meth. A511, (2003), 347-353.

[9]          P.K. Lightfoot, V. Kudryavtsev, N.J.C. Spooner, ‘ Development of a gadolinium-loaded liquid scintillator for solar neutrino detection and neutron measurements’, Nucl. Instr. Meth. A522 , (2004), 439-446.

[10]      M. J. Carson, et al, ‘Neutron background in large-scale xenon detectors for dark matter searches’, Astropart. Phys., 21 , (2004), 667-687.

[11]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘The DRIFT-I dark matter detector at Boulby: design, installation and operation’, Nucl. Instr. and Meth. A535, (2004) , 644-655.

[12]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘Status of the ZEPLIN II experiment’, New Astronomy Reviews, 49, (2005), 259-263.

[13]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘Nuclear recoil limits from the ZEPLIN I liquid xenon WIMP dark matter detector’, New Astronomy Reviews, 49 , (2005), 245-249.

[14]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘First limits on nuclear recoil events from the ZEPLIN I galactic dark matter detector’, Astropart. Phys., 23 , (2005), 444-462.

[15]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘Limits on WIMP cross-sections from the NAIAD experiment at the Boulby Underground Laboratory’, Phys. Lett. B, 616, (2005), 17-24.

[16]      M. Robinson, P.K. Lightfoot, M.J. Carson, V.A. Kudryavtsev, N.J.C. Spooner, ‘Reduction of coincident photomultiplier noise relevant to astroparticle physics experiments’, Nucl. Instr. and Meth. A545, (2005), 225-233.

[17]      M.J. Carson, et al, ‘Simulations of neutron background in a time projection chamber relevant to dark matter searches’, Nucl. Instr. and Meth. A546, (2005), 509-522.

[18]      P.K. Lightfoot, R. Hollingworth, N.J.C.Spooner, D. Tovey, ‘Development of a double-phase Xenon cell using micromegas charge readout for applications in dark matter physics’, Nucl. Instr. Meth. A554, (2005), 266-285.

[19]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘The DRIFT-II dark matter detector: Design and commissioning’, Nucl. Instr. and Meth., A555, (2005), 173-183.

[20]      H.M. Araújo, et al, ‘The ZEPLIN-III dark matter detector: Performance study using an end-to-end simulation tool’, Astropart. Phys., 26, (2006), 140-153.

[21]      D. Autiero, et al, Large underground, liquid based detectors for astro-particle physics in Europe: scientific case and prospects’, J. Cosmol. Astropart. Phys. JCAP11, (2007), 011.

[22]      D. Yu. Akimov, et al, ‘The ZEPLIN-III dark matter detector: Instrument design, manufacture and commissioning’, Astropart. Phys., 27 , (2007), 46-60.

[23]      A. Bondar et al, ‘A two-phase argon avalanche detector operated in a single electron counting mode’, Nucl. Instr. and Meth. A574, (2007), 493-499.

[24]      E. Tziaferi et al, ‘ First measurement of low intensity fast neutron background from rock at the Boulby Underground Laboratory’, Astropart. Phys., 27, (2007), 326-338.

[25]      P.K. Lightfoot, N.J.C. Spooner, T.B. Lawson, S. Aune and I. Giomataris, ‘ First operation of bulk micromegas in low pressure negative ion drift gas mixtures for dark matter searches’, Astropart. Phys., 27, (2007), 490-499.

[26]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘Limits on spin-dependent WIMP-nucleon cross-sections from the first ZEPLIN-II data’ , Phys. Lett. B, 653 , (2007), 161-166.

[27]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘First limits on WIMP nuclear recoil signals in ZEPLIN-II: A two-phase xenon detector for dark matter detection’, Astropart. Phys., 28, (2007), 287-302.

[28]      G.J. Alner, et al, ‘ The ZEPLIN II dark matter detector: Data acquisition system and data reduction’, Nucl. Instr. and Meth. A587 , (2008), 101-109.

[29]        H.M. Araújo, et al, ‘Measurements of neutrons produced by high-energy muons at the Boulby Underground’, Astropart. Phys., 29, (2008), 471-481.

[30]              P.K. Lightfoot , G.J. Barker, K. Mavrokoridis, Y.A. Ramachers, and N. J. C. Spooner, ‘Characterisation of a silicon photomultiplier device for applications in liquid argon based neutrino physics and dark matter searches’, JINST 3, ( 2008), P10001.

