Professor Peter Matthews

Professor Peter Matthews

Emeritus Professor

Discretionary Member


Professor of Applied Physical Chemistry  (part time, research focussed, from January 2017, emeritus from April 2019)

  • Research. Leader of the Environmental and Fluid Modelling Group. Total personally awarded research income of £4.6m, as listed under the Research tab, from UK research councils (NERC, BBSRC and EPSRC), and industry (mainly Omya International AG and EDF Energy). 
  • Teaching to 2016. Environmental Science: terrestrial pollution (stage 2). Chemistry: computer interfacing and programming (stage 1), thermodynamics, statistical thermodynamics, reaction kinetics and electrochemistry (stage 2), and advanced theory of molecular interactions (stage 3). National Enterprise Educator Award 2012,  won by the university with a significant element being Matthews' incorporation of the Flux Business Challenge into the chemistry course. 
  • 3rd leg. Director and CEO of PoreXpert Ltd, the University's main spin-out company, which won the Vice Chancellor's prize for Applied Research in 2012. 
  • Management.  Resourcing Advisor for the Faculty of Science and Technology (2010-11). 

Career track - see Research tab



MA (Natural Sciences, Chemistry) and D.Phil (Thermophysical properties of simple gases and their mixtures), Corpus Christi College, Oxford University.
Postgraduate Certificate in Education, Oxford University Department of Education.
College lecturer in Physical Chemistry, St Catherine’s College, Oxford University, and experimental officer in charge of the Oxford University Physical Chemistry Teaching laboratories, 1980 - 84.

Professional membership

Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Member of the Society of Core Analysts
Co-ordinating Member of the British Soil Water Physics Group

Roles on external bodies

Associate Editor, European Journal of Soil Science  (2011-14)
Founding editor, newsletter of  InterPore  (the International Society for Porous Media research)

Member of the EDF Energy Independent nuclear reactor core Graphite Validation Group

Teaching interests

  Current teaching interests

  • Environmental Science
    • Terrestrial pollution (stage 2). A course involving a field trip to North Wyke Rsearch, with theory based on the fundamental work behind Matthews' BBSRC and NERC research projects. 

   Teaching interests to 2016

  •  Chemistry
      • Computer interfacing and programming (stage 1)
      • Thermodynamics, statistical thermodynamics, reaction kinetics and electrochemistry (stage 2). 
      • Advanced theory of molecular interactions (stage 3), including use of the PoreXpert software package developed by Matthews' research group

    Educational publications

    • Experimental Physical Chemistry, by G.P.Matthews, 500pp, Oxford University Press (1985).
    • 4 refereed papers describing new experiments with which to teach school and undergraduate level physical chemistry
    • Molecular Dynamics software CD published by Education in Chemistry (American Chemical Society).
    • Virtual reality teaching package developed to teach the modelling of soil void structure using the in-house Pore-Cor software

    Accreditation/validation activity

    HEFCE National Assessor for Chemistry and Environmental Science, leading to inspections at Imperial College, Warwick, Leicester de Montfort and Cheltenham and Gloucester College

    Chairing of 10 degree validation panels within the university and its partner colleges, including:

    • Cert HE Combined Arts (English and History), Penwith College, 2006.
    • Media Practice and Society, Plymouth, 2004.
    • History, Heritage and Archaeology, Truro College, 2003
  • Other activities:

    • mock QAA assessments for the University of Plymouth, Environmental Sciences at Plymouth and Agricultural Studies at Seale Hayne
    • external advisor for the combined honours scheme, Oxford Brookes University
  • Staff serving as external examiners

    Since 2004:

    External examiner, University of Manchester MSc by Research in Textile Technology, Paper Making and Paper Science. (Sep 2006 to Aug 2009)

    External examiner / opponent for Doctor of Philosophy by research for research students from 

    • Department of Engineering, Nottingham University (2018)    
    • Department of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University (2016) 
    • Bath University (2010)
    • Aalto University Helsinki (2010)
    • Department of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University (2007) 
    • Scottish Informatics, Biology and Statistics research centre (SIMBIOS), University of Abertay, Dundee (2007)
    • Institute for Bioscience and Technology, Centre for Supramolecular Science and Technology, Cranfield University (April 2008). 
    • Department of Chemical Engineering, Karlstad University, Sweden (December 2004)

    Research interests

    G.Peter Matthews is Professor in Applied Physical Chemistry in the School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth.  He became semi-retired from January 2017, maintaining his research interests but ceasing to teach undergraduates.  In April 2019 he was appointed to an Emeritus professorship. He is also CEO and director of PoreXpert Ltd, the university’s main spin-out company, selling consultancy services and the PoreXpert suite of software described below.

