Following graduation in 1975, Bob went on to gain a PhD at the University of Leicester on the basis of his thesis 'Electronic transport properties of some liquid metals and alloys'. He arrived at the University of Kent in 1985 to take the post of Lecturer in Condensed Matter Physics, having spent the intervening years as a postdoctoral researcher, and then as Senior Scientific Officer at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory working on the development of their pulsed neutron source – part of which involved secondment to a national neutron facility in the USA during 1983/4. He has played a central role in several University developments since then, including the creation of one of the first Graduate Schools on campus and the definition of early website strategies. In 1997 he became the founding head of department for the new School of Physical Sciences, and continued in that role until 2000.
Bob, unusually, has been elected a Fellow of both the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry, and was a Leverhulme Research Fellow for the year 1995/6. In 2007 he was awarded the higher research degree, a DSc, by the University of Leicester on the basis (in their words) of his 'eminence in his field and his published work, which constitutes a sustained, original and distinguished contribution to knowledge, including seminal publications which have led to significant developments in the area of research'.
He has been a member of or has chaired several national research panels/ committees, in the UK and in France, and has been consulted by, or has taught at, universities and companies in Sweden, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia and the USA. He has chaired the Science & Technology Facilities Council's Physical & Life Sciences Committee and was subsequently a member of their Science Board.
Throughout his career he was a champion for the UK’s world-leading X-ray and neutron research facilities. For example, he served as a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the Diamond Light Source. Since his ‘retirement’ he has been elected a Fellow of the Society of Glass Technology.
Bob ‘retired’ a couple of years ago, although he is still publishing the results of research. His former team, many now pursuing successful research careers of their own, was focused on understanding the atomic-scale structure of novel amorphous (non-crystalline) materials of contemporary interest such as non-linear optical glasses and 'sol gel' glasses which may be catalytically or biologically active.
His more recent research interests centred primarily on the synthesis and basic understanding of bioactive glasses, which have a range of potential applications including bone regeneration, antibacterial materials and drug delivery systems. The structure of a given material has always been a key factor in determining its macroscopic properties: the ethos of his work derived from his central interest in explaining why novel amorphous materials behave in the way they do: in other words to provide the research that will underpin a full understanding of their technologically useful attributes.
His firm belief is that complex materials or systems can rarely, if ever, be fully understood at the atomic/molecular or mesoscopic level if only a single experimental technique is used. He therefore sought to adopt, and to develop, a research methodology which embraces a wide range of traditionally disparate structural probes in an attempt to provide a more complete, and hence robust and widely applicable, picture. These included the use of a number of X-ray and neutron scattering techniques, together with computer simulation and modelling and many other complementary methods such as IR and Raman spectroscopy. His team's work was truly interdisciplinary, involving experimental and theoretical work in, and links with chemistry, engineering, materials science and bio/medical-engineering.
Bob is currently teaching science-focused courses for the University of the Third Age, U3A. Topics include ‘The Science and Art of Glass’, ‘Radiation’, ‘Sound’, ‘Colour’ and ‘What’s so Special About the Earth’.
Bob's former teaching covered a wide spectrum during his three-decade tenure at Kent. Innovation was a continual theme in his approach to teaching, for instance he led a successful curriculum development project aimed at moving suitable lecture courses into a hypertext media; these early interests were evident through his University/faculty-leading role in e-learning. He was a leading member of the 'Refreshing Physics' project, which attracted much interest nationally.
Bob has served as Chief Examiner, as Director of Undergraduate Studies for Physics, as Director of Education and as Senior Tutor for the School of Physical Sciences. He was the founding chair of the University's Senior Tutor Network, which he chaired until 2010. He served as the Chief External Examiner for Physics at the University of Leicester, 2005-2008. He was awarded the Faculty's Teaching Prize for 2009-2010 for his innovative work in engaging Foundation Year students.