Wilson Poon’s Home Page




Welcome to my WWW home. I’m an experimentalist in soft matter and biological physics, specialising in colloids and bacteria; I also study the relationship between science and religion.


If you want to email me, please click here. If you want to know what I look like (a few years ago!), click here.


My paper-mail address is:


School of Physics & Astronomy

The University of Edinburgh

James Clerk Maxwell Buildings

Kings Buildings

Mayfield Road

Edinburgh EH9 3JZ

United Kingdom


I am in room 2620 of the JCMB (room 20 on corridor 6 of the 2nd floor).

If you arrive by taxi, ask the driver to enter the KB site by ‘entrance 4’ and take you ‘all the way round to the front of the JCMB’ (click here for campus maps).

The current (July 2012) price is approximately £7 from the train station and £20 from the airport.

Buses number 41 and 42 take you to the campus – No. 42 stops at the junction of Mayfield Road and West Mains Road; alternate buses of route 41comes into KB itself.

The current (July 2012) single ticket price is £1.40 – no change is given on the bus.


My work telephone number is +44 (0)131 650 5297 (exclude ‘0’ from abroad)


Here you will find:


·      Latest news and upcoming events

·       A brief biography

·       My research interests in physics (including industrial consultancy) and associated publications

·       My research interests in philosophy, history and theology and associated publications

·      Some of my sermons


If you’re an industrial scientist interested in our consultancy services, click here.


If you’re interested in obtaining colloidal particles from us, click here.  






Latest news, downloads and upcoming events


Comploids summer school 2012, Varenna



Jüelich Soft Matter Days, Bad Honnef, 2012



A new MSc in Science & Religion has been launched by the School of Divinity, funded initially by the Templeton Foundation.

I am involved in teaching various modules of this course. You can apply here.


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A very brief biography



1968-1979   St. Paul's Co-educational College, Hong Kong.

1979-1981   Rugby School

1981-1984   Peterhouse, Cambridge University

1984-1988   St. John’s College and Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge



1986-1988   Research Fellow, St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge

1989             Lecturer, Portsmouth Polytechnic

1990-1997    Lecturer, School of Physics & Astronomy, The University of Edinburgh

1997-1999   Senior Lecturer, The University of Edinburgh

1999-now     Professor of Condensed Matter Physics, The University of Edinburgh


Awards and Distinctions:

1996            Nuffield Foundation Science Research Fellowship

2004            Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

2007-2012   Engineering and Physics Sciences Research Council Senior Research Fellow


For a more detailed curriculum vitae, click here.


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Physics research


I work in soft condensed matter physics and in biological physics.


My science publications are listed here – most of the papers are linked directly to publishers’ download sites, allowing you to get the pdf directly if your institution subscribes to the journal. If you have difficulty, email me and tell me which number on the list you require.


Soft condensed matter physics studies liquids, called ‘complex fluids’, which contains entities with sizes intermediate between small molecules (e.g. H2O) and macroscopic objects (e.g. the beaker holding the liquid): colloidal suspensions, polymers and aggregates of surfactants (soap-like molecules). These ‘mesoscopic’ entities are dominated by thermal fluctuations, or Brownian motion (see the movie here, courtesy of Dr. Mark Haw, and his popular book). Their presence confers a host of fascinating (and highly applicable) properties to complex fluids. For instance, their response to mechanical stress is intermediate between that of the ideal solid (‘elastic’ response) and the ideal (simple) liquid (‘viscous’ response): complex fluids are ‘viscoelastic’. A good example is ‘non-drip paint’ (a complex mixture of colloids and polymers). Under the high shear stresses generated by a paint brush, it behaves like a liquid; once the painting motion stops, gravity causes a small enough stress that the paint behaves like a solid, and stays on the wall.


I mainly work on colloids - suspensions of solid particles in liquids. My main interest is to use very well-characterised suspensions to throw light on phenomena that are ubiquitous throughout condensed matter physics, such as crystallisation and other phase transitions. A very brief introduction to this research philosophy, sometimes dubbed colloids as big atoms, is given here. In the past I have studied equilibrium phase transitions and phase transition kinetics. A movie here (taken by Dr. Falk Renth) shows a colloidal suspension separating into coexisting colloidal gas (top), liquid (middle) and crystal (bottom: iridescence caused by Bragg reflections) phases. Next, I moved on to study long-lived metastable states (glasses and gels) in the same suspensions, discovering that two qualitatively distinct kinds of glassy states existed – see the short introduction here. For a number of years now, I have concentrated on studying how glasses and gels flow. While the measurement of the macroscopic deformation and flow properties of such suspensions (rheology) has a long history, the microscopic origins of the measured flow properties have not been well understood. My group has developed a versatile tool for imaging suspensions of both solid particles and liquid drops (emulsions) while their rheological properties are being measured. A movie here (courtesy of Dr. Rut Besseling) shows a polydisperse oil-in-water emulsion under shear reconstructed from stacks of confocal micrographs. Most of the optical facilities I use are housed in COSMIC. My latest interest is to study synthetic self-propelled colloids: this work dovetails into my interest in motile bacteria (see below) – both are instances of ‘active colloids’.


