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Roland Young

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

I am a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Geophysical and Planetary Fluid Dynamics group in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, part of the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford.

My work is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

I am also a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for the Analysis of Time Series at the London School of Economics, and part of the inter-disciplinary Oxford Extrasolar Planet and Planetary Research Group.

My first degree was in Natural Sciences at St John's College, Cambridge, before coming to Linacre College, Oxford for a DPhil in Atmospheric Physics, which I completed in 2009.

My research is on the atmospheres of the giant planets in our Solar System, particularly Jupiter. I work with a numerical simulation of Jupiter's atmosphere, which models the atmospheric circulation and climate on that planet. The model is adapted from the Met Office's Unified Model used for operational weather forecasting in the UK and for climate research. I am currently developing the model of Jupiter's atmosphere to include the effects of moist convection and radiation. This will help us to understand better the physical mechanisms involved in processes such as the formation and maintenance of Jupiter's spectacular banded structure.

I am also interested in using laboratory fluid dynamics experiments to understand atmospheres in general and the methods used to predict their behaviour. During my DPhil I worked with the thermally-driven rotating annulus, a laboratory analogue for a generic planetary atmosphere. We can use the annulus to study methods for forecasting or data assimilation in current use or in development using a real fluid with a non-idealised model under laboratory conditions. The laboratory is a bridge between analytical systems, where new methods are first tested, and large atmospheric models, where they are eventually applied.

I gave a talk about the lab experiments at the Stargazing Oxford event in January 2014 - Spin Doctors: Creating a planet's atmosphere in the lab. The video is online at University of Oxford podcasts and also at iTunes U.

Modelling giant planet atmospheres

My research is on the atmospheres of the giant planets in our Solar System. I currently focus on Jupiter, but all four have no solid surface and so are different examples of rapidly-rotating, spherical balls of fluid, without many of the complications present in the Earth's atmosphere. Studying convection and turbulence on the giant planets helps us to understand these phenomena in the more complicated environment of our own planet.

I currently work with a numerical simulation of Jupiter's atmosphere, which models the atmospheric circulation and climate on that planet. The model is adapted from the Met Office's Unified Model (UM) used for operational weather forecasting in the UK and for climate research, and is familiar to the public from BBC weather forecasts.

The project began in 1996, to adapt the UM for use as a limited-area general circulation model of the Jovian stratosphere and upper troposphere. The core model uses the HadAM3 core of the UM with simple parameterisations of (1) radiation balance via Newtonian cooling, (2) velocity damping effects via Rayleigh friction and a sponge layer on the upper boundary, (3) Richardson number-based vertical diffusion, and (4) cloud evaporation / condensation / precipitation processes for the major cloud species on Jupiter. The model is now global and runs over 40 vertical levels between 100 and 0.01 bar pressure at 1 degree horizontal resolution, using a large supercomputing cluster maintained by the Oxford Supercomputing Centre. Several simplified models of giant planet atmospheres exist, but very few include fully-3D effects in a model with more than a few vertical layers. With such a model one can study the structure of giant planet atmospheres with significantly more realism than simplified models.

I am developing the model to include more realistic representations of the physical processes in Jupiter's atmosphere. In particular, I am building on the work of a previous DPhil student to include the effects of moist convection in the global model, and later a more realistic formulation of radiative transfer.

This will help us to understand better the physical mechanisms involved in processes such as the formation and maintenance of Jupiter's spectacular banded structure. Fully-3D models of giant planets do not yet reproduce the jet behaviour that Jupiter is famous for, including a super-rotating jet at the equator, without an ad-hoc energy source in addition to the Sun. Of particular interest is how energy is injected into the system at small scales. Well-established results from 2D turbulence show that small-scale energy injection combined with a planetary ß-effect leads to an inverse cascade of energy to large scales resulting in planetary-scale zonal jets. One possible energy source is moist convection, which was observed on Jupiter by the Galileo spacecraft, and is thought to be responsible for almost two thirds of the heat transported upwards through Jupiter's atmosphere.

With this model we expect to be able to resolve the zonal jets on a global scale and so investigate the role of convective and turbulent processes in the formation and stability of large-scale features. The Cassini and New Horizons spacecraft have provided a wealth of data for comparison with our simulations.

