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Professor Nigel Mason

Nigel Mason

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Professor of Physics
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Physical Sciences
  • nigel.mason

Professional biography

I am Professor of molecular physics in the Department of Physical Sciences. I was Director of Research in Department of Physics and Astronomy 2003-9and Associate Dean for Research, Enterprise and Scholarship Faculty of Science 2009-14. Degrees 2002 DSc University of London 1987 PhD (University College London) 1983 BSc First Class Honours (University College London) Awards 2008 Honorary Degree Leopold Franzens University, Innsbruck 2007 Made Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) 2001 Visiting Professorial Fellow to Queens University of Belfast 1999 Institute of Physics; Irish Branch touring lecturer 1999 Appointed Guest Professor, University of Innsbruck, Austria 1998 Elected Europhys of European Physical Society 1987 Carey Foster Research Prize (University College London) 1986 Momber Scholarship (University College London)) 2. APOINTMENTS AND EXPERIENCE 2009 - 2011 Non Executive Director of Institute of Physics Publishing 2002 - present Professor of Molecular Physics, The Open University 2000 -2002 Reader (University College London) 1998-2000 Lecturer (University College London) 1990-1998 Royal Society University Research Fellow (University College London) 1988-1990 SERC Postdoctoral Fellowship (University College London) 1986-1988 SERC Research Assistant (University College London)

Research interests

My research is based around ‘molecular physics’ with a portfolio of research that encompasses • Astrochemistry, • Environmental and atmospheric science, • Plasma physics and • Radiation chemistry. I currently have in excess of 300 Peer reviewed publications across these areas with h-index in excess of 28 Although my research is interdisciplinary it is centred upon the study of • Fundamental interactions between electrons, photons and ions with molecular species and • the study of the subsequent physical chemistry that such processes may induce in local media. In the last ten years my research has; • Demonstrated the ability of low energy (<10eV) electrons to induce site selective dissociation within a molecule, thus providing a controllable pathway for chemical reactions. • Developed one of only three international successful research programmes in the study of direct electron induced damage of DNA samples, providing fundamental data for the study of radiation induced damage at the molecular level, a programme that is leading to the investigation of possible new radiosensitizers for cancer therapy using nanoagents. • Developed an internationally recognized research programme in (laboratory) astrochemistry exploring the mechanisms of molecular formation in ices accreted on dust grains in the Interstellar medium. • Explored the role of electron chemistry in planetary atmospheres with particular relevance to the ionosphere of Titan. • Explored the role of low energy electron interactions in plasmas in order to explore new methodologies for the design and production of nanostructures within the semiconductor industry. • Produced a spectral atlas of photoabsorption data for environmental/atmospheric research from which we derive global warming potentials and ozone depletion potentials. Our data is now routinely used as the standard data by climate modeling community. • Provided a unique spectral catalogue of UV photoabsorption spectra of molecular ices for the astrochemistry and planetary science community. This data is being used to interpret observations of several key space missions Since 2009 I have also been integral to the establishment of large scale atomic and molecular data assembly, curation, validation and dissemination programmes through EU Framework programme and with the IAEA. These programmes aim to provide the roadmap for validation of atomic and molecular data (both spectroscopic and collisional) datasets for exploitation by user communities and aim to define peer review and data curation procedures over the next decade. Since 2013 I am chair of Europlanet collaboration which aims to develop European Planetary Science through collaborative projects. This is the largest collaboration in academic research in EU planetary science involving and includes the integration of more than 60 research centres/institutes in developing an integrated research infrastructure of laboratories and on-line tools and data bases. Research Funding and bidding Total research grant income in period 1995 to date is in excess of £10 million employing 19 Postdocs and 28 research students. I have received grants from all of the UK Research councils EPSRC, NERC and STFC. I have also received extensive funding from the EU Framework programme currently being CO-I of five major EU programmes (The LASSIE Initial Training in astrochemistry (2009-13); the Initial Training Network in mass spectrometry PIMMS (2009-present); the Initial Training Network ARGENT (2014-); the EU Research infrastructures EUROPLANET in planetary science (2009-13) a project refunded as H2020 RI in 2015 with a budget of 9.945 million Euors and the database project VAMDC (2009-12 and SUP@VAMDC (2012-14) in total these progammes were funded in excess of 30 million Euros. I also held an additional 750,000 Euros of other EU funding for 3 senior visiting research professors. Research income in 2015 is expected to be in excess of £2.5 million.

