Professor Neil Spooner

Prof Neil SpoonerProfessor of Particle Physics and Astrophysics

Contact details

  • Room: E23
  • Phone: +44 (0)114 22 24422
  • Fax: +44 (0)114 272 8079


Group website


  • Head of Particle Physics for 15 years, now 65 people, 13 acads, 4-fold growth since I started
  • PI for 5 STFC Consolidated Grants; current group active grants £8.9M, CG £3.8M, ~1.8M/yr
  • Total grant income as PI over 15 years >£25M
  • Group cited by STFC as best PP group in UK for industrial outreach and impact
  • Founder of spin-out company Durridge (UK) Ltd.
  • Founder of Sheffield Neutron Beam scattering facility ~£800K new build
  • Founder of the Boulby Underground Lab and PI for the Palmer Lab construction ~£3.1M
  • Co-Founder of IOP Particle Astrophysics Committee
  • Award winning course using reverse learning and clickers - “Dark Matter and the Universe”
  • Extensive international peer reviewing; currently on top Canadian SAPES committee, Italian INFN Gran Sasso Science Committee, US NSF committees – 15 days/year all expense paid
  • Have given >100 expense-paid invited talks – e.g. this year: IOP-HEPP keynote on Dark Matter and expense-paid seminars in Kobe, Tokyo, Frascati, Melbourne, Seoul, Chicago
  • Founder & chair of seminal conference series Identification of Dark Matter now in 20th Year (currently organising this in Sheffield for July 2016, 250 attendees expected)
  • 10 years as head of department research committee, responsible for RAE2008, REF inputs, Science Faculty Research Committee
  • Chair of Inter-faculty Projects on Security and Climate Change, spin-out from particle physics
  • Supervisor of 21 PhDs including Dan Tovey now elect-head of ATLAS physics
  • Extensive experience of grant earning including EU, MRC, Leverhulme, EPSRC, STFC, Industry
  • Extensive experience as chair of large international consortia, e.g. chief scientist of EU Framework 6 ILIAS, co-founder of F7 LAGUNA major EU projects
  • Currently chairing CYGNUS international dark matter collaboration – 20 institutes
  • Responsible for delivery of main hardware component of the SBND neutrino project at Fermilab
Recent Grants, Awards and International Leadership

Leadership in multi-group, international programmes and of the Sheffield Particle Physics group:

2000-2016: PI for 5 Sheffield Particle Physics, STFC rolling grants and consolidated grants for ATLAS, T2K, MICE, DUNE, Hyper-K and dark matter experiments - responsible for 13 academics and 65 total staff (e.g. 2015 CG is £3.8M) total accumulated >£25M.

1999-2012: PI for (and founder of) the Boulby Underground Facility Palmer Laboratory with 1500 m2 underground space at 1.1 km dept (e.g. JIF award, 2000-2005, £3.1M)
2000-2012 Leader of large dark matter group - av. 3 academics, 1-5 PDRAs, 4 PhDs; PI for group's R&D and DRIFT dark matter experiment (e.g. award 2002-2009 ~£0.4M/yr)
1999-2016: European/UK PI for the DRIFT dark matter experiment - now 6 institutes (£0.1M/yr)
2010-2014: co-PI, co-founder EU FP7 design study LAGUNA-LBNO (€4.8M, total) - 40 institutes, 11 countries, WP coordinator (UK award €0.5M)
2011-2014: PI Project Deep Carbon – carbon sequestration monitor (inter-faculty award ~£0.2M)
2011-2013: PI DRIFT dark matter (US NSF award via Occidental College ~0.1M)
2012-2015: PI Project NIFT – neutron imaging for security (Leverhulme Trust ~£0.1M)
2012-2015: Co-PI, instigator – carbon sequestration DECC programme (DECC award ~£1.5M)
2012-2015: PI Project Liquid Argon/LBNO, within PP CG award (STFC ~ £0.15M)
2012-2016: PI Business Fellowship ISP (STFC/University award ~ £0.2M)
2014-2016: PI MRC medical imaging with liquid argon (“POC award” ~ £50K)
2015-2017: PI UK-DUNE APA grant (STFC ~ £250K), multiple STFC bridging grants
Total Grant Income as PI since 2001 ~£25M

