Our history

We are an established and successful school with a fascinating history commencing in Cardiff in 1883.

John Viriamu Jones
John Viriamu Jones, F.R.S - Jointly First Principal and Head of Physics department.

When Cardiff University was founded as the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in 1883, John Viriamu Jones was appointed jointly as the first Principal of the College and as Head of the Physics Department. Until 1891, he and an Assistant Lecturer carried out all teaching and research in Physics. The high quality of his research led to Viriamu Jones’ election to the Royal Society in 1894.

The University’s first building was located on what is now the Queen’s Buildings complex, which is where we are located today. All the work of the College was carried out on this Newport Road site until new facilities were opened at Cathays Park in 1909, including the Viriamu Jones Memorial Physics Research Laboratory in Main Building.

The Physics Department officially moved into Main Building in 1929, the same year in which R. G. Wood arrived and began the crystallographic research that became closely associated with the Department. By the 1960s, the range of diffraction studies was widened to include optical diffraction as an analogue method of solving crystallographic problems.

The School today

Following the merger between University College Cardiff and the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology in 1988, the Department more than doubled in size and was renamed the Department of Physics and Astronomy. We also moved to newly refurbished laboratories at our present location in Queen’s Buildings.

The School is now one of seven schools in the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering and is continuing to expand its research areas and its degree courses. It currently has approximately 150 staff and around 470 students.

Professor Matt Griffin is our current Head of School. He has occupied the position since 2014. Professor Griffin is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and was awarded the Jackson-Gwilt Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 2011.