St Cross Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics



Over the centuries Britain’s contribution to the international study of physics has been enormous with the University of Oxford playing a key role in many areas of its advancement. Oxford continues to be a centre of excellence for research both on the historical development of the discipline and the philosophy which shapes its inquiry.

HAPP does not simply focus on chronicling the history of the discipline as a retrospective exercise but also critically engages with the philosophy and the methodologies which inform how current research in physics is undertaken. Being based at St Cross College, the Centre is well positioned to investigate those milestones in the field in which the University of Oxford has played a leading role. Such scientific contributions extend from the emergence of the study of physics during the Middle Ages to the establishment of the Royal Society and the development of the modern discipline in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Topics covered to date include Wittgenstein and PhysicsVoltaire and the Newtonian RevolutionPhysics and the Great WarA History of the Sun - Our Closest StarMedieval Physics in OxfordThe Nature of TimeA History of the MoonThe Émigrés in Oxford PhysicsThe Nature of Quantum RealityAstronomy Across the Medieval WorldPhysics Controversies Past and PresentFrom Space to SpacetimePhysics and the Dark SideA History of the SmallParadigm Shifts Across the AgesThe Rise of Big Science in Physics, Space Travel Across the Decades and Beyond, Scientific Thinking Across the Centuries and the Foundations of Physics, and Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Across a CenturyBrilliant Blunders - Mistakes by Great Physicists that Changed Our Understanding of the Universe,The Nature of Light, Symmetries in Physics, and Physics Feuds Throughout History.

Advisory Board


Dr Jo Ashbourn FRAS Senior Tutor (Academic Affairs & Programmes), St Cross College, University of Oxford (DIRECTOR)

Professor Jim Al-Khalili CBE FRS, University of Surrey

Professor Rob Iliffe, University of Oxford

Professor Harvey Brown FBA, University of Oxford

Dr Jeremy Butterfield FBA, University of Cambridge

Dr Allan Chapman FRAS, Wadham College, University of Oxford

Professor Frank Close OBE FRS, University of Oxford

Dr James Dodd, St Cross College, University of Oxford

Funding and Prizes
HAPP Visiting Fellowships at St Cross College

The Centre is able to offer one Visiting Fellowship per term, which is based at St Cross College and has a tenure of one term, to established academics/scholars coming to Oxford. Visiting Fellowships carry full membership of the College with use of all its facilities and Visiting Fellows are required to be based in Oxford for the term in which they hold the position.

When considering whether to apply, applicants are advised to assess the financial implications carefully. Each Visiting Fellowship carries no stipend or accommodation, but Visiting Fellows are entitled to free lunch daily in College as well as one Hall Dinner on Tuesdays weekly in term-time. You will need to budget an amount from your own income to cover all other meals, drinks and entertainment as well as research expenses, travel and other miscellaneous expenses.

Before applying, applicants must already have a personal invitation to hold visitor status at the University of Oxford in either the Faculty of History, the Faculty of Philosophy, the Department of Physics or the Museum for the History of Science to carry out research on a topic in the history and philosophy of physics during the term in which they are applying as a HAPP Visiting Fellow.

Applicants should submit a CV, personal statement and research proposal in PDF format, and should ask their proposed Faculty or Department at Oxford to write in support of their application to the Director of HAPP by email to

The Trinity Term 2023 HAPP Visiting Fellow, Professor Arne Schirrmacher gave a seminar entitled "How Students Created Their Own Curriculum - Physics and Chemistry Clubs in 19th an 20th Century Oxford" at 5.30 pm on Tuesday 13th June 2023.

The Trinity Term 2023 HAPP Visiting Fellow, Dr William Simpson gave a seminar entitled "Why Middle-Sized Matters: The Limits of Quantum Mechanics" at 5:45 pm on Wednesday 24th May 2023.

The Michaelmas Term 2022 HAPP Visiting Fellow, Professor Arne Schirrmacher gave a seminar entitled "From Awe to Experience, from Artefacts to Edufacts? On the Post-War Revolution in the Objects of Science Communication" at 5.30 pm on Tuesday 25th October 2022.

The Michaelmas Term 2017 HAPP Visiting Fellow, Dr Filip Buyse gave a seminar entitled "Galileo's Microscopic and Telescopic Observations: Their Impact on How Bodies are Conceived" at 5 pm on Thursday 2nd November 2017.

HAPP Essay Prize in the History/Philosophy of Physics

The HAPP Essay Prize in the History/Philosophy of Physics is awarded for an outstanding essay produced by an undergraduate or Master's student in History, Philosophy or Physics at the University of Oxford on any topic in the history or philosophy of physics, and is an award of £250.

The prize is intended for an essay which is based around a short piece of formal work submitted for academic study at Oxford with a maximum of 3,000 words, although this should be rewritten to make the submitted essay accessible to non-specialist readers.

Submissions for the prize (one entry per applicant) with the word count given and details of the current undergraduate/Master's course included should be sent to the Director of HAPP by email to by Friday 24 May 2024.

The 2023 Prize was awarded to Zhengrong Qian for his essay entitled "Is Thermodynamics Worryingly Anthropocentric?".

The 2022 Prize was awarded to Amit Karmon for his essay entitled "Two Seconds per Second".

The 2021 Prize was awarded to Kabir Bakshi for his essay entitled "Dualities and Empirical Equivalence".

The 2020 Prize was awarded to Marta Bielińska for her essay entitled "The Best System Approach and Scientific Practice".

The 2019 Prize was awarded to Julian Waddell for his essay entitled "Microscopy and Leibniz's Argument Against the Void".

The 2018 Prize was awarded to Manveer Sahota for his essay entitled "Painting the Correct Picture of Probability in Everettian Quantum Mechanics: Why Branch Counting is Untenable".

The 2017 Prize was awarded to Rebecca Charbonneau for her essay entitled "Intelligent Life in the Universe: The Influence of Cosmism in Mid-20th Century Astrophysics".

Useful Online Resources


HAPP Book Collection with clickable links
HAPP Book collection

The History of Replica Symmetry Breaking in Physics

Interview and transcript for Professor David Sherrington FRS (University of Oxford)

Dr Gerry Pickavance CBE FRS - Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society

Dr Godfrey Stafford CBE FRS - Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society


IoP History of Physics weblinks

AIP History of Physics weblinks

British Society for the History of Science

British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Archive for Preprints in Philosophy of Science

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy



For any queries about the Centre, please contact the Director, Dr Jo Ashbourn by email at

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