Predictability of a laboratory analogue for planetary atmospheres

The experiment: one of the tanks in the GFD laboratoryThe experiment: one of the tanks in the GFD laboratoryThe atmospheric analogue: image - NASAThe atmospheric analogue: image - NASA

The rotating annulus (left) is a classic laboratory experiment used since the 1950s to study fluid flows whose dynamics are similar to airflow in the midlatitudes of planetary atmospheres.

The experiment is rotated about a vertical axis and is heated across the fluid. This is similar to the atmosphere, which is heated by the Sun more at low latitudes than at high latitudes (right), and also rotates about an axis.

By changing these two parameters in the experiment a wide range of behaviour can be seen, from simple waves (bottom of this page) to turbulence and chaotic flow. In this sense it is similar to the Earth's atmosphere.

Using the annulus avoids much of the complicated behaviour seen in the atmosphere, like the difference between land and sea, and the chemistry of different molecules in the air. This simplicity makes it easier to study the physics behind weather and climate.

This research has three main aims:

  • Measure the predictability of fluid flow in the rotating annulus, particularly under experimental conditions broadly equivalent to the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. We do this by applying common weather forecasting techniques in the laboratory experiment.
  • Identify what physical mechanisms cause our predictions to fail over time and how this depends on the type and complexity of the flow.
  • Improve weather forecasting techniques by using the laboratory experiment under controlled and reproducible conditions to test methods used by weather and climate forecasters.

A more technical description

Composite image of the South Pole: NASA / GalileoComposite image of the South Pole: NASA / Galileo

We are studying mechanisms for the breakdown of predictability of fully-developed baroclinically unstable flows in the rotating annulus.

Baroclinic instability is an important mechanism for the development of large-scale waves and eddies in the atmospheres of the Earth (left) and other planets such as Mars. These waves and eddies are associated with the large-scale transport of heat and momentum; their chaotic evolution in the Earth's atmosphere determines the fundamental limit on how far ahead it is possible to forecast weather and (to a lesser degree) the climate. On Mars, however, baroclinic weather systems are significantly more coherent, and at times its atmosphere appears to be much more predictable than the Earth's.

Fully developed baroclinic instability can be reproduced on a laboratory scale in a rotating, differentially-heated tank of fluid (top left). It can also be accurately modelled (below, and here) using similar methods to those used for weather and climate forecasting. The annulus is a useful test bed for certain kinds of atmospheric dynamical behaviour and the methods used to study them, and displays interesting behaviour worthy of study in its own right.

Numerical simulations of several of the most important quasi-periodic and chaotic flow regimes observed in the laboratory form the basis for an investigation of their intrinsic predictability. To determine the most rapidly growing modes of instability we use the breeding vector method, which is a well-established technique for evaluating the intrinsic predictability of the state of the Earth's atmosphere and is used by several operational weather forecasting centres worldwide in their everyday weather forecasts. The bred vector growth rate indicates the rate of growth of uncertainties in the initial model state, and the mode of breakdown of predictability can then be studied using ensemble prediction techniques.

By studying these mechanisms on a laboratory scale, we hope to gain new insights into the breakdown of predictability over a range of circumstances relevant to the Earth and to other planets such as Mars. The laboratory context allows interpretation of the system behaviour without the difficulties associated with imperfect and incomplete observations of atmospheric circulation, and avoids some of the complexities resulting from a wide range of interacting scales and sub-systems.

Typical rotating annulus simulation results

Click here for an animation of simple wave flow in the annulus

Vector velocity near mid-heightVector velocity near mid-heightPressure field: same place and timePressure field: same place and time


I am a tutor for the 3rd year Physics paper B1.I Flows, Fluctuations and Complexity.

In the past I was a tutor for the old 3rd year Physics B3 course on Atmospheric Physics.


My journal articles are listed in the bar on the right. Some of these have pre/post-prints or are open access: NPG 2008, QJRMS 2010, NPG 2011, Icarus 2013. Preprints for others are available on request.

Citations to my articles are collated by Google Scholar.

I have reviewed papers for the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society and for Physics of Fluids.

My D.Phil. thesis

RMB Young, Predictability of a laboratory analogue for planetary atmospheres, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, Department of Physics and Linacre College, University of Oxford, Trinity Term 2009. 250pp.

This is currently only available in print form. An electronic version will be deposited in the Oxford University Research Archive once the papers based on its results have been published.