Teaching interests

I have a history of high student satisfaction in both U/G and P/G teaching coupled with a record of innovative teaching. Whilst at UCL I established the first ‘Environmental Physics’ course (year 2 option) which for first time delivered major interdisciplinary lecture material to Physics UGs. Arising from this was a text book entitled Introduction to Environmental Physics’ which has continued to see well and requests for second editions have been made. At UCL 1983 - 1986 Postgraduate Demonstrator Year 1 Teaching Laboratory 1987- 1990 Demonstrator Year 1 Teaching Laboratory 1988 - 2002 First year Undergraduate tutor (Part time students 1997-) 1988- 2002 Final Year Undergraduate Project Supervisor 1990 - 2002 Second Year Mini Project Supervisor 1990- 1994 Lecturer Third year U/G course on Atomic and Molecular Physics 1995- 2002 Lecturer U/G course Environmental Physics 1996-8 Lecturer (4th Year MSci) Atomic Collision Physics In addition to general lecturing duties I was organiser of the Departmental Staff-student weekend at Cumberland Lodge from 1992-2002 in which 60 staff and students are in ‘retreat’ for a weekend. A programme of lectures and social events is organised as well as a discussion forum in which student criticisms and anxieties are discussed and fed into Staff- Student Consultative Committee. In 1998 I assumed the duties of Departmental Careers officer. I have devised a completely new range of Career activities including lectures from Career staff and external experts. A new careers information system for Departmental students has been developed and basic skills needed for Careers (e.g. CV preparation) are now included as part of the departmental teaching programme. From 2001 to 2002 I was Departmental schools liason officer arranging work placements in the department and developing the department’s profile and recruitment in local schools. In 1999 in collaboration with the HEDU I piloted a scheme for interactive teaching as part of my Environmental Physics course. All students were issued with hand sets allowing then to interact directly with the lecturer during the course of the lecture. This system allows the lecturer to assess understanding throughout the lecture and encourage more active student participation. This is the first time that such an interactive teaching mechanism has been adopted in a Physics Department in the UK. At the Open University Open University teaching is distinctive being largely by distance and organised through course teams. I was part of course team that redesigned our delivery of level three (final year) material in course SXR358 ‘Quantum Mechanics’ with particular emphasis on Tunneling and scattering and SXR 359 on ‘Electricity and Magnetism’. Both of these originally included week long summer schools for practicals which I chaired for some years. I also worked on S207 our major introductory course to UG physics being exam Board Chair. Currently I chair SXP390 final project course for OU students. This requires students to choose a topic from a list of Physics, Astronomy and Space Science options and write a dissertation using literature and published work to provide a critique and review of the topical area. There are currently in excess of 120 students on this course.

