Category Archives: conferences

Advances in computational and experimental studies of solids: a meeting to mark Richard Catlow’s 70th birthday (Cosener’s House, Abingdon, 10-12 April 2017)

It was back in March 2016 that I first had the idea that a meeting should be arranged to mark Richard Catlow’s 70th birthday. Having organised a similar occasion for his 60th birthday, back in 2007 (unfortunately pre-blog and my use of social media), this seemed appropriate. Initially the idea was to have an organising committee, and I approached potential members, but it soon became clear that it could only be done effectively by close liaison with Richard, and from then on I was effectively the sole organiser (although I am grateful for administrative help received later).

We discussed possible dates in April 2017, and where it could be held. Richard preferred a neutral venue not associated with his current employers, so eventually we settled on Cosener’s House, a place in Abingdon often used by people carrying out experiments at the nearby Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The venue was booked, and all available rooms were reserved, and we set about discussing who should be invited, before the event was advertised more widely. I made a list of Richard’s contemporaries who he particularly wanted to attend, and invited them. It was very encouraging that they all accepted. I then advertised the meeting to pre4sent and former group members, inviting them to register and present talks.

In September 2016 I met with Richard to discuss the general format of the meeting, and in February 2017 we started putting the programme together. All this coincided with my appointment as acting head of my school at Keele, and having two new modules to teach, so it was difficult for a couple of months. But by mid March everything was coming together. Ideally I would have liked a site visit, but there simply wasn’t time.  However, I had discussed everything in detail with both Richard and the Cosener’s House staff, so I hoped everything was in place!

On Sunday 9th April (2 weeks ago from writing this post), I set off to Oxford, staying overnight close to the station, and on Monday 10th April I took a taxi to Abingdon, arriving at Cosener’s House a few hours before the meeting was due to take place.

I’m pleased to say that the meeting got off to a great start. It was particularly pleasing to get so many of Richard’s former group members together, as well as people he had worked with, including Sir John Meurig Thomas, Tony Cheetham and Brian Fender. We even had a visit from Richard’s PhD supervisor, Alan Lidiard. The talks were excellent, and we had lots of good discussion. The accommodation and catering were both excellent.

All in all I was very pleased with the meeting, and pleased that everyone enjoyed it. You can find a collection of photos taken at the meeting here:, and one of the conference photos is given below. I will also post the meeting programme on my website ( in due course.

ICDIM2016 – a personal perspective

ICDIM2016 was held in Lyon from 10-15 July 2016. It was organised by Christophe Dujardin and his team. It was the 8th ICDIM meeting I had attended since 1984 and the 16th meeting I had attended in the joint EURODIM/ICDIM series in total.

I travelled to Lyon by Eurostar from St Pancras. It was a seamless journey and the train arrived early. It was nice to have Mário’s company on the trip; he had spent the previous week working with me, which was something we had tried to arrange several times in recent years, and this time it worked!

The conference itself was well-organised. I had some minor gripes about the length of the talks (contributed talks had 15 minute slots (too short), and invited talks had 1 hour slots (too long)), but otherwise I had no complaints. The chairs generally did a good job, helped by a timer that counted down the time for each talk and was clearly visible! Most of the talks were recorded, and I will add a link here when it is made available.

The science discussed was good and of a high standard, showing that there is still a place for a conference of this kind with a relatively wide remit which now includes materials closer to semiconductors in their properties, while still mainly covering insulating materials. Battery materials, fuel cell materials and old stalwarts like LiNbO3 all had coverage. I talked on dopants in SrAl2O4, inspired by a talk by Philippe Smet given at EURODIM2014 in Canterbury. I did my best in the time available, but 10 minutes is really challenging! However, it was useful to discuss my work with Philippe and others following the talk. Mário and I also presented posters on the work performed by Giordano Bispo while at Keele, and our suggested new method for analysing EXAFS spectra of doped materials (in this case, Zn doped LiNbO3).