Papers under review

RMB Young, "The Lorenz energy cycle in simulated rotating annulus flows"

PL Read, EP Perez, IM Moroz, RMB Young, "The general circulation of planetary atmospheres: insights from the rotating annulus and related experiments"

Conference papers

[22] KM Sayanagi et al. (2012), "Developing a Standardized Testing Procedure for Cloud Tracking Wind Measurement Methods", AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, 3-7 December 2012. Abstract

[21] RMB Young et al. (2012), "Jupiter's atmospheric dynamics from JUICE: new possibilities", UK JUICE Workshop, Royal Astronomical Society, 21 January 2012. Abstract (poster)

[20] PL Read et al. (2011), "Eddy-driven jets and vortices in convectively forced geostrophic turbulence in the laboratory: implications for atmospheric circulations on giant planets?", EPSC Abstracts, 6, 1074, EPSC/DPS Joint Meeting, Nantes France, 3-7 October 2011. Abstract.

[19] RMB Young et al. (2011), "A global general circulation model for Jupiter's atmosphere", EPSC Abstracts, 6, 1388, EPSC/DPS Joint Meeting, Nantes France, 3-7 October 2011. Abstract.

[18] RMB Young et al. (2011), "Vorticity and energy diagnostics from the 2000 Cassini Jupiter flyby", EPSC Abstracts, 6, 1179, EPSC/DPS Joint Meeting, Nantes France, 3-7 October 2011 (poster). Abstract.

[17] RMB Young et al. (2010), "A global general circulation model for Jupiter's atmosphere", 8th UKPF Early Career Scientist's Meeting, Royal Astronomical Society, 4 November 2010.

[16] RMB Young et al. (2010), "Global GCM simulations of Jupiter's atmosphere", Exoclimes, University of Exeter, 7-10 September 2010. Poster.

[15] TNL Jacoby et al. (2010), "Boundary-layer instability in the rotating thermal annulus", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 12, 10517. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, May 2010. Abstract (poster).

[14] PL Read et al. (2010), "Eddy-driven jets and vortices in convectively forced geostrophic turbulence on a topographic β-plane", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 12, 6755. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, May 2010. Abstract.

[13] RMB Young et al. (2010), "Using gradient descent with a perfect model of the rotating annulus", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 12, 14408. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, May 2010. Abstract (poster).

[12] RMB Young & PL Read (2010), "Data assimilation in the rotating annulus experiment using analysis correction", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 12, 12611. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, May 2010. Abstract (poster).

[11] RMB Young & PL Read (2010), "Predictability of a laboratory analogue for planetary atmospheres", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 12, 12586-1. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, May 2010. Abstract.

[10] PL Read et al. (2010) "Eddy-driven jets and vortices in convectively forced geostrophic turbulence on a topographic β-plane", Proc. Hydralab III Joint Transnational Access User Meeting, 171-174. Hannover, 1-4 February 2010. ISBN: 978-3-00-030141-4. Extended abstract.

[9] LA Smith et al. (2009) "Rotating Fluids, Chaos and Clocks & Calendars", Rotating Fluids in Geophysics, University of Oxford, 10 July 2009. Meeting.

[8] PL Read et al. (2008), "Laboratory Analogues of the Banded Circulation on Gas Giant Planets", Bull. Am. Astro. Soc., 40, 471. AAS 40th DPS meeting, 41.11. Abstract (poster)

[7] RMB Young & PL Read (2008), "Data assimilation in a laboratory analogue for planetary atmospheres", RMetS Annual Student Conference, University of Manchester, 3-5 September 2008 (poster).

[6] PL Read et al. (2008), "Generation and propagation of inertia-gravity waves within baroclinic wave flows in thermally-driven, rotating annulus experiments", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 10, 05237. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, April 2008. Abstract.

[5] RMB Young & PL Read (2007), "Data assimilation in the rotating annulus", RMetS Annual Student Conference, Heriot Watt University, 1-3 September 2007.

[4] RMB Young & PL Read (2007), "Intrinsic predictability measures of baroclinic chaos and quasi-periodic flow in the rotating annulus", Geophys. Res. Abstr., 9, 00545. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, April 2007. Abstract.

[3] RMB Young & PL Read (2006), "Breeding Vectors in the Rotating Annulus as a Measure of Intrinsic Predictability", RMetS Annual Student Conference, University of East Anglia, 21-23 August 2006. Abstract.

