Professor Lee Thompson

Professor of Particle Physics and Astrophysics

Photo of Lee Thompson

Contact details

Group web pages

Particle Physics and Particle Astrophysics Group (PPPA)

Particle Physics and Particle Astrophysics Research Group

Research interests

My research interests fall into 2 broad areas, namely neutrino physics and applications of experimental particle physics.

Neutrino Physics

Neutrinos are fundamental elementary particles. Whilst they are hugely abundant due, e.g. to the nuclear fusion processes taking place in our Sun, their properties of no charge, almost no mass and only interacting via the web interaction result in them being the most enigmatic of the building blocks of the Universe. Furthermore, the family of 3 neutrinos exhibit a unique property in that they can oscillate from one type to another, a phenomenon known as neutrino oscillation. The discovery of the neutrino was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995 and neutrino oscillations received the Nobel Prize in 2015. In 2015 all members of T2K, including myself, were awarded a share in the prestigious Breakthrough Prize.

I am a member of the T2K (Tokai to Kamiokande) and HyperK (HyperKamiokande) experiments, both large international collaborations of scientists from across the world. T2K is an existing long baseline neutrino experiment designed to explore, in detail, neutrino mixing and to measure some of the parameters of the so-called PMNS mixing matrix which parametrises the process. T2K has already been hugely successful in measuring some of these parameters and placing constraints on others such as δCP, a measure of CP violation in the neutrino sector. HyperK is a planned next generation long baseline neutrino oscillation experiment that promises to greatly improve our understanding of neutrino oscillation.

My contributions, past and present, to T2K and HyperK include:

  • Sheffield group leader for T2K and HyperK experiments
  • Overseeing of the quality assessment and control of all of the plastic scintillator used in the T2K ND280 electromagnetic calorimeter (ECAL)
  • Organisation of, and participation in, the production of scintillator/lead layers for part of the T2K ND280 ECAL
  • Project management of the design, construction, commissioning and operation of the ECAL light injection system, a calibration system based on blue LEDs
  • Joint co-ordinator of ECAL endcap test beam studies at CERN
  • Member of T2K Publications Board (2013-2016)
  • Successful supervision of 5 PhD students on T2K (PhD topics: water-based liquid scintillator, silicon photomultipliers, light injection system, neutral current events with a neutral pion, charged current events with a neutral pion).

Plans our T2K and HyperK group for the next few years include:

  • Continuation of existing work on the analysis of T2K data to measure cross-sections, investigate neutrino interactions in the nucleus and observe neutrino-induced events that involve a neutral pion in the final state
  • Construction and testing of a LED-based light injection system for HyperK (in collaboration with our colleagues in Liverpool and Warwick)
  • Development of a HyperK analysis that will permit astrophysical models of supernovae to be tested
  • Continuation of measurements of radionuclide impurities Gadolinium salt samples in the low background BUGS suite at the Boulby mine

I was previously a member of the ANTARES high energy neutrino experiment and currently have observer status on the next generation project, KM3NeT. I was to Principal Investigator (PI) on the ACORNE experiment that looked into acoustic signatures from ultra-high energy neutrinos.

Applications of Experimental Particle Physics

In addition to my work on neutrino physics I have a strong interest in the application of particle physics know-how to real world problems. This started in 2009 when I was the first academic in the Faculty of Science to be successful in obtaining a grant for a government-funded KTP (Knowledge Transfer Programme) jointly with LabLogic Systems Ltd, a medical and pharmaceutical instrumentation company. During this KTP, along with the KTP Associate, Tom Deakin (now R&D manager at LabLogic) we successfully developed a next generation radionuclide detector that is used in connection with high performance liquid chromatography.

Since then my interests in this area have broadened out to include the development of muon tomography instrumentation for applications as diverse as the monitoring of stored carbon in carbon capture and storage, its use in portal monitors to scan cargo containers for contraband nuclear material and the characterisation of radioactive waste.

I am also a member of the WATCHMAN collaboration which brings together my joint interests in neutrinos and applications of particle physics know-how in a project that aims to develop nuclear non-proliferation instrumentation that is capable of detecting nuclear reactors at a considerable standoff distance.

Recent work in applications of particle physics includes:

  • Completion of a next generation β-RAM radionuclide detector for HPLC applications (joint with LabLogic Systems Ltd.)
  • Development of radiodetection systems towards miniaturised quality control of PET and SPECT radio-pharmaceuticals (joint with the University of Hull)
  • Design and construction of a borehole-deployable prototype muon detector for CCS monitoring
  • Development of a UK production base of doped plastic scintillator (joint with LabLogic Systems Ltd.)
  • Construction of large area scintillator panels for a cargo scanner demonstrator (joint with AWE)
  • Application of muon tomography to the characterisation of radioactive waste (supported by a €400,000 EU H2020 grant)

See also the Recent Key Publications tab for further information

Teaching and Departmental administration

Undergraduate Teaching (Current)

