Professor Quentin Pankhurst to head the Royal Institution's new Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory

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25 April 2008

Professor Quentin Pankhurst (left) with Susan Greenfield & Malcolm GrantFollowing its two and a half year closure for an extensive £22 million renovation, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) announces Professor Quentin Pankhurst as new Director of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory (DFRL). Professor Pankhurst was previously Deputy Director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL (University College London) and has been appointed to undertake research in Healthcare Biomagnetics – the application of magnetic materials to healthcare.

In his new position, from 1st May 2008, Professor Pankhurst will lead an ambitious collaborative research programme to build a new DFRL team of 15 resident scientists, engineers, medics and technologists to tackle major challenges in the field of Healthcare Biomagnetics. In addition, the RI-UCL programme will see at least another 35 scientists making direct use of the new DFRL facilities.

Professor Pankhurst and his team will be working to make a difference for patients the world over by perfecting new ways to sense, move and heat magnets which can be safely and conveniently introduced into the human body in the form of a magnetic ‘ink’. Examples of on-going projects include the development of:

  • a hand-held scanner that helps cancer surgeons determine the progression of cancer in a patient,
  • a treatment method for atherosclerosis using a patient’s own healing cells through the use of targeted magnetic force, and
  • a method for targeting magnetic particles to cancer cells in the liver so that they can be locally heated to help destroy cancer cells

Baroness Susan Greenfield, Director, The Royal Institution said: “We are delighted to welcome Professor Pankhurst and his team to the new Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory. This represents the latest chapter in the long and illustrious history of groundbreaking research at the Royal Institution. I am confident the DFRL will once again become a cornerstone of scientific discovery under Professor Pankhurst’s leadership.”

Professor Quentin Pankhurst said: “My goal for the new DFRL is to create a new paradigm for cross-disciplinary applied research that has technology transfer firmly in its sights. The Healthcare Biomagnetics area is one of tremendous promise and opportunity today. It would also be recognised by the laboratory’s forbears: Sir Humphrey Davy was an apprentice surgeon before making his name at the RI for his work on anaesthetics, and Michael Faraday is undoubtedly the father of modern electricity and magnetism.”

A defining tenet of the RI is that it should be actively engaged in innovative research undertaken by its own resident scientists. The DFRL has a long and distinguished 200 year history, including the award of 14 Nobel Prizes, the discovery of 10 elements of the periodic table and the invention of the electric generator.

The Healthcare Biomagnetics programme at the DFRL is jointly funded by a £2.35 million commitment from the RI and a commitment of £1.36 million from UCL from April 2008 until March 2013.
Related items:

  • For more information on the Royal Institution, visit
  • For an article in the Telegraph concerning this research, click here.
  • To listen to a UCL podcast in which Professor Pankhurst discusses his new appointment, click here.

Fig. 1: Magnetic fluids have some very special properties – this strange ‘hedgehog’ is actually a pool of magnetic liquid sitting on top of a very strong fridge magnet.

Fig 2: Fluorescent microscope image of a magnetically labelled stem cell – the nucleus is stained blue, the magnetic particles show up in red.

Fig 3: The magnetic cells on the right are dark in colour because the iron-oxide magnets are black.

Notes for editors

1. About Professor Quentin Pankhurst

Professor Pankhurst has more than 20 years academic experience in the study of fine particle magnetism and has published more than 150 papers in peer-refereed international journals. He is currently Deputy Director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology and a Professor of Physics at University College London. Born in New Zealand, he came to the UK in 1983 to study solid state physics at the University of Liverpool, where he was until joining UCL in 1994. Prof Pankhurst now runs research programmes in bio- and nanomagnetism dedicated to making practical advances in the use of magnetic nanoparticles in healthcare. He is the co-founder of Endomagnetics Ltd, which is currently running clinical trials of the SentiMag, an intra-operative device for cancer surgery.

2. About the London Centre for Nanotechnology

The London Centre for Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary joint enterprise between University College London and Imperial College London. In bringing together world-class infrastructure and leading nanotechnology research activities, the Centre aims to attain the critical mass to compete with the best facilities abroad. Research programmes are aligned to three key areas, namely Planet Care, Healthcare and Information Technology and bridge together biomedical, physical and engineering sciences. Website:

3. About University College London

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government's most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is in the top ten world universities in the 2007 THES-QS World University Rankings, and the fourth-ranked UK university in the 2007 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. Website:

4. About the Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ri)

Since its establishment over 200 years ago, 14 scientists closely connected with the Ri have won the Nobel Prize. Ten chemical elements of the Periodic Table have been isolated by those who have worked in the building. During these two centuries famous figures such as Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, James Dewar and William and Lawrence Bragg have researched, lectured and lived in the Ri. Included among their innovative and groundbreaking discoveries made at the Ri, and which still impact on our daily lives, are the electric generator, the miners’ safety lamp and the atomic structure of crystals.

The Ri has always provided open public debate and education about science and scientific issues for people of all ages through its year-round, high-calibre events that break down the barriers between science and society. The Public and Young Person’s Events Programmes of the Ri deliver independent science-based discussion on an issue where community interest lies. This has included such varied topics as climate change, cutting edge discovery in combating serious illness such as Leukaemia and Alzheimer’s and the ‘The Life Cycle of a Diamond’.

5. About Healthcare Biomagnetics

Healthcare Biomagnetics is an extremely promising field at the interface of physical and life sciences and engineering which has tremendous potential in many aspects of translational medicine. These include the development of new understandings and approaches to treating cancer, cardiovascular disease and regenerative medicine, as in the following:

  • the designing and building of a biomagnetometer for use by cancer surgeons to locate key cells for biopsy;
  •  the use of labelled stem cells for directed treatment of cardiovascular disease coupled with on-line MRI tracking of the cells;
  • the bioengineering of antibodies for specialised treatment of colorectal and other cancers; and
  •  the synthesis and characterisation of multi-functional nanoparticles for in vitro imaging and sensing.

Together these embody a new platform technology in the biomedical application of magnetic nanoparticles. It is an extremely promising area of applied research, with well-recognised prospects of delivery over the next decade.