[2] RMB Young & P Petkaki (2005), "Charged Particle Acceleration in time-dependent electric fields associated with X-type neutral points", Eos Trans. AGU Fall Meet. Suppl., 86, SM33C-0464. Abstract.

[1] MI Wilkinson et al. (2005), "Substructure in dwarf spheroidals - a star cluster connection?", Proc. IAU, 1, Coll. 198, 240-243, doi:10.1017/S1743921305003819. Extended abstract.

Other posters

Roland Young, "Spin away those bad weather blues..." ; for the final of the BA Perspectives poster competition, BA Festival of Science, York, 10-14 September 2007. Poster.

RMB Young and PL Read, "Breeding vectors as a measure of predictability in the rotating annulus"; for the GEFD Summer School, Cambridge, 10-23 September 2006.

RMB Young and PL Read, "Breeding vectors in the rotating annulus - preliminary studies"; for the NERC visit to AOPP on 1 June 2006.

A miscellany of useful technical / computing things and links I have found useful


Commenting: some LaTeX classes don't have a selective comment (i.e. ignore text) command. This can be rectified by putting \newcommand{\ct}[1]{} at the top of your document; any subsequent text placed within \ct{} will be ignored by the compiler.

Derivatives can be contracted by using the following custom commands:

Full, first derivative: \newcommand{\fd}[2]{\frac{d #1}{d #2}}
Full, second derivative: \newcommand{\ffd}[2]{\frac{d^2 #1}{d #2^2}}
Partial, first derivative: \newcommand{\pd}[2]{\frac{\partial #1}{\partial #2}}
Partial, second derivative: \newcommand{\ppd}[2]{\frac{\partial^2 #1}{\partial #2^2}}

The Comprehensive LaTeX Symbol List: A list of all the symbols you could ever think of with their LaTeX commands, and then some.

A shorter list of symbols

Various LaTeX guides are here and here.

The Comprehensive TeX Archive Network - first place to look for packages to download.

BibTeX document types

JabRef reference manager for BibTeX. Much more user-friendly than typing in all the syntax yourself, and easy to manipulate large sets of references at once. Works under both Windows and Linux.

KBibTeX is also a good GUI for BibTeX documents.

TeXnicCenter (Windows) and Kile (Linux). Two good GUI frontends for LaTeX editing.

Conditional compilation: this is useful for example when you need to include different versions of the same figure for online and print versions of a paper (usually one in colour, one not). Insert the following before the \begin{document} command:


Then in the main part of the document, wherever you need only one option to be compiled, use

\ifthenelse{\boolean{onlineversion}}{ONLINE version content}{PRINT version content}

Only the online content will appear. To get the print content to appear, set the boolean onlineversion to false.


Standard printer options
Converting postscript to other formats


A presentation class to use with LaTeX (pdflatex, to be precise). It can be found here. I think the presentations made with this package look a lot more professional than PowerPoint (I can't comment on Apple's Keynote, as I have never used it). Particularly neat is the ability to place bars along the top and bottom of the slides which allow the audience to see at a glance where you are in the presentation. As with all things LaTeX, it is somewhat fiddly to start with, but I feel it is worth the effort.


I have found that when IDL figures are used in presentations they usually look grey and are hard to see. This is because the lines are too thin when printed to the .ps format. To get around this, add the following line to the plotting code:


The result looks weird when displayed within IDL, but much better than the default when used to output as postscript.

There is a useful list of IDL colour tables here.

TeXtoIDL: routines to include LaTeX syntax in plots, etc. with (same page), these two routines allow you to add colour bars to contour plots.

A Library of IDL Programs by Daithi Stone.

Functional list of IDL routines

Shell scripting

Special Characters in bash
One-liners in csh, awk, and sed.

Lists of useful mathematical functions

The NIST Digital Library of Mathematical Functions (online version of Abramowitz and Stegun)

From Wikipedia:
Trigonometric identities
Integrals of rational functions
Integrals of irrational functions
Integrals of inverse trigonometric functions
Integrals of trigonometric functions
Differentiation identities
Integrals of inverse hyperbolic functions
Integrals of exponential functions
Integrals of logarithmic functions
Integrals of hyperbolic functions
List of mathematical series


Numerical Recipes in Fortran 90 (1996)
Professional Programmer's Guide to Fortran 77
Fortran 90 for the Fortran 77 Programmer
Intel® Fortran v11.1 User and Reference Guides


Special characters
List of HTML syntax
Kompozer Free HTML editor
Basic tutorial on frames in HTML

Met Office Unified Model

Alan Iwi has a page with a lot of useful UM information here. In particular, the file utilities and parallel installation guide are very useful.