[31]              V. Boccone et al, ‘Development of wavelength shifter coated reflectors for the ArDM argon dark matter detector The ArDM Collaboration’, JINST 4, (2009), P06001.

[32]              P.K. Lightfoot , G.J. Barker, K. Mavrokoridis, Y.A. Ramachers, and N.J.C. Spooner, ‘Optical readout tracking detector concept using secondary scintillation from liquid argon generated by a thick gas electron multiplier’ , JINST 4, (2009), P04002.

[33]              G.J. Barker, P.K. Lightfoot, Y.A. Ramachers, N.J.C. Spooner, ‘Optical readout tracking detector concept for future large volume liquid argon detectors’   Nucl. Instr. and Meth. A 619 , (2010) , 140-142.

[34]      D.Y. Stewart et al, ‘Modelling electroluminescence in liquid argon’, JINST 5, (2010), P10005.

[35]      C Amsler et al, ‘First results on light readout from the 1-ton ArDM liquid argon detector for dark matter searches’, JINST 5, (2010), P11003.

[36]      N. McConkey, G.J. Barker, A.J. Bennieston, P.F. Harrison, P.K. Lightfoot, B. Morgan, D.Y. Stewart, N.J.C. Spooner, Y.A. Ramachers, ‘Optical Readout Technology for Large Volume Liquid Argon Detectors’, Nucl. Phys. B - Proceedings Supplements, 215, (2011), 255-257.

[37]      K Mavrokoridis et al, ‘Argon purification studies and a novel liquid argon re-circulation system’, JINST 6, (2011), P08003.



Papers published in refereed conference proceedings

[1]     G.J. Alner, et al, ‘ Progress report from the UK Dark Matter search at Boulby Mine’,
Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.), 87, (2000), 64-66.

[2]     B. Ahmed, et al, ‘The potential of liquid xenon for WIMP search: the ZEPLIN diagnostic array’, Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.), 95 , (2001), 233-236.

[3]     R. Luscher et al, ‘Neutrino astroparticle physics at Boulby mine’, Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.), 110, (2002), 423-425.

[4]     B. Ahmed, et al, ‘ Recent results of the dark matter search with NaI(Tl) detectors at Boulby mine’, Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.), 124, (2003), 193-196.

[5]     R. Bisset, et al, ‘R & D for Future ZEPLIN’, Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.), 173, (2007), 164-167.

[6]     D.Yu. Akimov, et al, ‘ The ZEPLIN III Detector; Results from Surface Calibrations’, Nuclear Physics B (Proc. Suppl.), 173, (2007), 108-112.

[7]     P K Lightfoot, G J Barker, K Mavrokoridis, Y A Ramachers and N J C Spooner, ‘Optical readout of secondary scintillation from liquid argon generated by a thick gas electron multiplier’, (2009), J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 179, 012014.

External activities


Scuba Diving - rescue diver

Underwater Photography - published

Marine Conservation - deputy coordinator SeaSearch North East

Classic Motorbike Restoration

Phil Lightfoot. Credit: Ian Martindale


Department of Physics
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 324868
Fax: +44 (0)1904 322214
Email: phil.lightfoot
Room: P/A015



  • Lecturer of the following modules: Vibrations and Waves, Applications of Optics, Astronomical Optics, Maths III, High Energy Observational Astrophysics, High Energy Physics, Professional Skills.
  • Supervisor in 2nd year experimental laboratory: Responsibility for digital electronics.
  • MPhys/BSc project supervisor: examples from 2014/15 'Active gyroscopic stabilisation of a motorbike', 'Cheap solar power generation using Stirling engines'.
  • Careers guidance: Stage specific careers guidance workshops at specific times during the year, providing training and advice relating to the application, interview and assessment processes.


Physics Graduate Professional Development programme instructor delivering stage specific skills training intended to support research activities, provide an awareness of organisation and management both of knowledge and of projects, and enhance employability.

Other teaching

  • Provide a training session at the university postgraduates who teach (PGWT) residential.
  • Deliver two university researcher development training sessions.
  • Deliver two PGCAP sessions - "small group teaching in the sciences" and "the lecture".