Sir Richard Friend and David Harding

Funded by a £20 million donation from David Harding, the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability aims to address some of the major challenges affecting the modern world.

While it is not quite as simple as using physics to save the world, this is an opportunity to develop materials with seemingly miraculous properties that could combat the growing effect humans are having on the planet.

David Harding

An innovative programme which will focus on using physics to meet the growing demand on our natural resources was launched today at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

The programme is the brainchild of David Harding, the founder, chairman and head of research of Winton Capital Management, who has pledged to donate £20 million to the Cavendish, Cambridge's Department of Physics, to set up and fund The Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability.

His gift, the largest donation to the lab since its creation in 1874, will create a new programme for the physics of sustainability to make new technologies available which address the challenges facing society. There will be a strong emphasis upon fundamental physics research into such areas as renewable energy - to include photovoltaics, electrical storage, etc - that will have important implications for the sustainability agenda in the long-term.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, visited the Cavendish this morning to mark the launch. As of today, the University is also inviting applications for up to four advanced research fellowships with the Winton Programme, as well as scholarships for PhD students. The advanced research fellowships will support outstanding scientists and will allow them to develop an independent research career. Details can be found at:

"Cambridge has a slogan: 'The Freedom to Discover' and I am hoping I can give the scientists of the Cavendish more freedom to discover," says David Harding. "I studied theoretical physics at Cambridge, and the Cavendish has always had the reputation of attracting the finest minds in the world.

"While it is not quite as simple as using physics to save the world, this is an opportunity to use, for example, quantum physics to develop materials with seemingly miraculous properties that could combat the growing effect humans are having on the planet. I want to encourage research to keep the skies blue."

David's donation will help the Cavendish Laboratory, the birthplace of molecular biology and nuclear physics, cement its position at the forefront of the next revolution in physics. The donation will support programmes that explore basic science that can generate the new technologies and new industries that will be needed to meet the demands of a growing population on our already strained natural resources.

Some of the areas which will be explored as part of the Winton Programme include:

  • Designer Materials - Atom by atom manipulation and growth for the creation of new chemical environments with desirable properties. Using materials chemistry for molecular engineering, the scientists hope to change the properties of materials by applying extreme conditions of temperature, pressure, and magnetic and electric fields to search for emergent properties such as superconductivity or magnetism. The ultimate goals might include: a room temperature superconductor; a new material which would revolutionise refrigeration; electrical storage densities to rival gasoline; and new mechanisms for thermoelectricity to scavenge heat from the environment.
  • Light and matter - The primary source of energy on our planet is sunlight. Converting light to useful stored energy needs materials with controlled quantum chemistry, delivered on a vast scale in cheap and robust devices. One possibility is the use of photovoltaics, which convert solar radiation into energy. However, they require both strong optical absorption and good electrical transport, two challenging physics problems which the programme will explore.
  • Self-assembly - Energy applications will need nanoscale engineering that can be delivered by the tonne and will therefore require the invention of new manufacturing methods. Biology currently holds the only examples of functional and interacting structures at the nanoscale, using nanomachines for everything from photosynthesis to the transfer of energy through cells. The scientists will strive to replace top-down fabrication by bottom-up self-assembly of structures, using natural systems for inspiration and exploiting a mixture of physical processes and programmed methods.
  • Multiscale modelling - Developing novel sustainable materials and technologies will require an understanding of how quantum mechanical models on atomic scales can be melded with classical modelling on large scales, and to model physical processes on time scales from picoseconds to seconds. Advances in computational techniques will enable massive simulations of large-scale systems to be carried out at the quantum level. Work will strive to integrate modelling with experiment, and eventually use it to design complex devices.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: "The University is most grateful to David for this donation, which is truly exceptional both in its generosity and in its vision of translating fundamental discoveries in physics, to meet one of the most pressing needs of our generation."

The programme's inaugural director is Sir Richard Friend, the Cavendish Professor of Physics and a world-renowned leading expert on the physics, materials science and engineering of semiconductor devices.

Remarking on the impact of the donation, Sir Richard said: "Advances in fundamental physics have always had the capacity to solve very real problems. This programme will support the people with the radical ideas that bring practical solutions - very much the Cambridge way of doing science."

Since graduating from Cambridge in 1982, David Harding has become one of the most successful fund managers in the world. Early on he recognised the advantages of hiring individuals with science backgrounds. Winton currently employs over 90 researchers with PhDs or Master's Degrees in subjects including extragalactic astrophysics, mathematics, statistics, particle physics, planetary science and artificial intelligence.

The programme will provide PhD studentships, research fellowships, and support for new academic staff as well as investment in research infrastructure of the highest level, pump-priming for novel research projects, support for collaborations within the University and outside, and sponsorship for meetings and outreach activities.

Further details regarding the now advertised fellowships and scholarships can be found at  and enquires can be addressed to

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