I belong to the EU Marie Curie Initial Training Network Comploids (Physics of Complex Colloids).


Click to find further details of the soft matter physics research in the School of Physics & Astronomy.


Industrial consultancy forms a key part of my activities. Much of soft matter physics is relevant to a wide range of processes and products across many sectors. For further information on how our work may be able to help solve industrial problems, see the homepage of the Edinburgh Complex Fluids Partnership (ECFP) or contact Dr. Tiffany Wood.




Biological physics applies the insights and techniques of physics to the study of living systems and their components. In the past, I used insights gained from soft matter and statistical physics to understand the solution behaviour and self assembly of biomacromolecules, especially proteins, DNA and lipids, e.g. how proteins crystallise or aggregate, the way DNA stretches under flow, or how mixed lipid vesicles phase separate. Details of a volume of NATO ASI proceedings introducing this area of research can be found here. More recently, funded by an EPSRC senior fellowship, I have developed a programme of research into the physics of bacteria, seeking particularly (but not exclusively) to understand them as ‘active colloids’, focussing on their growth and motility (here is a movie of swimming E. coli courtesy of Drs. Jochen Arlt and Martin Li). The two sides of my biological physics interests come together in the latest venture in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory, which is to understand the action of ‘antimicrobial peptides’ – a new class of potential antimicrobial agents in mankind’s long battle against infectious diseases.



Click to go to the biological physics home page to find an overview of the School’s research in this area.


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Philosophy, history and theology research


My publications in these areas are listed here: in most cases, the manuscript (though not the published) version is available.


I am interested in the history and philosophy of science, and in the relation between science and Christian theology. Some current projects are:


·      Visual representations in science – I am interested in the pictorial representation of vectors in 19th century natural philosophy texts. My interest was aroused after speaking at a symposium sponsored by the Visual Arts Research Institute, Edinburgh (VARIE).


·      Philosophical issues at the interface between physics and biology – This was a collaborative project with Tom McLeish and Greg Radick at Leeds and Alexander Bird at Bristol funded by the Templeton Foundation. The papers given at the end-of-project conference can be obtained from here. My introduction to this collection of papers is here.


·      Science and religion in poetry – Many poets have reflected on the relation between faith and (scientific) reason, from Lucretius through John Donne to R. S. Thomas. Amazingly, this poetic source of insight hardly features in the current (burgeoning) literature on ‘science and religion’. I am working on an anthology with comments and notes. If you have any suggestion of what poems to include, do email me. Two of my own poems have been published as part of a recent book chapter I wrote as a kind of apologia pro vita sua from a scientist-believer.


·      Science and the hiddenness of God – A scientific understanding of the world can be elaborated without any reference to divine activities. I want to reflect on the theological implications of this fact. An attempt at explaining this position has been published here. (A research seminar I gave at Cambridge exploring this topic can be seen here provided by the Faraday Institute for Science & Religion.)


·      A tale of the ‘three hermeneutics’ – I believe that hermeneutics, the art of interpretation, offers a key to understanding the relation between the arts and the sciences and between theology and science. The tale I want to tell is that of the human attempt to read the book of God’s words (the Bible), the book of God’s acts (history) and the book of God’s works (creation).


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Sermons preached at St. Peter’s (Scottish Episcopal Church), Lutton Place, Edinburgh


·      Giving voice to creation – a Christian vocation in science (21 September 2008)

[Texts: Genesis 2:15-25, Psalm 19, Romans 8:18-25, Mark 5:25-34]


·      The work of our hands - Harvest celebration for today (12 October 2008)

[Texts: Deuteronomy 16:9-17, (Psalm 127), (Isaiah 28:23-29), Matthew 6:7-15]



·      The church in waiting – The Nunc dimmittis for today (28 December 2008)

[Texts: Luke 2:22-40; Galatians 4:4-7]


[Texts: Jonah 3.1-5, 10; Mark 1.14-20]



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Last updated 11/7/12.