The organisers tried hard to include lots of social functions, and there was some kind of event every night. This certainly helped with networking, and I spoke to everyone I needed to. The conference dinner was on a boat (moored, I should add), and we had an excellent tour of old Lyon. We were in Lyon on 14 July, so were able to experience the Bastille Day celebrations, including a short but spectacular fireworks display.

The return journey on Eurostar was good, except that because there is no passport control at Lyon, we had to get off at Lille and go through security and immigration there. This worked OK, but I do wonder if there may be a better way!

Finally, at the conference I was given responsibility as International Advisory Committee Chair for the next few EURODIM conferences, and my first task is to sort out the location of EURODIM2018. This is going to be interesting, but I will report on it separately!

Summer 2014

It’s been an interesting summer so far (although the weather would suggest it’s coming to an end already). I’ve only attended the one conference, Eurodim 2014 (reported on earlier), I’ve had an interesting London trip (with another one coming up), and I had my annual pilgrimage to the GBBF a couple of weeks ago (also reported on in the last post).

One thing that has concentrated my mind has been the need to write some new lectures (on fairly advanced quantum chemistry), and this is both challenging and time-consuming, but I’m getting there.

Another issue is research. With the last of my recent PhD students finishing, it’s time to get some new projects started. I’m currently trying to develop some ideas from the conference I attended, but there is a deeper problem which I will certainly return to. That is the virtual impossibility of getting research funding now for someone in my situation. The EPSRC are concentrating their funding on the larger and (in their view) better appointed institutions, and it’s hard to see a way forward at present. There is the possibility of a student from Brazil spending 9 months or so working with me, but that is contingent on the funding and visa being granted. I’m hoping for the best on that, but suspect I’ll be returning to the subject of research funding here soon.

However, for now, the possibility of being able to work relatively undisturbed for the next few weeks is a definite bonus!

Eurodim 2014: a brief report

Eurodim 2014, the 12th Europhysical Conference on Defects in Insulating Materials, was held at the University of Kent from 13-19 July 2014. I have attended the Eurodim/ICDIM series of conferences fairly continuously for the past 30 years; previously I organised Eurodim 1998 at Keele, and helped organise the programme for ICDIM 2008 in Aracaju, Brazil. I had a small part in helping organise Eurodim 2014, although the local team deserve most of the credit (Maria Alfredsson, Alan Chadwick, Emma McCabe and their very capable band of postgraduate students)  !

Over the years the conference series has evolved in its coverage from mainly colour centres to the inclusion of ion transport in solids and wide band semiconductors. The attendance has had its ups and downs, but is typically around 100-200 delegates, depending on timing and location. It features plenary and contributed lectures and poster sessions, and depending on the organisers it can have parallel sessions as well.

This year’s conference included plenary lectures from:

  • Richard Catlow (University College London, UK)
  • Mauro Fasoli (University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy)
  • Brian Sales (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA)
  • Philippe Smet (University of Ghent, Belgium)
  • Francois Treussart (ENS Cachan, France)
  • Marie-Genevieve Blanchin   (University of Lyon, France)

There was also a special session in honour of Patrick Jacobs, who died in 2013 and who made such important contributions to our field (see my post about him here). This session included contributions from Alastair Cormack, Phuti Ngoepe, Miguel Moreno, David Smith and myself. Alex Shluger was unable to attend due to illness, but his paper was presented by his co-author Dr S Ling.

There was the usual spread of interesting talks and posters at the conference, and I returned full of ideas for future work. I hope to post about some of these later in the summer, before the semester and the ‘mad times’ return!

The conference had some excellent social highlights, including the welcome reception which coincided with the World Cup Final (Germany versus Argentina, which Germany won, much to the delight of our German delegates), and the conference excursion to Whitstable, which included beer tasting courtesy of Shepherd Neame. And I shouldn’t forget the conference dinner in Darwin College.