Hiro Yamazaki's parallel UM installation guide
STASH codes
User Guide for version 5.5
Version 4.5 documentation
xconv / convsh - software for file manipulation and conversion


Graphics tools for scientists and engineers (Hiro Yamazaki)
Panoply - netCDF viewer created by NASA for geo-gridded data.
VAPOR: Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere, and Solar Researchers.


Climate Data Operators
High precision (up to 50 significant figure) calculation
Mercurial download and documentation (framework for program version control)
How to use Ghostscript

Some comments on presentation technique

27 April 2007

Updated 2 September 2011

Having attended 97 talks over five days at the 2007 European Geosciences Union General Assembly, I now feel suitably qualified to identify some things that make a good talk, and some things that make a bad one. The most surprising thing I learned at the conference was that speakers don't necessarily bring their 'A-game' to international conferences, in terms of presentation technique and preparation. More experience ⇒ better presentation is definitely not a general statement; many poor talks were given by speakers whose experience would lead you to expect otherwise. True, many were presenting in a foreign language, but you will see below that most (but not all!) of the points relate to slide and talk structure, rather than oratorical style. Every example of 'poor' technique noted below was made at least once.

Presentation preparation depends primarily on (1) the target audience and (2) what the speaker wants to get across. These notes were compiled from attending talks at a conference covering many different fields. The typical audience member could therefore be assumed to be interested and intelligent, but not necessarily an expert (similar to the audience at a departmental seminar, for example). The notes below apply primarily with this audience in mind; the approach will differ when the audience is one's research group, for example.

Beamer is a presentation class for LaTeX. In my opinion, it looks more professional than PowerPoint; an example presentation can be found here. It is a bit fiddly (like everything in LaTeX), but I think the results are well worth the effort.

Oh, and I'm sure I am guilty of some of these things too - please tell me if I am, otherwise I will never improve!

Some 'schoolboy' errors...

  • Face the audience! If you must face the screen, at least point your feet towards the audience and turn your head towards the screen.
  • If a microphone is available and you have a sore throat, use it!
  • If something can be said simply, say it simply. Leave out as many unnecessary technical details as possible (e.g. names of model variables).
  • Try to avoid using the words 'obviously' or 'clearly', or words to that effect, as you can be guaranteed that at least one person in the audience will think it is neither.
  • Use a large font size on axes. The plot and axes labels should be as large as the main text in order to be seen from the back of the room.

General points:

  • Spend at least one minute on each slide - it takes that long to read and take in most slides, and some people may be taking notes.
  • If you are going faster than your normal speaking speed, there is too much material.
  • Put the most important parts of the slide in the top half - the audience seating may not be stepped and the screen may not be raised.
  • Speak loudly, smile and be generally enthusiastic. If you look bored, or come across as confused, arrogant or unconfident, your material will appear so too.
  • A colourful title page gives the audience confidence that the rest of the talk will be interesting.
  • Not every slide needs a title.
  • If a movie doesn't work when running through the presentation beforehand, make sure you have an image or two to replace it. Going to a new slide mid-presentation and finding that your movie doesn't work looks rather amateurish. To avoid this, use your own laptop if possible - try to avoid using the provided hardware as inevitably something won't work.
  • If you have many slides you know you won't use, remove them (for example, if the presentation is a shorter version of an earlier one).
  • A conclusion / summary slide at the end is essential.
  • Humour can work, but only in context...

Some things I saw which worked well:

  • Leaving up a page of references as the final slide, while questions are asked.
  • Linking to subplots relevant to only part of a diagram by clicking on that part of the diagram.
  • Comparisons with familiar concepts, e.g. comparing the size of Antarctica with the relative positions of European cities.
  • If the main focus of the talk can be posed as a single question, pose and answer that question as part of the introduction, before expanding on it. This is instead of building up to the answer, as people will eventually forget what the question was, and any impact will be lost.
  • If your presentation style is a bit 'off the wall', the audience will stay interested for longer, and will be more likely to remember your talk afterwards...
  • Flow charts work well, as long as they are built up sequentially and not displayed all at once.
  • If displaying a large matrix (particularly a matrix of data), use a contour representation of the numbers instead of a table, unless the matrix is very sparse.
  • Lists are usually OK and can be used effectively (e.g. the ExoMars payload list by priority for a number of different funding scenarios).

