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Tim Softley


In 2015, Tim left Oxford to take the post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Knowledge Transfer, at the University of Birmingham.

At school, Tim Softley felt there was plenty to learn about Chemistry and they were hardly scratching the surface. He came to Oxford to study Chemistry and found his suspicions were right.

After graduating, Tim moved to Southampton to undertake a PhD. He used infrared lasers to investigate how chemical bonds are broken. Reactions happen due to chemical bonds being made and broken, so his research was fundamental to many aspects of chemistry.

Tim then spent two years at Stanford University, developing deep ultraviolet (UV) lasers to investigate chemical reactivity. In 1987 he moved to Cambridge and put the deep UV lasers into action, studying unusual behaviour of molecules in highly energetic states.

Tim returned to Oxford in 1990 and became head of the Department of Chemistry in 2011. He led a group researching the chemical and physical behaviour of molecules at temperatures close to absolute zero using techniques involving lasers and electric fields to make molecules move very slowly (another way of saying they are very cold) and then study how the low temperature affects their reactivity.

He worked with Oxford Sparks to create the ‘Towards Absolute Zero’ animation.

About his research, Tim says: ‘I am excited by exploring how chemistry happens at temperatures colder than any natural place in the universe. This kind of fundamental science is like walking across untrodden snow – you never know what you will discover or when you will fall through a hole!’