Principal Investigator

Dr Dave Townsend

Dave Townsend joined Heriot-Watt University as a Lecturer in September 2007 and becoming a reader in 2013. Before this he spent six years as a scientist in North America, firstly at Stony Brook University near New York and then at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada. His research interests span the interface between physics and chemistry, employing ultrafast laser techniques to investigate strong-field ‘quantum control’ of fundamental molecular processes and non-adiabatic dynamics in molecules of biophysical interest. Understanding energy redistribution in biological molecules is clearly important if one is to move from studying simple structure-function relationships in these types of systems to a more complete structure-dynamics-function picture that provides a greater fundamental mechanistic understanding. Quantum control methodologies are of great interest since they represent the beginning of a shift from a regime where molecular dynamics are simply observed towards one where they are actively controlled and this is clearly of profound importance for many areas of physics, chemistry and biology.



Current Group Members


Research Associates

Dr Nikoleta Kotsina

Nikoleta joined the group in February 2016. From 2004 to 2008 she studied Physics at the University of Ioannina, Greece and graduated with honors. In 2015 she obtained her doctorate from the University of Ioannina studying the ionization/dissociation of small molecules with strong ultrashort shaped laser pulses in VIS-NIR. From July 2015 to January 2016 she worked as a research associate on pulse tailoring techniques in the mid IR at the University of Ioannina. She is now studying VUV generation in gases and ultrafast molecular dynamics.


Contact Details





PhD Students

Mr Stuart Crane

Stuart first joined the group as an MPhys student whilst an undergraduate at Heriot-Watt, during which he worked on designing a UV autocorrelater. He has now joined the group as a PhD student during the summer of 2014. With a 1st Class Master's with Hons in physics, Stuart is now working on the laser desorption for molecular dynamics project.

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Ms Lisa Saalbach

Lisa first joined the group as a summer student whilst an undergraduate at Heriot-Watt, in which she was involved with various projects within the group. She has now joined the group as a PhD student during the summer of 2016. With a 1st Class Master's with Hons in chemical physics, Lisa is now working along side Nikoleta on the VUV project.

Contact Details



Previous Group Members

Dr Ruth Livingstone

Ruth obtained an undergraduate Masters degree in Physics from Heriot Watt University, graduating with honours of the first class in June 2008. She obtained her doctorate in 2012 from her work on the molecular dynamics of small biological molecules. After a 3 year post-dac at the Max-Planck institute in Mainz, working with Dr Ellen Backus, Ruth is now working with Jochen Küpper in Hamburg.




Dr James Thompson

James joined at the start of September 2011 graduating from the University of Nottingham where he studied with Prof. Katharine Reid in his final year investigating the use of SEVI as a method of high resolution photoelectron spectroscopy.  James worked on the molecular dynamics of biomolecules project, focusing on the role of electronic state dynamics in UV self photoprotection of natural systems. James attained his doctorate in April 2015 and after a 6 month post-doc position with Prof. Eleanor Campbell at Edinburgh University, now works with Prof. Arthur Suits at Columbia University, Missouri.




Dr Magdelena Zawadzki

Magdalena studied physics at the University of Wuerzburg and graduated with honours of the first class as "Diplom-Physikerin" in 2011. After her studies, she worked as a scientist in the ultrafast laser industry before joining the ultrafast dynamics group in 2013 as a PhD student, working on dynamical behaviour in molecular systems and studying the vacuum ultraviolet generation in gases. Magdalena obtained her dotorate in June 2017.




Dr Marco Candelaresi

Marco was an integral part of the VUV project. He got his PhD at LENS (Laboratory of non linear spectroscopy) in Florence in 2009. Since then he has worked Neil Hunts group in Strathclyde University of Glasgow performing 2D IR spectroscopy experiements and in industry for a few years before joining the group at the end of 2013. Marco left the group in August 2015 and now works for a bio technology company in Edinburgh.



Dr Omair Ghafur

Omair joined the ulatrafast molecular dynamics group in July 2013 and was important to the design and implementation of a laser desorption source for specrtoscopy on non-volatile molecules.Omair has an MSc in Physics from the University of St-Andrews and obtained his PhD from the Radboud University Nijmegen. Omair left the group in March 2017 and is now works with Daniele Faccio at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.




Lewis Mitchell

MPhys Student Non-linear refractive index measurements using z-scan

Alyx Donald

BSc Student Physics and mathematics teaching in secondary education

Chris Sparling

Summer Student Technical design of a vacuum chamber stand and technical drawings of a VUV photoelectron spectrometer.

Neil Herron

BSc Student Compact grating compressor.

Megan McTigue

BSc Student Ultrafast spectroscopy of non-volatile biological building blocks.

Jack Woolley

MPhys Student Polarisation-dependant photodynamics of ring systems.

Stefan Maeso

BSc Student Photoelectron data fitting.

Duarte Pais

Summer Student Design of a molecular beam nozzle.

Christy Simpson

Summer Student Matlab software-hardware interfacing.

Emma Burgess

BSc Student Computational studies of cyclohexeneones.

Callum Duncan

Summer Student Design of a feedback beam stabilisation device.

Artur Kaczmarczyk

MPhys Student Investigating strong-field molecular alignments.

Ben Kettle

Summer Student Investigating roaming atom mechanisms through velocity map imaging.

Ben Jankauskas

Summer Student Investigating roaming atom mechanisms through velocity map imaging.

Russell Gordon

Summer Student Measurement and characterization of ultrafast laser pulses.

Franziska Reiter

MPhys Student Investigating roaming atom mechanisms through velocity map imaging.

Stephen Roy

BSc Student Computational simulations of the photoelectron spectra of biologically relevant molecules.

Maria Iljina

Summer Student Design and modelling of velocity map imaging ion optics apparatus.

Ross Donaldson

Summer Student Technical design and implementation of velocity map imaging apparatus.

Martin Smith

MPhys Student Non-collinear optical parametric amplification of ultrafast pulses to create tuneable wavelength ultraviolet femtosecond pulses.

Kimberley Morley

BSc Student Computational simulations of the resonantly enhanced multiphoton (2+1') ionisation spectra of acetylene 

Claudius Weimann

MPhys Student Measurement and characterization of ultrafast laser pulses.

Alexander Wunderle

MPhys Student Computational studies of electronically excited states in model biological systems.