Mike Towler

For almost 20 years, beginning in December 1996, I worked in the Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) Group at the Cavendish Laboratory -- the physics department of the University of Cambridge. Beginning in 2010 I also worked partly at University College, London for a few years. From 2002 until 2010 I was a Royal Society Research Fellow and for ten years also a College Lecturer at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. As of October 2015 I am taking a year's sabbatical, which means in practice that I continue in my role as director of the Apuan Alps Centre for Physics, an independent theoretical physics research centre and events venue in the mountain village of Vallico Sotto, Tuscany, Italy founded in 2004, and also that I am building and managing the Keil Art Bronze gallery in Via dei Fossi, Florence (opening February 2015) where I am often to be found sneakily doing physics calculations whilst pretending to be a shopkeeper. In 2016 it is intended that the gallery will also host weekly evening physics and art lectures.

My research is principally concerned with the development of highly accurate quantum-mechanical methods useful in understanding and predicting the properties of matter, though I also have a long-standing interest in the foundations of quantum physics. I am also a specialist in massively parallel computing, and routinely develop and run calculations on some of the largest machines in the world. I am an author of over sixty scientific articles and book chapters, and have written a number of widely used international-class software programs, including probably the best quantum Monte Carlo code in the world 'CASINO' (which I continue to develop in collaboration with my colleagues Neil Drummond and Pablo López Ríos). An experienced public speaker and educator, I have given numerous invited talks all over the world along with various lecture courses and thousands of small-group supervisions over many years in Cambridge.

Contact Information

Apuan Alps Centre for Physics
via del Collegio 22, Vallico di Sotto, 55021 Fabbriche di Vallico, Italy

Keil Art Bronze
via dei Fossi 3/5r, 50123 Firenze, Italy

TCM Group, Cavendish Laboratory,
19 J.J. Thomson Avenue, Cambridge CB3 0HE
('Visitor' status)

Telephone: +39-0583-1805441 (Apuan Alps Centre for Physics)
Telephone: +39-055-286076 (Keil Art Bronze)
Mobile: +39-346-1022097
Email: mdt26 'at' cam.ac.uk

What I do with my time

I do research in quantum physics from my bases in Florence and Vallico Sotto in Italy (having a somewhat 21st-century attitude to physical location, I might actually be found at either of these places at any given time with your best bet being the Keil Art Bronze gallery in Florence). I collaborate in particular with the groups of Richard Needs at Cambridge, Dario Alfè at UCL, and Matthew Foulkes at Imperial College. From Jan 2016 I have 'Visitor' status in the Cambridge TCM Group and indeed intend to actually visit occasionally.

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 have a long-standing interest in the unorthodox but highly interesting de Broglie Bohm ('pilot-wave') theory of quantum physics.

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.

Should I ever have any free time 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.

Finally, just for fun, I'm working on being a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator.

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

Full list


  • 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 ninth in the conference series "Quantum Monte Carlo in the Apuan Alps" took place in Vallico Sotto in late July 2014 followed by the ninth "Quantum Monte Carlo and the CASINO program" summer school 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") alongside an arts centre (associated with my wife Sam Keil). It is also used as a general 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 (it says 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. I created this page when I first moved to Cambridge about 18 years ago, hence the low resolution and juvenilia.