Professor Richard E Palmer MA PhD CPhys FInstP

Professor Richard E Palmer

School of Physics and Astronomy
Professor of Experimental Physics
Head, Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory

Contact details

+44 (0) 121 414 4653
+44 (0) 121 414 7327
Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Richard established the Nanoscale Physics Research Lab (NPRL) in 1994 as the first centre for nanoscience in England. His research interests lie in atomic manipulation, atomic clusters, nanofabrication and novel instrument development with applications in catalysis, theranostics and clean energy.

He has published about 400 research papers and 20+ patent applications and given more than 300 invited talks. His work has featured in over 100 media articles and programs and also led to the creation of a series of high tech spin-off companies.

Richard is Editor-in-Chief of Advances in Physics: X (Taylor & Francis) and Editor of the Elsevier Book Series ‘Frontiers of Nanoscience’.


  • Fellowship of the Learned Society of Wales, 2014
  • Fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry, 2012
  • Honorary Doctoral Degree awarded by Hasselt University, Belgium, 2010 
  • Fellowship of the Institute of Physics, 1996
  • MA and PhD, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, awarded 1987
  • BA (1st Class), Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1983


Richard Palmer obtained his first degree (1983) and PhD (1987) at Cambridge University, where he subsequently held 1851 (1986-1988), Clare College (1987-1994) and Royal Society Research Fellowships (1988-1994). In this period his research was mainly focused on surface physics, notably the resonance states of molecules on surfaces. Richard’s interest in nanotechnology began in the early 1990’s and found full opportunity for expression upon his appointment as Professor of Experimental Physics at Birmingham in 1994 at the age of 32 and the formation of the Nanoscale Physics Research Lab. 

Richard has held visiting positions at Cornell, Oxford and Harvard Universities. He has been elected to Honorary Professorships at the University of Wales, Swansea, Harbin Institute of Technology, China and Nanjing University. He received the 1996 Charles Vernon Boys Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics, gave the Mott Prize Lecture in 1997 and the IoP Ireland Lectures in 2006, and was awarded the Senior Prize and John Yarwood Memorial Medal of the British Vacuum Council in 2013. He was founding Chair of the IoP’s Nanoscale Physics and Technology group. He was awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree by Hasselt University, Belgium in 2010 and a senior EPSRC fellowship in 2012.

The four spin-off companies created from Richard’s research after 2005 were Inanovate (biochips), Interface Spectra Limited (SPELS), Birmingham Instruments (cluster beams) and Irresistible Materials (molecular resists). He also played a central role in the formation of Materials Solutions (nanomaterials). The formation of these companies fulfils a longstanding desire to translate new discoveries into technology and to contribute to the regeneration of the Midlands.


Richard currently holds an EPSRC Research Fellowship but is a Year 3 Tutor and Critique Supervisor and supervises a number of summer research projects.

Postgraduate supervision

Richard usually recruits two or three PhD students each year. His own, multi-national research group typically consists of between 12 and 18 PhD students together with a set of post-doctoral Research Fellows, making about 20 researchers in total. Most PhD candidates make informal contact by email in the first instance. Research projects are devised which match the expertise and interests of outstanding candidates to the research topics pursued by REP and funded by appropriate grants or sponsors.

PhD opportunities


Research Themes

Nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Research Activity

Richard has established a number of research programs, in atomic manipulation, atomic clusters and nanofabrication (with Dr Alex Robinson), underpinned by the development of novel scientific instruments, which - together with their applications in catalysis, theranostics and clean energy - represent his principal current research interests.

The research programs he established in self-assembly and ultrafast (femtosecond) dynamics are now led by fellow staff members in the NPRL (Dr Quanmin Guo and Dr Andrey Kaplan, respectively). The atomic clusters research has also led to a program on aberration-corrected electron microscopy, which overlaps with the interests of Dr Ziyou Li.

More specific details of this research can be found on the Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory pages.