Impact and engagement

Major Managerial and Leadership roles ESF Review Committee of Portuguese Review of Physics Research Units(Chair of the Exact Sciences panel) (Portuguese REF equivalent) 2014 Chair Europlanet for European Planetary Science 2013- Chair of Physics fellowship panel Irish Research Council (IRCSET) 2010- Chair Romanian Research Excellence Review (equivalent of UK REF) Physical Sciences 2010 Member of Institute of Physics Council 2004-2007 Chair of the European Physical Society Atomic and Molecular Physics Division (2001 - 2005 ) Member of European Physical Society Council (2001- 2005) Member of Court of Cranfield University (2002-12 ) Conference Organsation On average I organize 5-6 international meetings and workshops per year (as part of my EU projects so I only list the major ones here Chair of DEA Conference committee 2013 – present Member of CEPAS Organization committee 2005-present Member of SPIG organization committee 2002- present Member of EPSC general committee 2009 –present Member of SAPP conference committee 2002- present Member of SASP Conference committee1999-present Member of the International Committee for the International Symposium on electron-molecule collisions and swarms (1999 -2001, 2003 - 9) Conference Organization Member of General Committee of International Conference of Physics of Electron and Atomic Collisions (ICPEAC) (1995-2001) Scientific Co-ordination and project leadership MC member and STSM coordinator ESF COST Action ‘Origins’ (2014-present) MC Member ESF COST Action Plasmas and liquids (2013- present) Co-Chair ESF COST Action CELINA (2013- present) Co-chair ESF Action Nano-IBCT (2011- present) Chair of ESF Cost Action ‘The Chemical Cosmos’ (2009-13) Co-chair ESF Action Electron Controlled Chemical Lihography (ECCL) 2007-11 Director of the ESF Programme Electron induced Processing at the Molecular level (EIPAM) 2004 – 2008 Director of EU Network ‘Electron and Positron Induced Chemistry’ (EPIC) 2002-2006 Chair of ESF COST Network ‘Radiation damage induced in biomolecules’2002-2007 EU major grant roles Chair Europlanet Research Infrastructure (2015- ) 9,945 million Euros Co-Chair EU Framework VII ITN (Training network) ARGENT (2014-) 4.8 M Euros PI eMOL Project (data analysis and validation) (2013-15) (with IAEA) Co-chair EU Framework VII Co-ordination action SUP@VAMDC (2013-) 1.9 M Euros Co-chair EU Framework VII ITN (Training Network) PIMMS (2012-) 6.1M Euros Co-chair EU Framework VII ITN (Training Network) LASSIE (2010-) 6.2M Euros Co-Chair EU Framework VII Research Infrastructure Europlanet (2009-2013) 6M Euros Co-chair EU Framework VII E-infrastructure VAMDC (2009-12) 3.5M Euros Membership of Research Councils/ Editorial Boards Member of EPSRC Peer Review College (1999- ) Member of NERC Peer Review College (2009 -) Referee for US National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy (DOE) Referee for Czech, Slovak, Polish, Swedish and Georgian Research councils Referee for CNRS fellowships and ANR (grants) Referee for European Research Council/EU Framework Programme (2004-) Editorial Board Member of Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (1999 -2002) Editorial Board of European Journal of Physics (2001 - ) Editorial Board Member of Comments in Atomic and Molecular Physics (1999 – 2002 ) Editor in Chief European Journal of Physics D (2010- ) Editor and founder member of EPJ Techniques and Instrumentation (2011- ) Membership of professional bodies/Journal Referee Elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society (2005) Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2006) Member of the Indian Society Of Atomic and Molecular Physics (2001 -) Member of the European Physical Society (Institution of Great Britain (1999- Fellow of the Institute of Physics (1998- ). Member (1990-1998) Recorder of the Physics Section of the British Association (1997-2003) Member of the European Physical Society (1995- ) Member of the American Association of Science (1995 -) Member of the European Physical Society (Institution of Great Britain (1999- ) Member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1995 - ) Referee for journals I referee for more than a dozen journals and on average referee some 40 papers per annum the major ones (>5 per year) are Referee of PCCP (2003 –present) Referee of International Journal of Mass spectroscopy (1997–present) Referee for Journal of Chemical Physics (1997- ) Referee for Chemical Physics Letters (1998 -) I was a major Referee for Journal of Physics B (1990 -2005 )

External collaborations

I collaborate extensively with research groups across the world.  Long standing collaborations are with;
In the UK
Professor Jonathan Tennyson, FRS University College London
Professor R W McCullough and Dr T Field Queens University Belfast

In Europe
University of Innsbruck (Professors T Maerk and P Scheier Dr S Denifl)
New University of Lisbon (Professor Paulo Vieira)
Commenius University Bratislava, Slovakia (Professor Stefan Matejcik)
Brno University Czech Republic (Professor F Krcma)
University of Aarhus for synchrotron Studies (Professor D Field and Drs N Jones and S Hoffman)
Gdansk University of Technology(Dr MA Smialek)
CSIC Madrid (Dr Gustavo Garcia)
University of Frankfurt Professor Andrey Solovyov

Outside Europe I have long standing collaborations in India with Dr B Sivarman (Physical Research Laboratory) Professor E Krishnakumar (TIFR Mimbai) Dr B Antony
Indian School of Mines; Professor K Joshipura and Drs M Vinodkumar and C Limbachiya Sardar Patel University.
In USA I collaborate with Professor Ralf Kasier Universty of Hawaii and Professor Ilya Fabrikant University of Lincoln. In Canada Professor Leon Sanche University of Sherbrooke

See external collaborations listed above  

Research Activity

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Biomedical Research Network (BRN)NetworkFaculty of Science
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)CentreFaculty of Science


Externally funded projects

Probing the fundamental mechanisms of DNA radio-sensitization by nanoparticles

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Other-collaborator01/May/201730/Apr/2019Sir John Mason Academic Trust
Nanoparticle-based radio-sensitization is thought to produce a radiation-induced release of electrons from gold electronic orbitals that then react with the surrounding water and dissolved oxygen to produce reactive species (particularly oxygen species) that damage nearby proteins, DNA, RNA, and cell organelles. In addition, the electrons are expected to damage DNA and RNA (and indeed other critical biological macromolecules) in a more direct manner through dissociative electron attachment (DEA). However, whereas extensive radiobiological research is currently in progress worldwide into the potential therapeutic applications of nanoparticles, the fundamental physical mechanisms underpinning nanoparticle radio-sensitization have been studied relatively sparsely. In particular, the relative contribution of DEA has not been assessed conclusively. This project brings together an international team of researchers with expertise in DEA (OU, BAM), solution-phase radiochemistry (BAM, FCT/UNL), and UV spectroscopy (OU, BAM, FCT/UNL). The aim is to probe damage processes in key DNA subunits (nucleobases, nucleosides, nucleotides and oligonucleotides) initiated by the electrons emitted from gold nanoparticles that have been excited using a pulsed laser. The damage in the biomolecules will be identified by in-situ UV spectroscopy. The technique has been pioneered by Bald and co-workers (BAM) and will be further developed in this project. Focusing on DNA subunits will enable detailed comparisons to be drawn with electron scattering experiments and calculations, maximising the opportunity to trace the observed damage to specific nanoscale physical processes. Collaborations with Dr Stefano Caprasecca (University of Pisa) and Prof Andrey Solovyov (MBN Explorer) will support the experimental programme.