Things to avoid:

  • Complete paragraphs / covering the slide with text (probably 40-50% of speakers were guilty here). However, lots of text sometimes works if you know that your spoken English isn't very clear.
  • Equations. Only include equations if absolutely essential or very simple - replace them with images or words if at all possible. Usually equations serve to confuse rather than clarify, and anyone sufficiently clued up with the subject to understand the equations in the time spent on the slide will know them already.
  • Abbreviations, unless you are sure they are part of that particular audience's common knowledge (e.g. NASA, EGU), as people will forget them (maybe put the full version in small text at the bottom of the slide).
  • Overrunning - people moving between rooms at a multi-session conference are relying on talks finishing on time, in order to get to the next talk before it starts. If you have something groundbreaking to say then this can be relaxed, but if so it should have been put earlier in the talk! Most of the audience won't remember the details, and will resent you for overrunning and for cutting into the time available for questions.
  • Tables, unless they are 2x2 - even 3x2 tables are difficult to follow with other things on the slide. If nothing else is on the slide, however, then slightly larger tables can work.
  • Slides with multiple but very similar plots, without explicitly stating the difference between them. You need to say how the parameters change between plots (i.e. why there are multiple plots at all) and what the difference is between the plots themselves.
  • Assuming the audience is completely familiar with the plotting techniques you are using - at least put labels on plots to explain them (e.g. Talagrand or Hovmöller diagrams).
  • Splitting words over lines - choose a different word or use an abbreviation.
  • In a short talk, avoid a summary slide at the beginning, unless your talk structure is non-standard (i.e. different from motivation, aims, method, results, and future work).
  • Significant areas of the slide taken up by titles/toolbars/logos/template structure etc., leaving little space for actual content (which is then displayed too small).
  • Displaying an extended technical scheme (e.g. all the components of a satellite instrument and their interactions) - just include the important bits. Otherwise, people not familiar with the diagram will wonder why you didn't talk about the bits you missed out.

Some colour combinations which don't work:

  • Green and light blue
  • Grey and blue
  • Red and black
  • Blue (text) on red (background)
  • Light green on white
  • Black on blue
  • Black on white is just boring, if it is the only thing on the slide.

A few comments on posters:

I found it easier to spot faults in orals than on posters. Having said that, I spent 85% of my time in talks and only about 15% of the time looking at posters. A few points:

  • Make A4 copies for people to take, and leave them by the poster board after taking down the poster.
  • Make the title big enough and contrasted enough with the background to be seen on the other side of a lecture-hall sized room.


In one talk I attended, the speaker inflected the end of every sentence of a 15 minute talk, except the very last sentence of the talk. It was quite hypnotic, eventually hilarious, and quickly distracted the audience from the material. Not to be recommended. If anyone you know does this, please tell them, as they probably don't realise it.


I was born and brought up in North Wales until the age of eight, when my family moved to the Sultanate of Oman. I spent four and a half years at school there at the British School Muscat, before going to Malvern College in Worcestershire for five years. During that time my family left Oman and moved to Santiago in Chile for three years. After Malvern I went to St John's College, Cambridge to read for a BA and MSci in Natural Sciences, obtaining a 2.1 in Astrophysics. I then moved to Linacre College, Oxford to do a DPhil in Physics based at AOPP, which I completed in December 2009. This was followed by a short stint at the Centre for the Analysis of Time Series at the London School of Economics, before moving back to Oxford to start a post-doc position in the planetary atmospheres group in AOPP. I married Julia Angell in August 2009, and we currently live in Wolvercote. My family is based in Northern Ireland so I spend time there as well. I have a sister, Lucy, who works in Sudan for Tearfund.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, an Associate Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, and a Member of the Institute of Physics.

In my time at Malvern and Cambridge I spent a lot of time involved with rifle shooting, which took up much of my time outside of school/university. Prior to moving to Oxford I decided to stop, turning my attention to fencing and cricket instead. In days gone by I have also been known to play the trombone and piano.

