Professor Tim Softley FRS

Professor Tim Softley

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer

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Tim Softley is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer.  As such his responsibilities are to lead the University’s research performance with the aim of positioning the University firmly amongst the leading research universities in the UK. He takes the lead role on preparing and the delivery of actions to enhance Birmingham’s position in the next REF, and on working to improve the University’s grant capture, including research funding from business and industry. As a member of the University Executive Board and the Strategic Planning and Resources Committee, he contributes to the broader leadership and direction of the University, and supports the Provost in academic planning matters including the annual planning and target-setting cycle.  In the area of Knowledge Transfer, he is a Nominated Officer on University of Birmingham Enterprise Board, and represents the University on the WMCA Innovation Board and the Midlands Innovation PVC Board. He works with the Graduate School and the Postgraduate Dean to enhance the graduate research student experience and to facilitate recruitment of high quality graduate students.  He is Chair of the Research Committee, the Research Ethics Integrity and Governance Committee, and the Academic IT Resources Group.


Tim moved to Birmingham in September 2015 after a period of 25 years at the University of Oxford, where most recently he was Head of Chemistry (2011-2015), Professor of Chemical Physics, and a Tutorial Fellow at Merton College. He also held the position of Associate Head (Academic) of the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division at Oxford (2006-2011), and was an elected member of the University Council and its Planning and Resources Allocation Committee (2004-2010). He was the Senior Proctor of the University 2002-2003. After reading Chemistry at Wadham College Oxford, he moved to Southampton for a PhD (with Alan Carrington), Stanford University in California as a Harkness Fellow for a period of post-doctoral research (with Dick Zare), and then Cambridge University as a Royal Society Research Fellow and Fellow of Darwin College (1987-1990). Tim is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2018.

Tim’s current research interests are in the field of Ultracold Chemistry and also in the interaction of laser-excited atoms and molecules with solid surfaces. His experimental research programme is funded by EPSRC. In the first area of research the objective is to study the kinetics and dynamics of chemical processes at extremely low temperatures, close to the absolute zero of temperature. This is a new physical regime for chemistry in which the quantum nature of matter is expected to be prominent and chemical collisions between molecules described more in terms of wave mechanics than in the traditional realm of billiard-ball collisions. He has developed unique experiments that combine various physical devices for making cold atoms, molecules and ions under very low pressure conditions. His other area of research explores how the laser-excitation of atoms and molecules into so-called Rydberg states, in which one electron is in a very distant orbit, leads to an electron transfer process that can be controlled through the selection of specific Rydberg quantum states and is sensitive to geometrical and electronic properties of the surface. He has collaborators in the US, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, Austria and Denmark as well as the UK (Oxford, Sussex, Durham).