Low Energy Electron Driven Chemistry For The Advance Of Emerging NAno-Fabrication Models

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Mar/201728/Feb/2021EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
Chemistry is fundamental to nanotechnology (NT), as chemistry can prepare specifically tailored molecules to serve, in a bottom-up approach, as the building blocks for the fabrication of functional and structured nano-materials. Nanotechnology, in turn, has been hailed as the technology of the 21st century with applications from electronics to biotechnology and medicine. The next decade will thus be characterized by an increasing industrial demand for the creation of novel nanostructures whose individual physical and chemical properties can be tuned to specific applications.To meet this demand, the chemistry and the physics behind new and emerging nanoscale fabrication methods must be well understood and this understanding must be systematically deployed to advance these methods into commercially viable fabrication technologies. Simultaneously the nanotechnology industry must have access to well trained individuals with both the technical skills and broad understanding of the fundamental physical and chemical parameters governing the performance of next generation processing techniques and, last but not least, the skills and drive needed for further innovation and entrepreneurship in the nano-technology field. This is essential to assure that Europe remains a significant player in this, economically and technologically very important industry. Thus the main objectives of the proposed ELENA ETN are to: i) increase our understanding of the fundamental processes underpinning two innovative, next generation nano-scopic writing techniques; Focused Electron, Beam Induced Processing (FEBIP) and Extreme Ultra Violet Lithography EUVL. ii) translate this knowledge to the design and development of molecular properties of FEBIP precursor molecules and EUVL resists, such that these methods may be further optimized in performance, and eventually be made commercially competitive. iii) train a new generation of scientists with both a fundamental understanding of the physics and chemistry behind these processes, the mind set for innovation and entrepreneurship and a skill set, generally tailored to the needs of the nanotechnology industry.

Improving the efficiency and targeting of radiosensitisers

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Feb/201731/Jan/2019Sir John Mason Academic Trust
New University of Lisbon have a doctoral training program called RaBBiT, whereby the student does research towards their PhD in a host lab (in this case at the OU). The student will be a visitor to the OU for 2 years. The Sir John Mason Academic Trust will meet the cost of the project specific consumables and expenses.

Achievement of Excellence in Electron Processes for Future Technologies

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Jan/201631/Dec/2018EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
This H2020 Twinning project ‘Achievement of Excellence in Electron Processes for Future Technologies’ (ELEvaTE) is aimed at advancing the excellence of the Electron and Plasma Physics Laboratory (EPPL) in the Faculty of Mathematics Physics and Informatics, Comenius University in Bratislava such that it becomes a centre of international excellence and an exemplar for other Slovakian HEI while furthering the Strategy for Smart Specialization of the Slovak Republic. The goal of the ELEvaTE is to provide the EPPL opportunity to learn from partners to achieve ambition of creating a centre of excellence. ELEvaTE will twin EPPL with the Molecular Physics Group at the Open University (OU) in United Kingdom and Nano-Bio-Group at the Institute for Ion Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Innsbruck (UI). The OU is exceptional in results dissemination and the UI combines research with enterprise (e.g. ‘spin out’ company Ionicon, world's leading producer of PTRMS), both are exemplars of ‘widening participation and gender sensitive research’ and are strong in preparing IPR.