Recent Teaching and Inspiring Young Researchers, Recent Public Outreach
  • Total 21 PhD students and 24 post-docs supervised. Many now have academic careers.
  • Currently supervising 4 PhD students and 2 RAs
  • Undergraduate courses taught (lectures): “Interstellar Medium” (20), “Cosmology” (12), "Experimental Particle Physics" (4). Currently "Dark Matter and the Universe" (21), "Nuclear Physics" (20), Waves (12).
  • Award wining course "Dark Matter and the Universe" using reverse learning
  • Examples of outreach:
2015-16: IOP invited talks on dark matter and neutrinos, Durham, QMUL (audience ~150) 2013-15: AstroSoc talks: Manchester, Huddersfield, Doncaster, Falmouth…(total audience ~250)
2013: Invited talk, British Association for Advancement of Science " Dark Matter" (audience 200)
2012: Invited talk, Cheltenham Science Festival "Hunting for Dark Matter" (audience 600)
2011: Chair EU outreach film on underground science
2010: Presentation with European Vice President, VIPs and at the Boulby Laboratory LAGUNA day
2009: Author, Boulby Underground Laboratory Brochure; chair of Palmer Lab naming ceremony
2004-2008: Chair, joint European Deep Laboratories outreach programme in FP7 ILIAS (€300K)
2005-2007: Major Outreach Award (PPARC) with U. Durham - schools material on Boulby (£100K)
TV work: e.g. for BBC TV “Steven Hawking’s Universe”, “Horizon", Channel 4 TV "The Universe"
Radio: e.g. for national BBC Radio 4 “Science Now”, “Today Programme”, "Cosmic Quest"
Media: e.g. for Sunday Times, Financial Times, Sunday Telegraph, Telegraph and local press
Politicians: talks to three UK science ministers, UK chief scientist and deputy prime minister (2014)
Recent Spin out, Industry and Interdisciplinary Activity, Community Service 2012-2016: Co-PI, instigator – Carbon Sequestration DECC programme (DECC award ~£1.5M)
2012-2016: PI Business Fellowship ISP (STFC/University ~ £300K)
2011-2015: PI “Deep Carbon” muon tomography to monitor deep CO2 storage, £200K award
2012-2015: PI Project NIFT neutron imaging for security (Leverhulme Trust ~£0.1M)
2008-2010: PI deep underground geo-engineering (AAE Ltd., CPL), £100K EU/AAE Ltd. award 2006-2011: PI neutron portal detectors for nuclear security (Corus Ltd.), PhD student
2007-2001: Neutron security detectors (UK Home Office) awarded us ~£250K; anti-terrorism detectors (EPSRC) awarded £900K for neutron security imaging project
2007-2009: PI, Chair of University’s interdisciplinary business network on Crime and Security Detectors awarded two year University Business Research Fellow post (£100K)
  • Record of engagement and leadership in large European integrated actions and FP6/7 projects: ILIAS, ILIAS-NEXT, ASPERA, LAGUNA, LBNO, DUNE (2005-)
  • Chair of Departmental Research Strategy Committee (2008-)
  • Founder UK Institute of Physics Astroparticle Physics Committee (2007-)
  • UK/EU particle physics advisory boards, multiple international review committees
International Leadership, Research Recognition, Organisation of International Conferences
  • Awarded PPARC Senior Research Fellowship (2002-2006) - these are prestigious awards with only a few given covering the whole UK area of particle physics, astrophysics, space and nuclear physics
  • Head of University of Sheffield Particle Physics and Particle Astrophysics group for 15 years
  • Chair, founder and Editor of the conference series "Identification of Dark Matter" IDM96, IDM98…. IDM2010 – most recently held in Amsterdam IDM2014 (200-300 participants), next in Sheffield 2016
  • PI for, founder of, the Boulby Underground Laboratory, grant holder for the £3.1M Palmer Laboratory
  • Elected Chief Project Scientist of ILIAS (EU Particle F6 project - 1000 scientists, 23 institutions). This was a major Integrated Action project that united the 4 big underground laboratories of Europe
  • Founding member of European ApPEC panel to build FP EU bids in Astroparticle Physics
  • Chair of EU Underground Laboratory Network ILIAS-N2 (2003-2008)
  • Elected chair of European dark matter network in ILIAS-NEXT FP7 proposal (2008)
  • co-PI, co-founder (of 3 people) EU FP7 neutrino physics design study LAGUNA (21 institutes) funded
  • co-PI, EU FP7 neutrino physics design study LAGUNA-LBNO (40 institutes) funded
  • Sub-editor (dark matter) Particle Physics data book (2006-2008)
  • co-Author book "Particle Dark Matter" (CUP, 2009)
  • Chair CYGNUS dark matter global directional dark matter consort (Australia US, UK, Japan, France..)
  • Institute boards of LBNE, DUNE, SBND, CYGNUS, member Fermilab RDNEC committee
  • UK-PI DM-ICE dark matter South Pole consortium and COSINE collaboration
International Scientific Refereeing and Editorials Boards Examples Recent Examples
  • NSERC (Canada) member of SAPES subatomic physics evaluation committee (this is the highest level committee in Canada covering particle and nuclear physics funding).