  • PHY235 Programming in Python
  • PHY328/PHY428 Advanced Programming in Python
  • PHY421 Particle Physics (lectures on neutrino physics, course leader: Davide Constanzo)

Undergraduate Teaching (Previous)

  • PHY107 Digital Electronics
  • PHY225 Programming in C++
  • PHY225 Programming in C
  • PHY320 Nuclear Astrophysics

Undergraduate Tutorials

  • PHY221/PHY250/PHY251 Level 2 Core Physics

Undergraduate Projects

PHY342 Level 3 Physics Projects (recent project titles)

  • Development of a peak finding and fitting algorithm for the treatment of HPLC spectra
  • The computer simulation of ray tracing in a plastic scintillator
  • Position reconstruction in plastic scintillator
  • Optimisation of multi-variate analyses for the reconstruction of neutrino-induced charged-current neutral pion production
  • The use of radiodetection techniques for low radioactivity detection
  • Computer simulation of particle orbits in a circular storage ring

PHY480 Level 4 Physics Projects (recent project titles)

  • Parallel computing using graphics processing units (GPUs)
  • Nuclear non-proliferation studies using the WATCHMAN anti-neutrino detector

Departmental Administration

  • Head of Undergraduate Admissions
  • Chair, Progress of Students Committee
  • Postgraduate Student Mentor
  • Undergraduate Personal Tutor
  • Member of Departmental Executive
Professional activities
  • Referee for Nature
  • Invited member of STFC Nuclear Security Network Management group
  • Member of STFC Particle Astrophysics Advisory Panel, 2012-2016
  • Reviewer for Dutch, Italian, Swedish and Greek national funding agencies
  • PhD examiner in UK, Sweden, Italy, Spain and France
  • External examiner, Physics and Physics/Astrophysics undergraduate programmes, University of Northumbria
  • Regular reviewer for Nuclear Instruments and Methods, Astroparticle Physics journals
  • Invited outreach talk on neutrinos, EuroScience Open Forum, Italy, 2010
  • Member of international review committee of SPATS Neutrino Experiment, 2010
  • Member of International Organising Committee for several ARENA conferences (since 2004) and MARS 2011 conference;
  • Lecturer on Astroparticle Physics at international postgraduate school, Bavaria, October 2008
  • Invited conference summary talk on acoustic detection, ARENA 2008, Rome, 2008
  • Principal organiser and chair, ARENA 2006 conference, Newcastle, 2006
  • Founding member of UK Institute of Physics Astroparticle Physics group and committee member until 2010
Recent key publications

Over 385 peer-reviewed research papers, h-Index 60 (Scopus)

Neutrino oscillation physics

  • Neutrino oscillation physics potential of the T2K experiment, T2K collaboration, Progress of Theoretical and Experimental Physics, 43C01-0 (2015) doi:10.1093/ptep/ptv031
  • Search for short baseline disappearance with the T2K near detector, T2K collaboration, Physical Review D, 91(5) (2015) doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.91.05.1102
  • Measurement of the νμ charged current quasielastic cross section on carbon with the T2K on-axis neutrino beam, T2K collaboration, Physical Review D, 91(11) (2015) doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.91.112002
  • Measurement of the electron neutrino charged-current interaction rate on water with the T2K ND280 π0 detector, T2K collaboration, Physical Review D, 91(11) (2015) doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.91.112010
  • Physics potential of a long-baseline neutrino oscillation experiment using a J-PARC neutrino beam and Hyper-Kamiokande, Hyper-Kamiokande collaboration, Progress of Theoretical and Experimental Physics, 2015(5), 53C02-0 (2015) doi: 10.1093/ptep/ptv061
  • The prototype detection unit of the KM3NeT detector, KM3NeT collaboration, The European Physical Journal C, 76(2) (2016) doi: 10.1140/epjc/s10052-015-3868-9

Applied physics

  • The Use of Muon Tomography in Nuclear Threat Reduction , L. F Thompson et al., UN International Conference on Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions, IAEA, Vienna. 5th – 9th December 2016 (in preparation)
  • Development of radiodetection systems towards miniaturised quality control of PET and SPECT radiopharmaceuticals, M. Taggart et al., Lab on a Chip, 16, (2016) doi: 10.1039/C6LC00099A
  • Geological repositories: scientific priorities and potential high-technology transfer from the space and physics sectors, S.O.L. Directo et al., Mineralogical Magazine Vol. 79 (2015), doi:10.1180/minmag.2015.079.6.41
  • Simulation of muon radiography for monitoring CO2 stored in a geological reservoir, J Klinger et al., International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control 42 (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.ijggc.2015.09.010
  • Muon tomography for carbon storage and monitoring, S. Pal, et al., Springer Proceedings in Physics. 174 (2016)
  • The application of muon tomography to carbon storage monitoring, L. F. Thompson et al., 4th EAGE CO2 Geological Storage Workshop 2014: Demonstrating Storage Integrity and Building Confidence in CCS (2014)