Periodically bEnt crystAls for cRystalline unduLators

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Jan/201631/Dec/2019EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
The PEARL project aims at advancing the technologies for manufacturing of high quality Periodically Bent Crystals (PBCr). The PBCr developed in the course of this project will be utilised for the construction of novel light sources of high-energy (hν≥102 keV up to GeV range) monochromatic electromagnetic radiation by means of a Crystalline Undulator (CU) [1]. The technological and experimental part of this project will be accompanied by the complimentary advanced theoretical research utilising modern theoretical, computational and modelling methods accomplished with high performance computing techniques. A broad interdisciplinary, international collaboration has been created in the frame of FP7 PIRSES-CUTE project, which was focused on initial experimental tests of the CU idea and the related theory, for review see [1]. This project has been successfully completed in March 2015 and left the matter experimentally validated to a degree that is tantalising, requiring further experimentation. In particular CUTE elucidated the demand on manufacturing PBCrs of an exceptional lattice quality, their experimental characterisation and exposure against the high quality beams of ultra-relativistic electrons and positrons for the observation of the strong coherent effects in the photon emission process. PEARL will focus on solving the whole complex of the important technological, experimental and theoretical problems aiming to achieve the major breakthrough in this important research area. The PEARL international collaboration is extended with respect to CUTE and involves the new partners with the essential, necessary, complementary expertise and experimental facilities. The PEARL research programme is highly collaborative and requiring numerous exchange visits between the involved laboratories, joint workshops and conferences. Therefore, RISE type of project is the most suitable for strengthening of this very essential, ongoing, international collaborative research.

Astronomy ESFRI and Research Infrastructure Clusters

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Sep/201531/Aug/2019EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
15 million euro response to INFRADEV-4 to support all major European research infrastructures in astronomy, in the ESFRI roadmap. The OU is leading the outreach work package, with a maximum value of approx. 0.5 million euro.


RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Jun/201531/May/2019EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (EPN2020-RI) will address key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across the European Research Area. Its Transnational Access activities will provide access to realistic analogue field sites for Mars, Europa and Titan, and world-leading laboratory facilities that simulate conditions found on planetary bodies. Its two Virtual Access activities will make available the diverse datasets and visualisation tools needed for comparing and understanding planetary environments in the Solar System and beyond. By providing the underpinning facilities that European planetary scientists need to conduct their research, EPN2020-RI will create cooperation and effective synergies between its different components: space exploration, ground-based observations, laboratory and field experiments, numerical modelling, and technology. EPN2020-RI builds on the foundations of the previous FP6 and FP7 Europlanet programmes that established the ‘Europlanet brand’ and organised structures that will be used in the Networking Activities of EPN2020-RI to coordinate the European planetary science community’s research. Furthermore, it will disseminate its results to a wide range of stakeholders including ERA industry, policy makers and, crucially,both the wider public and the next generation of researchers and opinion formers, now in education. As an Advanced Infrastructure we place particular emphasis on widening the participation of previously under-represented research communities and stakeholders. We aim to include new countries and Inclusiveness Member States, via workshops, team meetings, and personnel exchanges, to improve the scientific and innovation impact of the infrastructure. EPN2020-RI will therefore build a truly pan-European community that shares common goals, facilities, personnel, data and IP across national boundaries.

Atomic and Molecular Data Services for Astrophysics

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead31/Dec/201428/Feb/2016STFC (Science & Technology Facilities Council)
Laboratory data is key to interpreting and modelling astronomical observations. Yet this data, even when available, is often hard to access for working astronomers. Tradiationally, laboratory data required by astrophysicists is dispersed in a collection of specialized databases, with varying degrees of visibility, accessibility and functionality, the published literature, websites and private data collections. This makes accessing critical data, or even determining if it exists, difficult even for the specialist and daunting or impossible for the occasional user, which includes the most observational astronomers. VAMDC is a transnational attempt to address this issue in the atomic and molecular area by linking all the key databases through a single portal. This interoperability has been achieved by developing a specialist data language XSAMS (XML Schema for Atoms, Molecules and Solids). XSAMS was originally proposed by, and continues to be curated by, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). VAMDC was originally built about linking 16 databases but has proved highly attractive to data providers with 29 (and rising) databases now included. The present proposal aims to build on this success in three areas of importance to the UK: (a) Further development of UK astronomical databases UDfA, Chianta and ExoMol; (b) Increased functionality of VAMDC for astronomical users; (c) Awareness raising of the potential of VAMDC within the UK astronomy community.

ARGENT Extension Advanced Radiotherapy, Generated By Exploiting Nanoprocesses And Technologies.

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01/Mar/201428/Feb/2018EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
ARGENT is a Europeam Initial Training Network (ITN) that aims to create a new generation of researchers and experts able to develop and propose to the society new tools and concepts for the improvement of cancer therapy treatments’’ The consortium aims to train a cohort of 13 PhDs (Early Stage Researchers – ESRs) to subsequently act as leaders and ambassadors in the field. The ITN ARGENT strategy relies i) on improving our understanding of the processes and mechanisms underlying radiation damage on a nanoscopic level, ii) on the application of the improved know-how in the production and development of functionalised nanodrugs to amplify the effects of medical beams and iii) on the developments of concepts and codes for clinical applications taking into account the new information. The Open University will host three ESRs of the ARGENT ITN

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