Particle-perfect

James Stirling relishes his return to research as he anticipates the dawn of a new golden era of particle physics

February 21, 2008

Particle physicist James Stirling said that moving back to research and teaching from his current senior management post represents the "opportunity of a lifetime", as his discipline prepares to usher in an exciting new era.

Professor Stirling, Durham University's pro vice-chancellor (research), is to take up the position of Jacksonian professor of natural philosophy at the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory.

He described this as an ideal time to return to research, as the particle collider at Cern, the European centre for particle physics, is due to start its work this summer.

"I managed to keep my research ticking along in the two and a half years when I was pro vice-chancellor. There's an event taking place next year, which is the switching-on of the new giant particle collider at Cern in Geneva, and we are about to enter a golden era of particle physics that is going to produce lots of exciting data.

"It will be a fantastic time in the subject, and the job at Cambridge allows me to get involved in research at a level that I can't really do in my present job. And like Durham's physics department, Cambridge's physics department is outstandingly good and a good place to undertake research."

Professor Stirling, 55, graduated in mathematics from Cambridge in 1975 and obtained his PhD in theoretical particle physics in 1979. After periods of research in the US, at Cambridge and at Cern, he was appointed to a lectureship at Durham in 1986. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1989, to reader in 1990 and to professor in mathematical sciences and physics in 1992.

Professor Stirling, who is married and has two adult children, was awarded a CBE in the 2006 New Year Honours for services to science. He was a member of the physics panel in the 2001 research assessment exercise and is deputy chairman of the 2008 panel; he also serves on the council of the Royal Society.

"Cambridge is where I began my career. I did my undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoc there. We bought our first house there, our daughter was born there, so in a sense it's the wheel turning full circle. I'm greatly honoured to be offered the post. It's one of the oldest established chairs in the Cavendish Laboratory," he said.

"It will be a change. I've really enjoyed the pro vice-chancellor's role, and I've certainly acquired a lot of new skills. It has broadened my perspective of research. I've really enjoyed working with colleagues across the disciplines from arts and humanities, social science and science."

tariq.tahir@tsleducation.com

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