Other activities

Editorial Boards (Current)

  • Editor-in-Chief, Advances in Physics: X (Taylor & Francis), 2014
  • Editorial Board, Science China Materials (Springer), 2014
  • Editorial Board, Nano Energy (Elsevier), 2011
  • Editorial Board, ACS Nano (American Chemical Society), 2009
  • Editorial Board, Nano Research (Springer), 2008
  • Series Editor, Elsevier Series on Frontiers of Nanoscience, 2004
  • Editorial Board, Small (Wiley-VCH), 2004

Conference Series

  • Cluster-Surface Interactions (CSI), Chair of the Steering Committee
  • Dynamics, Interactions and Electronic Transitions at Surfaces (DIET) Conference Series, Chair of the Steering Committee


P.R. Ellis, C.M. Brown, P.T. Bishop, J.L. Yin, K. Cooke, W.D. Terry, J. Liu, F. Yin and R.E. Palmer (2016) The cluster beam route to model catalysts and beyond, Faraday Discussions, Advance Article

RE Palmer, L Cao, F Yin (2016) Note: Proof of principle of a new type of cluster beam source with potential for scale-up, Rev. Sci. Instrum87 046103

R.E. Palmer (2016) From plasmons to plankton: the wonderful world of physics Advances in Physics:1 1

K.J. Hu, S.R. Plant, P.R. Ellis, C.M. Brown, P.T. Bishop and R.E. Palmer (2015) Atomic resolution observation of a size-dependent change in the ripening modes of mass-selected Au nanoclusters involved in CO oxidation, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 137 15161-1516

D. Lock, K.R. Rusimova, T.L. Pan, R.E. Palmer and P.A. Sloan (2015) Atomically resolved real-space imaging of hot electron dynamics, Nat. Commun. 6 8365

M. Jamshad, V. Grimard, I. Idini, T.J. Knowles, M.R. Dowle, N. Schofield, P. Sridhar, Y.P. Lin, R. Finka, M. Wheatley, O.R.T. Thomas, R.E. Palmer, M. Overduin, C. Govaerts, J.M. Ruysschaert, K.J. Edler and T.R. Dafforn (2015) Structural analysis of a nanoparticle containing a lipid bilayer used for detergent-free extraction of membrane proteins Nano Research 8 774-789

D.M. Wells, G. Rossi, R. Ferrando and R.E. Palmer (2015) Metastability of the atomic structures of size-selected gold nanoparticles, Nanoscale 7 6498-6503 [Cover]

S.R. Plant, L. Cao and R.E. Palmer (2014) Atomic structure control of size-selected gold nanoclusters during formation, J. Am. Chem. Soc. (Communications) 136 7559-7562 See also “Controlling Gold Nanoparticle Formation, a Few Atoms at a Time”, JACS Spotlights, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 136 7517–7518 (2014).

M.J. Cuddy, K.P. Arkill, Z.W. Wang, H.P. Komsa, A.V. Krasheninnikov and R.E. Palmer (2014) Fabrication and atomic structure of size-selected, layered MoS2 clusters for catalysis, Nanoscale 6 12463-12469

S.R. Plant, L. Cao, F. Yin, Z.W. Wang and R.E. Palmer (2014) Size-dependent propagation of Au nanoclusters through few-layer graphene, Nanoscale 6 1258-1263 [Cover]

R.E. Palmer, A.P.G.  Robinson and Q. Guo, (2013) How Nanoscience Translates into Technology: The Case of Self-Assembled Monolayers, Electron-Beam Writing, and Carbon Nanomembranes, ACS Nano 7 6416-6421

Z.W. Wang and R.E. Palmer (2012) Experimental evidence for fluctuating, chiral-type Au55 clusters by direct atomic imaging, Nano Lett. 12 5510-5514

Z.W. Wang and R.E. Palmer (2012) Determination of the ground-state atomic structures of size-selected Au nanoclusters by electron-beam-induced tranformation, Phys. Rev. Lett. 108 245502

Z.W. Wang and R.E. Palmer (2012) Mass spectrometry and dynamics of gold adatoms observed on the surface of size-selected Au nanoclusters, Nano Lett. 12 91-95

J.E. Allen, E.R. Hemesath, D.E. Perea, J.L. Lensch-Falk, Z.Y. Li, F. Yin, M.H. Gass, P. Wang, A.L. Bleloch, R.E. Palmer and L. Lauhon (2008) High-resolution detection of Au catalyst atoms in Si nanowires, Nature Nanotechnology 3 168-173 (2008).

Z.Y. Li, N.P. Young, M. Di Vece, R.E. Palmer, A.L. Bleloch, B.C. Curley, R.L. Johnston, J. Jiang, J. Yuan (2008) Three-dimensional atomic-scale structure of size-selected gold nanoclusters, Nature 451 46-48

P.A. Sloan and R.E. Palmer (2005) Two-electron dissociation of single molecules by atomic manipulation at room temperature, Nature 434 367-371