Our REF 2021 submission includes 21 staff, up by 24% compared with REF 2014, demonstrating the vitality and continuing growth of physics at the University. During this REF period we have established new research groups in gravitational wave science and quantum technology, won eight UK and EU fellowships, and created seven new academic posts.

For the first time, our physics submission includes staff from our School of Mathematics and Physics, established in 2018, as well as staff from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. The Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation is a world-leading research centre with a unique position in major astronomical collaborations, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Dark Energy Survey. The School of Mathematics and Physics runs undergraduate courses in physics, astrophysics and cosmology, with research expertise in quantum technologies and advanced materials.

34 research outputs in our submission come from our involvement in large international collaborations and have accumulated over 20,000 citations according to the Web of Science database. 

We have seen a 39% increase in the number of PhD completions compared with REF 2014, with a 100% completion record in this REF period, reflecting a vibrant and inclusive research environment. 

Results in REF 2021

  • We are ranked 6th out of 44 institutions in Physics across the UK, and we are the top modern university.
  • 100% of our research outputs were judged to be internationally excellent or world-leading.
  • 100% of our impact was rated as having very considerable or outstanding reach and significance.
  • 100% of our research environment was judged as having the vitality and sustainability to produce internationally excellent or world-leading research.

Research areas

We are diversifying the impact of our research, exploiting new opportunities in areas such as quantum technologies and space science. We’re addressing challenges in energy, the environment and advanced technologies, closely aligned with the University’s research themes.

Our submission includes research from six research areas:

Award-winning research in gravitational-waves

ICG established a new research group in the rapidly developing field of gravitational wave science, complementing our existing research strengths in astronomy and gravitation. Our team plays a key role in the Laser Interferometric Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) scientific collaboration, which was awarded the Gruber Cosmology Prize (2016), and the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2016) for their ground-breaking discoveries.

Research submitted by our physicists in REF2021 includes the discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) science collaboration. This was the first detection of the merger of two black holes (each approximately 30 times the mass of our Sun) and the first detection of gravitational waves, predicted a century before by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. ICG staff member Dr Andy Lundgren was co-chair of the LIGO detector characterisation group responsible for certifying the data quality.  

Impact case studies

We have a long-term strategic engagement with local schools and communities, interacting with more than 50,000 members of the public and school children since 2013. Public engagement through citizen science and other innovative projects is demonstrated in our two impact cases studies.

Tactile Universe

Tactile Universe makes astrophysics research accessible to people with visual impairments, increasing interest and engagement amongst visually impaired school pupils by making them feel included and inspired. This multi-award winning project was inspired by the personal experience of Dr Nic Bonne and the challenges he faced in his research as a severely sight-impaired astronomer. This led him to develop 3D models of galaxies that can be held in a human hand, allowing vision impaired people to experience and understand astrophysics.


Zooniverse citizen science projects developed out of Portsmouth’s involvement in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Over 300 different projects have engaged and educated over 2 million people, making significant social and cultural impacts. Volunteers have become part of the scientific process, changing their views about research and science. Projects such as 'Penguin Watch' and 'Planetary Response Network' are making an impact on environmental policy and on practice in disaster relief efforts.


Infrastructure, collaborations and partnerships

We are a member of the South-East Physics Network (SEPnet), a consortium of nine universities working together to share best practice and support excellence in research, innovation and teaching. This includes GRADnet, the largest post-graduate research school in England, as well as employer engagement, outreach and public engagement teams.

Building on our record of leading roles in major international collaborations, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Dark Energy Survey, the University has made major investments in the next generation of astronomical surveys. We’ve invested in multi-wavelength and multi-messenger experiments, in order to build collaborations between astrophysicists, cosmologists and our newly established gravitational wave group. This includes membership of the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO), the Time-Domain Extragalactic Survey (TiDES) on the 4-metre Multi-Object Spectroscopic Telescope and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory.

ICG runs a dedicated High-Performance Compute Cluster (“SCIAMA”) with over 3,000 cores which supports our exploitation of large astronomical surveys and advanced statistical analyses of large datasets. University investment in 2019 paid for a major upgrade which provided an additional 896 cores with 8.4TB of distributed memory.

Investments in our School of Mathematics and Physics include a £1.3 million Advanced Materials Lab with a sputtering thin-film deposition system, atomic force microscope, scanning electron microscope and molecular beam epitaxy system.

Grant awards

Overall our average annual research income (£1.4 million) has grown by 21% since REF 2014. We won several highly competitive grants during this period:

  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) consolidated grant awards have steadily grown from £1.4 million (2013-16) and £1.6 million (2016-19) to £2.1 million (2019-22), despite intense and growing competition nationally for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.
  • Four European Research Council grants were awarded worth £6.8 million in total.
  • UK Space Agency and Royal Society awards have rewarded leadership roles in major surveys including the European Space Agency’s Euclid satellite and the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI).
  • Prestigious individual fellowships have been funded by UKRI, the EU, the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.
  • The Quantum Information group has been supported by $367,000 in grants from the US Office of Naval Research and Army Research Lab.