I am an Emeritus Professor of Astrophysics having been the first holder of Philip Wetton Chair in Astrophysics from 2002 until 2022. I am a Student of Christ Church. My research interests centre on cosmology and how galaxies form and evolve. I have a longstanding interest in astronomical instruments and telescopes. From 2014-22 I was the founding Director of the Oxford Hintze Centre for Astrophysical Surveys which funded three research fellows and three postgraduate scholars at any one time.
I grew up in Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire and attended John Leggott School. I read Physics as an undergraduate at UCL and did a PhD at the Institute of Astronomy and Churchill College, Cambridge. Following that I moved to the United States working at Lick Observatory in Santa Cruz CA and the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, AZ, now part of NSF's NOIRLab. I became part of the Seven Samurai collaboration which surveyed the distances and velocities of galaxies, discovering the `Great Attractor’, a concentration of galaxy clusters pulling the Milky Way in the direction of the constellations of Hydra and Centaurus.
I moved to Oxford in 1988 to lead the team set up to build a UK 8m telescope that ultimately resulted in the UK membership of the Gemini Observatory. Since then I have been project scientist for a number of instruments. I became Head of Astronomy at Durham University in 1994, returning to Oxford to the Wetton Chair in 2002. I have pioneered the use of a new class of astronomical spectrograph to measure the masses, composition and ages of galaxies, as well as search for black holes in their nuclei.
I was Head of the Physics Department at Oxford from 2005-10 and Head of Astrophysics from 2011-14. I am a Fellow of UCL and of the Institute of Physics. I hold an honorary degree from University Claude Bernard in Lyon, France. I was President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2010 and 2012. I have been President of the European Astronomical Society since 2017. I was elected to the AURA Board of Directors in 2021.