Finally, I’m in the process of putting together a gallery of photos from the conference, and they will appear shortly on my web site,

Connecting a USB memory stick/drive to a Nexus 7 tablet

Following my post of the end of last week about using a tablet instead of a laptop at a conference, another unforeseen issue I encountered was how to read a USB memory stick using the tablet. The conference provided all the information on a memory stick, but I couldn’t read it with the Nexus! (It didn’t matter on this occasion because I was able to access the information online, but this might not always be the case.)

So, after a bit of quick research online, I found the solution, which was to purchase a cable which connects the Nexus’s micro USB port to a USB adaptor which you can plug a memory stick into. You can find these on sale online for less than £10 (UK). You then need to install a good file reading app, like Total Commander, from the Google Play store, and download the USB plugin (free for a 30 day trial but then very cheap). It works perfectly, and also provides a sneaky way of expanding the Nexus’s memory!

Tablet shortcomings, or should I keep taking the tablet?

About a year ago I posted about taking a tablet on a research trip to Vienna in place of a laptop. I was pretty positive about the overall experience. At the time I was using a budget Coby Kyros tablet, but it managed to do almost everything I needed it to do. Since then I have replaced the Coby with a Nexus 7, and although I have taken it on some short trips, the conference I have just attended in Canterbury was the first proper test of its capabilities as a laptop replacement. How did it do? Well, the WiFi at the University of Kent was uniformly excellent, so there were none of the connectivity issues I sometimes experience. It was great for email and for reading most attachments, but I made an interesting discovery about reading and writing word documents. I have QuickOffice and Documents to Go installed, but neither were capable of reading, let alone editing and preparing, a document containing Greek letters, equations and symbols. Microsoft Office for Android still hasn’t been released for tablets (although it may appear later this year, apparently). Now, normally this wouldn’t matter, but while I was at the conference I had a couple of requests for resit exam questions. I devised some questions, and then set about trying to type them up. At that point I realised it couldn’t be done with the software installed, and I had to send apologies with a promise to get them done on my return (so a job for tomorrow). I did investigate one work round app, called CloudOn, which seemed to make reading the documents possible (a start) but it’s not available offline, which basically makes it pretty useless to me. So just now I’m wondering if I might have to go back to taking a laptop with me on trips longer than a couple of days. This could be an excuse for an upgrade (and there are some impressive lightweight options available), since my current 4 year old netbook is getting a bit flaky. This needs careful consideration, but I am a bit disappointed that the tablet couldn’t deliver in this respect, at least not yet.

Advances in the Chemistry of Disordered Solids: 13 September 2013

Pat JacobsThis post is about a symposium that took place on 13 September 2013. I haven’t been able to complete it until now, but thought it was still important to post!

The symposium was organised as a tribute to Professor Patrick Jacobs, who died on 31 March 2013. Patrick was so influential in solid state chemistry that Richard Catlow and myself felt that an occasion like this had to be organised. The speakers would represent a cross-section of those who worked with him, were influenced by him, or were taught by him. In addition we included a young researcher whose work is in the spirit of that of Patrick.

The following gave talks at the symposium:

Professor Sean Corish
Professor Richard Catlow
Professor Eugene Kotomin
Dr Rob Jackson
Professor Mike Gillan
Professor Alan Chadwick
Dr David Scanlon
Professor Mary Anne White.

As mentioned above, all of the speakers had been connected with Patrick in some way, ranging from having done postdoctoral research with him, to having been taught by him. There was a therefore a good mixture of science and of recollections of the man himself.

We were fortunate that Patrick’s oldest son, Richard Jacobs, was able to attend. He videoed the event, and the talks are all available on YouTube, as follows:

Meet and Greet
Sean Corish  
Rob Jackson  
Apologies for absence
Mike Gillan      
Alan Chadwick 
David Scanlon  
Mary Anne White
Thanks from Richard Jacobs
The symposium went very well, and was a fitting tribute to Patrick. It should be mentioned that nearly a year later, in July 2014, another symposium was held in honour of Patrick, as part of the Eurodim conference, and I mentioned this in a previous post about the conference. We are also in the process of publishing a special volume of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, also in Patrick’s honour.