More details on the sport of rifle shooting in the UK

The basic idea is to shoot at targets between distances of 25 and 1200 yards away, and to try to get as many shots as close to the centre as possible! At Cambridge I shot in nine Varsity matches against Oxford in various disciplines of the sport, winning four Half Blues, and I was Captain of the University first team in my final year.


  • At short range (25 yards, small-bore) we use the .22 rifle. This fires small lead bullets about 2cm in length (including the casing) and 0.22 inches in diameter at card targets (the area within the box is about A4, giving an indication of the size of each target).
  • At longer ranges (300-1000 yards, full-bore) we use high-powered target rifles with "iron" sights (two iron circles mounted on either end of the rifle), firing a 7.62mm calibre (diameter) bullet.Target rifleTarget rifle
  • At the longest range, 1000-1200 yards (also referred to as full-bore), we use match rifles, which are very similar to target rifles but have a telescopic sight mounted on the top. The bullets they fire are the same calibre as the target rifle, but have about 30% more gunpowder in them.Match riflesMatch rifles

The accuracy of these rifles means that it is possible for a good marksman to hit the bull's-eye from 1200 yards away with 6 out of 10 shots, with the remaining three falling within a foot or so of the 'bull'. At 1200 yards the bull is about the same size as a bathroom sink. As the standard of equipment has improved, it has become necessary to introduce a smaller 'V-bull' inside the bull to separate the top competitors. This is worth 5.1 points instead of 5 for a bull (however, ten V-bulls are worth 50.10 in total, not 51). At 1200 yards the 'V' is about the size of a large dinner plate. It was not until 2001 that the maximum score of 100.20 was made in top-level competition.

The bullet takes just over a second to reach the target from 1200 yards away, leaving the barrel at about 2900 ft/s (supersonic). In the right light and humidity conditions, it is possible to see the bullet travelling down the range if you position yourself directly behind a firer and look through a telescope at the target; the shape formed is approximately a left-handed helix of pitch 2π.

The practice of competing with a particular weapon is called a discipline. I was most involved with the latter two full-bore disciplines, so the text below refers primarily to those.


Most competitions (or 'shoots') in full-bore consist of a string of ten shots fired from the prone position (lying on your front), with up to two non-scoring shots beforehand to 'sight' the rifle and to test the wind conditions. Some shoots are 7 or 15 shots long, and in match rifle a handful of competitions are 20 shots long - this is very hard on the shoulder and upper back in particular as the 'kick' from these rifles is much harder than that from a shotgun or a military rifle such as the AK-47 or SA80. To counter this, a thick padded shooting jacket is worn, in addition to the obvious safety kit such as ear protection. Some matchriflemen choose to shoot while lying on their backs; this is called the supine position.

The strength and direction of the wind is very important and an individual's performance in a particular shoot depends greatly on an ability to 'read' the wind. While this can be done systematically, after a time it becomes more of an intuition. At long range, a change in the angle of the wind by 30 degrees may mean the bullet lands on the target over a metre away from where it was aimed!

International competition

The two full-bore disciplines are most common in the UK, the Commonwealth and in former British colonies, along with a few other countries such as Germany and the USA (although it is very much a minority discipline in the USA compared with other types of shooting!). The UK, Canada and Germany are the strongest national teams.

International team and open individual championships take place each year at the national ranges of each of the major nations who compete: the UK, South African, Australian and Canadian meetings are the main events in the calendar. The nature of the sport (i.e. being minimally dependent on fitness and strength) means that it is one of the few in the world where every person competes on equal terms; there are no ability divisions by age or between men and women.

The most prestigious of these open competitions is the Imperial Meeting, which is held over three weeks each July at Bisley Camp near Guildford in Surrey. The two full-bore disciplines form the bulk of the Meeting, with about 1500 competitors from all over the world. There are a number of other disciplines competed in such as Service Rifle, Historic Arms, and the Schools Meeting, which is a week of competition for CCF units in UK independent schools.

Bisley is the 'home' of the sport and the individual competitions which make up the Imperial Meeting are regarded as being the de facto target shooting world championships. Bisley is a very strange place. It contains two main ranges: Century has 108 targets and is 600 yards long (almost exactly a square), and Stickledown has 50 targets and is 1200 yards long (very much not a square). Surrounding these are 40 to 50 clubhouses, about ten smaller ranges, several camping sites and caravan parks, and a lot of green space. Many of the clubhouses are over 100 years old; as a result of this, and of the rather conservative attitudes associated with a sport of this type, it is occasionally said that Bisley is the last true remnant of the British Empire, and that entering Bisley is like stepping back into the 19th century.

