David Birch


  • United Kingdom

Personal profile

Personal Statement

David Birch was appointed Professor of Photophysics in 1993 having cofounded the Photophysics Group in 1978. His research focuses on fluorescence probes and their application to interdisciplinary molecular grand challenges at the biomedical interface. The Group has raised many millions of pounds of research funding and collaborates with an extensive network of national and international partners across industry and universities. It has successfully trained over 70 research students and post-doctoral fellows, 7 later becoming full professors and others leaders of industry.

David grew up in the Lancashire village of Burscough and then went on to the Physics Department at the University of Manchester to study for his BSc and PhD, which was supervised by John Birks. He lectured there for one year before moving into industry to work in organic mass spectrometry with VG Micromass Ltd. While at VG he recognised the commercial potential of his PhD for which he had designed and built a novel time-correlated single-photon counting (TCSPC) fluorescence lifetime spectrometer.

On arrival at Strathclyde he helped pioneer spin-outs at the University as he started to convert his PhD into what were to become world-leading products though IBH, the company he co-founded with colleagues Bob Imhof and Tony Hallam in 1977. IBH was Strathclyde's first spin-out and one of earliest in Scotland.  He is a pioneer of modern-day fluorescence lifetime spectroscopy and a driving force that has helped make Scotland their global manufacturing hub by having successfully bridged the Industry-University divide for over 40 years as a Company Director and Academic. As Chairman David led IBH in its merger with HORIBA in 2003 to form HORIBA Jobin Yvon IBH Ltd and together they are now the market leader in fluorescence spectroscopy. 

Products arising from David's work on fluorescence instrumentation and techniques are widely used in laboratories across the world for multidisciplinary applications, many of critical importance in understanding the molecular science which underpins healthcare. In recent years  his research has focused on biomolecular structure and dynamics down to the single molecule level; melanin structure, photophysics and melanoma; fluorescence guided surgery; glucose sensing for diabetes; aggregation leading to fibrils e.g. beta-amyloid and Alzheimer’s disease; gold nanoparticle photophysics and its application to sensing, imaging and fluid biopsy and 1-10 nm nanoparticle metrology. A list of David's publications is available.

His contributions have been recognised internationally through numerous awards and appointments. In 2017 David was awarded the HORIBA Lifetime Achievement Award for 40 years innovation in TCSPC with the Institute of Physics Dennis Gabor Medal and Prize  for pioneering the UK fluorescence lifetime industry following in 2020. In 2019 IBH was awarded the Institute of Physics Business Innovation Award for the development of the FLIMera multiplexed TCSPC molecular movie camera.  Previously IBH won SMART, SPUR, John Logie Baird and Millennium awards for innovation and has sponsored UK university research over two decades. 

David is a Fellow of Scotland's National Academy, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Since 2002 he has held the permanent post of Visiting Professor of Applied Physics at the Czech Technical University in Prague, where he has regularly organised fluorescence workshops. In 1998-99 he was awarded the Sir C V Raman Endowment Chair at the University of Madras and in 2000 held a Visiting Professorhip at Kyoto Institute of Technology. In 2014 he was appointed to the Green Honors Chair in Physics at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. He has competitively won research fellowships from the Royal Society, the Nuffield Foundation and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science. 

He was Editor-in-Chief of Measurement Science and Technology from 2012-2016. The journal was launched in 1923 as the world's first measurement journal and the first research journal produced by the Institute of Physics. Presently he is founding co-Editor-in-Chief of Methods and Applications in Fluorescence. He was a member of the Editorial Board of Plenum's Journal of Fluorescence from its launch in 1990 until 2002 and SPIE's Journal of Biomedical Optics from its launch in 1996 until 2019. David served as Head of Department from 2004-10 building up to the Government-led REF 2014 assessment from which the Times Higher Education ranked Strathclyde 1st in the UK for the quality of its physics research, the impact case studies arising from David's research in REF 2014 and REF 2021 contributing to the Department's successes. As HoD David helped launch the very successful Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) in 2004 and represented Strathclyde in helping to win £48m second round SFC funding for SUPA. In 2005 he cofounded Strathclyde's Centre for Molecular Nanometrology with Professor Duncan Graham and subsequently led a £4.9m EPSRC/SFC Science and Innovation Award to support its growth in collaboration with Professor John Pickup of Kings College London and Guy's Hospital. 

David convened the session on Photochemistry, Photophysics and Electrochemistry at the 7th EuCheMS Congress in Liverpool in August 2018 and has served on the Permanent Standing Committee of the Methods and Applications in Fluorescence Conference series since 1993. He initiated the FluoroFest Series of International Workshops in Prague in 2009 and Chaired the 12th FluoroFest held in Glasgow in 2017. Recent conference invited talks include those at ISSW 2022 and MNBS LX.

profile of David's career has recently been written and published by Wiley Analytical Science. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure


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