John C. H. Spence

John Spence
Professor John C. H. Spence ForMemRS.jpg
John Spence in 2015, portrait via the Royal Society
John Charles Howorth Spence

(1946-04-04)4 April 1946
Died28 June 2021(2021-06-28) (aged 75)
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne (PhD)
Scientific career
ThesisDouble plasmon studies in several metals (1973)
InfluencesJohn Maxwell Cowley

John Charles Howorth Spence ForMemRS HonFRMS was Richard Snell Professor of Physics at Arizona State University and Director of Science at the National Science Foundation BioXFEL Science and Technology Center.


Spence was educated at the University of Melbourne where he was awarded a PhD in 1973 for work on double plasmon studies of metals.

Awards and honours

Spence was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2015. His nomination reads:

John Spence is distinguished for his innovative world-leading contributions to both biology and materials science. He co-led the team which conceived the first application of X-ray free-electron lasers (XFEL) to structural biology using protein nanocrystals and he pioneered femtosecond serial crystallography. He is also a world leader in the development and application of atomic-resolution electron microscopy and its use for the study of atomic defects in crystals and semiconductors. For example, he co-invented a widely used technique for locating impurity atoms in nanocrystals, for directly and accurately imaging the chemical bonds between atoms, and published the first observation of dislocation kinks, at atomic resolution. He has developed new microscopies and spectroscopies which have given scientists new eyes to understand atomic processes in solids.

In 2017 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society (HonFRMS) for his contributions to microscopy. Spence is a (corresponding) Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and the author of the book "Lightspeed" (OUP 2019) on the history of attempts to measure the speed of light leading to Einstein's theories. For 2021 he was awarded the Gregori Aminoff Prize. He died in 2021.

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