The National Rifle Association of the UK has its HQ at Bisley, and is the UK governing body for rifle shooting. The UK NRA should not be confused with the NRA in the USA - the UK NRA is almost exclusively a sporting organisation and not a political one like its American counterpart.

As with all sports, some competitions are more prestigious than others. There are five competitions held at the Imperial Meeting which are the most important competitions in the UK rifle shooting calendar:

  • The Grand Aggregate (individual, target rifle) - An aggregate of all the individual target rifle shoots; the winner usually gets no less than about 695/705.
  • The Kolapore (team, target rifle) - The main international target rifle match, for teams of 8. In recent years the Great Britain team has been very strong, setting a record score of 1197/1200 in 2003. Other important international matches are the Palma Match, held every four years, and the Australia Match (called the Empire Match until 1988), which is usually held every year. Both of these matches are held in a different country each time, but the Kolapore is always held at the UK Imperial Meeting.
  • The Hopton (individual, match rifle) - An aggregate of all the individual match rifle shoots; the record score is currently 1004/1025, set in 2004.
  • The Elcho (team, match rifle) - The home nations (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland) team match, for teams of 8. It is held each year.
  • CURA chairing the winner of HM The Queen's Prize from the range: July 2004CURA chairing the winner of HM The Queen's Prize from the range: July 2004HM The Queen's Prize (individual, target rifle) - This is the most prestigious prize in the sport of target shooting. It is a three-stage competition, held each year. The first and second stages are at short range (300, 500 and 600 yards), and the third stage is at long range (900 and 1000) yards. Only 100 people compete in the third stage. Queen's III is the last event of the Imperial Meeting and attracts a crowd of several thousand spectators; the spectator-unfriendly nature of the sport is helped in this event by each firer having a continually-updated scoreboard behind their firing point, and there is a leaderboard at the side of the range which is updated shot-by-shot. After the competition is complete the winner is chaired from the range by friends, and spends the rest of the day (and night!) being chaired round all the clubhouses on Bisley Camp, usually accepting a drink from each one... The winner of The Queen's is immortalised in the sport; such is the significance of the competition that winners may subsequently use the letters GM after their names in shooting circles. When the Queen's prize was first held the prize itself was £250, enough to buy a house; however, the prize has remained at £250 ever since! Most other national meetings have an equivalent competition (for example the Governor General's Prize in Canada), but the status of Bisley as the home of target shooting has meant that the Queen's Prize remains the premier competition in the sport.


At Cambridge I was part of the Cambridge University Rifle Association (CURA) and the Cambridge University Small Bore Club (CUSBC), which are the full-bore and small-bore clubs respectively.

CURA has a long history stretching back over 100 years, and is one of the oldest sports clubs in the University. The Club competes as a team and as individuals at the Imperial Meeting described above, at which the Varsity Matches against Oxford take place.

There are three Varsity matches each year: the Chancellors (target rifle, teams of 8, and the most important of the three), the Humphry (match rifle, teams of 4) and the Heslop (small bore, teams of 8, which takes place in February in London). Between 1981 and 2004 CURA won an unprecedented 24 straight Chancellors Varsity match victories, a record not even approached by any other sport at either University. The run was stopped in 2005, one short of a quarter-century of victories, in a match won convincingly by Oxford 1155.112v-1142.115v (out of 1200). This followed two very close results; the 2004 match was won by Cambridge by one point, and the 2003 match produced record scores from both teams, 1170.126v-1164.132v.

The sport has Discretionary Full Blue status: all participants in the two full-bore Varsity matches and some of the participants in the small-bore Varsity match are awarded Half Blues, and if a set of very stringent individual-score-based criteria are met, a Full Blue may be won. The Chancellors is shot at the same time as the Kolapore (see above), and the criteria for a Full Blue are based on the Great Britain score in that match. Therefore a Full Blue is won for being of approximately international standard; only 18 have been won since the sport was granted this status in 1985.

In my time with CURA I held positions as Secretary and Vice-Captain, and was Captain of the club in my final year. Unfortunately my legacy as Captain was the first Varsity Match loss in 25 years! I competed in the Chancellors four times, the Humphry twice and the Heslop three times.