Mike Towler

I am currently an EPSRC-funded Senior Research Associate jointly appointed at the University of Cambridge and University College, London. I have my main office in the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) Group at the Cavendish Laboratory -- the Cambridge physics department -- where I have worked since 1996. From 2002 until 2012 I was a Royal Society Research Fellow and a College Lecturer at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. I am also the director of the Apuan Alps Centre for Physics in Tuscany, Italy.

Contact Information

TCM group, Cavendish Laboratory,
Cambridge University, J.J. Thomson Avenue, Cambridge CB3 0HE

Telephone: +44-(0)1223-746644 (Cavendish)
Telephone: +39-0583-1805441 (Apuan Alps Centre for Physics)
Mobile: +44-(0)7432 491113
Fax: +44-(0)1223-337356
Email: mdt26 at cam.ac.uk
CV: PDF - curriculum vitae
Pubs: PDF - list of publications.

What I do in the Cavendish and elsewhere

I do research in quantum physics from my bases in Cambridge and London in the U.K., and Tuscany in Italy (having a somewhat 21st-century attitude to physical location, I might actually be found at any of these places at any given time with your best bet being my office in the Cavendish Laboratory). I collaborate in particular with the groups of Richard Needs at Cambridge, Dario Alfè at UCL, and Matthew Foulkes at Imperial College.

One of my main research interests is the super-accurate quantum Monte Carlo method widely used in computational electronic structure theory; I am the principal author of the CASINO quantum Monte Carlo software, written over many years with my colleagues Neil Drummond and Pablo López Ríos and many other postdocs and students. I also (infamously) have a long-standing interest in the ultra-heretical de Broglie Bohm ('pilot-wave') theory of quantum physics, which is probably one of the reasons why I continue not to have a proper job and have to justify my existence by reapplying for grants every couple of years.. ;-)

I own a 15th century monastery in Tuscany that I run as a science institute ("The Apuan Alps Centre for Physics") and events venue, and my wife Sam Keil uses as her Italian art and sculpture studio. Every year I organize workshops and summer schools on various topics at this venue - see the web page for more details.

Off and on since 2001 I have organized the Electronic Structure Discussion Group, a weekly discussion forum where researchers and students in the TCM Group (and interested colleagues in other departments) get together to present and chat about their work. Contact me if you want to be added to the mailing list.

In my spare time - such as it is - I'm interested, in no particular order, in antique books, Etruscan archaeology, caving, climbing, and mountaineering, the Victorian explorer Richard F. Burton, old sailing ships, taxidermy, Victorian science (especially the dangerous stuff), Italian poetry, mathematical recreation, and astronomy. I also like to produce bad translations of old Italian manuscripts (see for example here).

Finally - as a rather foolish personal challenge - I am currently engaged in attempting to tranform myself into a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator.

Some peripheral activities in TCM:

I supposedly oversee the various group libraries. TCM users of the New Coffee Library or the TCM Library should email me if they want to borrow a book. In principle, having designed and built it back in 1999 with the help of Derek the Cavendish Carpenter (now sadly missed), I'm also in charge of the TCM Coffee Bar - and I give an annual lecture in October on the best way to make cappuccinos..

I used to run TCM Films - a weekly trip to get physicists to the cinema to see poncy art movies and argue about them afterwards over a glass of wine - but after many years this sadly ran out of steam due to widespread lack of interest and the short attention span of Young People Nowadays. Maybe one day it will be resurrected. Here is a list of Every Film We Ever Saw in 5 years of operation.

I used to keep up a resources page for the electronic structure program CRYSTAL, but this is no longer maintained.

My research interests

What a diamond would look like if you were very small.
No, honestly.

  • Electronic structure theory and its use in the first principles simulation of matter (condensed or otherwise). I use a mixture of quantum Monte Carlo, density functional theory and various "quantum chemistry" methods.
  • Development of the theory of the quantum Monte Carlo method and our implementation of it in the Cambridge quantum Monte Carlo code "CASINO".
  • Foundational issues in quantum mechanics, particularly de Broglie-Bohm pilot-wave theory.
  • Practical quantum simulations based on de Broglie-Bohm pilot-wave trajectories, as implemented in my computer code "LOUIS".
  • Algebraic approaches to quantum theory (with Basil Hiley) [this was an aspiration which I ended up not doing because of lack of time, but I'll keep this here because I think more people should pay attention to it].
  • The relationship between quantum chemistry and theoretical physics.
  • Fundamental problems in density functional theory.
  • The physics of strongly-correlated systems from the point of view of first principles electronic structure theories.
  • Physics education (through my conference centre). African development.

Publications, current projects and talks


  • I was one of the organizers of a conference in Lyon in September 2002 entitled "The Diffusion Monte Carlo Method". Its homepage can be found here
  • I run annual conference and summer school programs at my Institute. The seventh in the conference series "Quantum Monte Carlo in the Apuan Alps" will take place in Vallico Sotto in late July 2012, and the seventh "Quantum Monte Carlo and the CASINO program" summer school will follow in early August. Our first quantum foundations workshop: "21st century directions in de Broglie-Bohm theory and beyond" took place in late August 2010. More details on the TTI home page.

The Apuan Alps Centre for Physics

I am the owner of the Towler Institute, a large 16th century former monastery situated on the outskirts of a mediaeval village in the Apuan Alps national park in Northern Tuscany. It hosts my science institute (the "Apuan Alps Centre for Physics") plus an art school (associated with my wife Sam) and is used as an events venue. The monastery's chapel hosts scientific summer schools and workshops, plus occasional art events, and it is the ideal summer getaway for people seeking peace and inspiration for work. Follow the link above for further details.

Cute Baby


Other places where I have worked

Starring Television Roles

  • Mike and his Royal Society friends meet Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge - The Professionals(sic). See the Royal Society piece on this here. Find out how we did in Science Magazine.
  • Sadly and not surprisingly, that was it.

Arty things

Links and miscellaneous stuff

Photo Album

  • See some of my favourite photographs which remind me of people and places that I used to know here. If you typed my name into Google because we once hung out together years ago and you wanted to find out what happened to me, you're probably in here (Contact me if you don't want to be - I know I should really ask permission).