David McPhail is an expert in the analysis of surfaces and the study of how those surfaces interact with their environment. He has worked at the interface between analytical science and cultural heritage for over twenty-five years. His research includes studies of artifacts made of glass, metal, and ceramic as well as the study of modern materials such as plastics.

The aim of McPhail’s research in conservation science is to ensure that the research delivers practical, cost-effective guidelines that conservators and curators can use to preserve artifacts that would otherwise be lost to future generations. The complimentary analytical techniques he uses reveal the mechanisms and kinetics of decay, leading to treatments that can slow down or even arrest deterioration completely.

He also uses high sensitivity surface analysis to determine the effectiveness of the cleaning processes used in the conservation of materials (for example solvents, laser cleaning and steam) and the rate of recontamination of surfaces once they have been cleaned.

McPhail is engaged in collaborative research projects with museums in Dallas and Fort Worth including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum. Previously he worked at Imperial College London for 25 years developing research collaborations with conservators and conservation scientists at most of the major museums in the London area. 

McPhail studied for a B.Sc. in Physics at Bristol University (1976) and a Ph.D. in Mass Spectrometry at Imperial College, London (1982). After his PhD he worked on Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), a very sensitive high-resolution analytical tool for studying materials and their interaction with the environment.

He was appointed as a Physics lecturer at Warwick University in 1988 and moved to Imperial College as a lecturer in 1989. He left Imperial College for his current post in Texas in 2016. He has over 180 publications in print and has supervised over thirty PhD students. He is a Fellow of the UK Institute of Physics and sat on its Council for four years from 2010-2014.

He was Deputy Director of the Graduate School at Imperial College from 2011-2015 and was academic lead on the joint PhD program with the National University of Singapore from 2010-2015. He won the Imperial College Rectors award for excellence in teaching twice.

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry