Current Group Members

Prof. Dave Townsend (

Dave has over 20 years of experience in the field of gas-phase molecular spectroscopy and dynamics, working extensively in the area of charged particle imaging and photofragment angular distributions using both time- and frequency-resolved methods. He obtained his undergraduate degree and PhD from the University of Nottingham and spent time as a postdoctoral researcher- firstly at the University of Oxford and then in the USA and Canada. Dave arrived at Heriot-Watt in 2007 and is jointly affiliated to the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences and the Institute of Chemical Sciences.

Current Group Members

Dr Nikoleta Kotsina (

Nikoleta studied physics at the University of Ionnina, Greece, graduating in 2008. In 2015 she obtained her PhD from the University of Ioannina where she investigated ionization/dissociation of small molecules with intense shaped laser pulses. She remained in Ioannina as a postdoc for 6 months before coming to Heriot-Watt in February 2016. She is now undertaking time-resolved photoelectron imaging work exploiting fs-VUV pulses and novel schemes for broadly tuneable UV/VUV generation using hollow-core photonic crystal fibers.


Dr Stuart Crane (

Stuart first joined the group as a final year MPhys project student at Heriot-Watt, where he worked on designing a UV autocorrelator. He then commenced his PhD studies during the summer of 2014. Stuart worked on Time-resolved Spectroscopy of Non-volatile Biomolecule Analogues and graduated in November 2018. Stuart went on to work as a postdoc at the University of Brisol for Prof. Mike Ashfold between July 2018 and December 2020 working on the Coulomb explosion imaging of small molecules. Stuart has recently rejoined the group and is presently working on transient absorption spectroscopy.

Chris Sparling (

Chris obtained an MPhys in Chemical Physics from Heriot-Watt in 2019. Prior to signing up full time for his PhD, he previously worked in the group as both a summer student and a final year project student. Chris is developing a new imaging spectrometer for investigating photoelectron circular dichroism phenomena in the multiphoton ionization of chiral molecules. He is also investigating new strategies for processing photoelectron data.




Malcolm Garrow (

Malcolm obtained an MChem chemistry degree from Heriot-Watt in 2020, working with Prof. Matt Costen in his final year project, studying the stereodynamics of inelastic collisions in the gas phase of rotationally excited NO with neon.  He is now undergoing a PhD project in collaboration with Dr. Stuart Greaves in developing an ultrafast transient absorption experiment, with the main goal being to study the excited state dynamics of porphyrin-like molecules in the solution phase for their potential effectiveness in photodynamic therapy. 

Seb Jackson (

Seb graduated from The University of Edinburgh with a Master of Chemical Physics MChemPhys (Hons). Spending his final year abroad, he studied in Prof. P-T. Chou’s lab at National Taiwan University. Seb joined Dave’s group at Heriot-Watt University in 2020. His current work is to develop soliton based ultrafast, vacuum-ultraviolet light sources for time resolved photoelectron imaging. He also uses the computational chemistry package Gaussian to explore the theory of the excited state and non-radiative pathways of small molecules.

Former Group Members

Dr Ruth Livingstone

Ruth obtained an undergraduate masters degree in physics from Heriot-Watt University in 2008. She obtained her PhD in 2012 for work on The Ultrafast Molecular Dynamics of Model Biological Systems. After leaving the group Ruth has held postdoc positions at the Max-Planck institute in Mainz, working with Dr Ellen Backus, and with Prof. Jöchen Kupper in Hamburg.




Dr James Thompson

James obtained a masters degree in chemistry from the university of Nottingham before coming to Heriot-Watt to study the <em>Time-resolved photoelectron Imaging of Model Biochromophores</em>. James obtained his PhD in April 2015 before undertaking a short postdoc position with Prof. Eleanor Campbell at the University of Edinburgh. He then went on to a research associate position with Prof. Arthur Suits at Columbia University, Missouri before returning to the University of Nottingham in 2019 to start a postdoc with Prof. Katharine Reid.

Dr Marco Candelaresi

Marco was an integral part of the fs-VUV project. He got his PhD at LENS (Laboratory of non-linear spectroscopy) in Florence in 2009. After that he worked in the group of Prof. Neil Hunt (then at Strathclyde University), performing 2DIR spectroscopy experiments, and in industry for a few years before joining the Townsend group as a postdoc at the end of 2013. Marco left the group in August 2015 and now works for ST microelectronics in Edinburgh.


Dr Omair Ghafur

Omair joined the ultrafast molecular dynamics group as a postdoc in July 2013 to lead the design and implementation of a novel laser desorption source for spectroscopy on non-volatile molecules. Omair has an MSc in physics from the University of St Andrews and obtained his PhD from Radboud University, Nijmegen. Omair left the group in March 2017 and currently works at the Max-Born institute in Berlin.


Dr Magdalena Zawadzki

Magdalena studied physics at the University of Würzburg and graduated as "Dimplom-Physikerin" in 2011. She then worked as a scientist in the ultrafast laser industry before joining the Townsend group in 2013 as a PhD student, working on generating short VUV pulses for Interrogating Non-adiabatic Molecular Dynamics using Ultrafast Nonlinear Optics. Magdalena obtained her PhD in June 2017 and now works for laser company Toptica back in Germany.


Dr Lisa Saalbach

Lisa obtained her Masters degree in Chemical Physics from Heriot-Watt. During this time she also worked in the Townsend group as a summer student for three years. Following a final year MPhys project with Prof. Martin Paterson (our long-time theory collaborator) Lisa commenced her PhD studies in 2016. Lisa completed her PhD on Time-Resolved Studies of Excited State Molecular Dyanmics in April 2020. Lisa is currently working as a postdoc at in the single-photon group at Heriot-Watt.


Dr Paul Lane

Paul studied for a BSc and Masters degree at the University of Liverpool prior to obtaining a PhD at the University of Edinburgh. He then took up PDRA positions developing an ultrafast electron diffractometer at Edinburgh and later York, and using multidimensional spectroscopy to study ultrafast dyamics in the solution phase. In 2015 Paul began working at Heriot-Watt in the group of Matt Costen applying frequency modulated spectroscopy to the gas-liquid interface. Paul joined the Townsend group January 2020 working on the development of a transient absorption spectrometer and left the group in January 2021. He now works as a PDRA with Prof. Matt Costen.