  • Member Gran Sasso Underground Laboratory Scientific Committee (Italy, INFN), chair Borexino panel
  • NSERC (Canada) SNOLAB science review panel (DEEP, SNO+ review panels)
  • Invited only non-US citizen on NSF (USA) Committee of Visitors (CoV) science review committee
  • Invited non-US citizen on NSF (USA) S4 DUSEL science review committee
  • International representative on NSF S3 panel that made final selection of Homestake as site for US $500M national underground laboratory DUSEL
  • DSG (Germany) trans-regio science panel
  • Editorial Board of the Journal Adv. in High Energy Phys.: paper reviews for Astroparticle Physics IEEE, Physical Rev. Lett., Nuclear Instruments and Methods and others
  • Currently writing book for Cambridge University Press “Dark Matter and the Universe”
Recent selected papers 1. First Search for a Dark Matter Annual Modulation Signal with NaI(Tl) in the Southern Hemisphere by DM-Ice17. E. Barbosa de Souza, J. Cherwinka….N.J.C. Sooner et al., accepted in Phys. Lett. B. (2016) arXiv:1602.05939.
2. Muon-induced background to proton decay with large underground liquid argon TPC detectors. J. Klinger, V.A. Kudryavtsev, M. Richardson and N.J.C. Spooner. Phys.Lett. B746 (2015) 44-47.
3. Cryogenic Gaseous PMT for Position Reconstruction of Liquid Argon Scintillation Light. B. Lopez Paredes, C.D.R. Azevedo… N.J.C. Spooner et al., JINST 10 (2015) 07017.
4. First Background-free limit from a directional dark matter experiment. J.B.R Battat…N.J.C. Spooner et al., Phys. Dark Univ. 9/10 (2014) 1-7.
5. The Mass-hierarchy and CP-violation discovery reach of the LBNO long-baseline neutrino experiment. S.K. Agarwalla et al., JHEP 1405 (2014) 094.
6. Long-term study of backgrounds in the DRIFT-II directional dark matter experiment. E. Daw…N.J.C. Spooner et al., JINST 9 (2014) 07021.
7. Monitoring subsurface CO2 emplacement and security of storage using muon tomography. V.A. Kudryavtsev, N.J.C. Spooner, J. Gluyas, M. Coleman, Int. J. Greenhouse Gas Control 11 (2012) 21.
8. A search for the dark matter annual modulation in South Pole ice. J. Cherwinka….N.J.C. Spooner et al., Astropart. Phys. 35 (2012) 749.
9. Dark matter limits from the DRIFTIId experiment at Boulby. E. Daw… N.J.C. Spooner et al., Astropart. Phys. 35 (2011) 100.
10. Simulations of head-tail directionality for dark matter. N.J.C. Spooner et al., Astropart. Phys. 34 (2010) 284.
11. The case for a directional dark matter detector. S. Ahlen…. N.J.C. Spooner et al., Int. J. Mod. Phys. A25 (2010) 51.
12. Optical readout tracking detector concept using secondary scintillation from liquid argon. P.K. Lightfoot… N.J.C. Spooner, JINST 4:P04002 (2009).
Summary of Research Activity and Achievements Dark Matter: I was a pioneer of dark matter direct detection techniques, the first to demonstrate simultaneous detection of phonons and ionisation in silicon at mK temperatures and the first to seriously explore nuclear recoil direction sensitive techniques. This has developed into the DRIFT experiment and the new CYGNUS global consortium that I chair. I led the NAIAD dark matter experiment that was an early world-leader in the field. I was founder of the UK’s Boulby Underground Laboratory and PI of the first major investment there, the Palmer Lab. Current research activity focuses on long-standing efforts in Particle Astrophysics towards discovery of WIMP dark matter by direct search experiments, in particular through the DRIFT-CYGNUS directional programme and use of Boulby and other deep underground facilities. This includes, directional data analysis, R&D on gas TPCs, low background efforts on radon and surface contamination, design and operation of large directional WIMP search devices. Efforts are also underway with the DM-ICE scintillator-based annual modulation at the South Pole using trail detectors built by us.

Neutrino Physics: I was a UK pioneer in liquid argon technology for neutrino detection and have lead group efforts on liquid argon detectors for long baseline neutrino physics, DUNE, SBND, ArgonCUBE. Key work is on development of GEM readout technology and work on cosmic background simulations, also relevant to proton decay and astrophysical neutrinos.

Detector Technology spin-out: I lead a group activity in developing particle physics technology for societal benefit. This includes large projects on muon tomography for carbon sequestration, work on muon propagation simulations and cosmic ray induced backgrounds. Also nuclear security application using neutron imaging technology and developments for medical PET/SPECT.

Underground Physics and Low Background: As original founder of the Boulby underground site I am active developing low background underground physics. Notable is new work on radon mitigation and ultra-sensitive detection. I am director of the spin-out company Durridge Ltd. spun-out from this.