    Matthews studied chemistry at Oxford University, gaining a distinction in chemical pharmacology, and going on to be awarded a doctorate there for research into the measurement and computer modelling of the flow of simple gases. Subsequently he supervised and developed Oxford’s physical chemistry teaching laboratories while a college lecturer at St Catherine’s College,before moving to Plymouth in 1985.  He has maintained an interest in teaching, having been HEFCE national assessor for Chemistry and Environmental Science, developing these courses at Plymouth, and acting as chair for numerous other course validations.  

    His Environmental and Fluid Modelling research interests are currently concerned with fluid flow in porous materials, particularly when this has environmental importance.  He has supervised 21 PhDs, 18 as P.I., to successful and timely completion, as well as numerous post-doctoral students.  He has attracted £4.6m of research funding to date, the sources of which have been research councils (NERC Environmental Diagnostics programme, NERC NE/K004212/1,EPSRC GR/K70489 and BBSRC BB/E001793/1, BB/E001793/1), industry (British Gas /Transco, Omya AG, EDF), and purchasers of the software described below. He has written 152 publications in research and pedagogy, including a 500 page textbook on Experimental Physical Chemistry (Oxford University Press,1985), and over 35 consultancy reports.  

    Matthews’ research group has pioneered a new way of modelling porous materials, by producing software (Pore-Cor succeeded by PoreXpert® ) which generates three-dimensional void networks which closely match the full percolation characteristic and porosity of any meso- and macro-porous material. Matthews’ approach contrasts with the otherwise almost universal approach which is simply to take the slope (1st derivative) of the percolation characteristic, in the form of a mercury porosimetry intrusion curve or a soil water retention curve, and equate it to the number of voids of that size. However the traditional approach is only valid for the very small number of samples, such as track-etch membranes, which comprise aligned capillary tubes which do not connect with one another.  The new approach involves inverse modelling using a Boltzmann-annealed amoeboid simplex. Then monitoring of the percolation of the representative simulated structure allows a complete void distribution to be generated, including identification of voids that are actually likely to be clusters of voids (  Once the structure has been generated, a wide range of characteristics and properties of the void network can be examined, such as the absolute sizes and numbers of voids, connectivity of the network, absolute permeability, diffusion, tortuosity, thermal conductivity and filtration characteristics (Gribble et al., 2011). A ‘cell engineering’ module within PoreXpert can be used to optimize the design of porous materials, or predict properties such as ageing and formation damage.

    To a first approximation, the behaviour of fluids within pores is dependant only on the cross-sectional sizes of the voids, their volumes, the interfacial tension of the fluid system, and, in the case of liquids, the contact angle at the surface of the solid.  Therefore there is considerable symbiosis between studies on widely different materials in different research areas, and many of these systems have direct or indirect environmental importance.  

    Of particular importance are dual porous systems – i.e. solids comprised of particles, between which is inter-particle porosity, and in which the particles themselves have intra-particle porosity (Laudone et al 2013). Examples of this are soil, where for example nitrifying bacteria reside in the intra-particle porosity (Laudone et al. 2011), and high performance modified-calcium-carbonate(MCC) paper coatings, for which the dual porosity gives very fast and accurate ink adsorption properties (Ridgway et al. 2011).  Gilsocarbon graphite,used in the cores of AGRs at six sites in the UK, also has a highly complicated pore structure, comprising an openly accessible void network, a void network accessible at moderate pressure, and closed porosity deriving from air bubbles in the original graphite / pitch mix before baking (Laudone et al. 2014). 

    PoreXperts straddles the continuum threshold – i.e. the sample size at which individual pore level effects can be integrated and upscaled to core and fieldscale – an approach now being used to upscale soil hydrophobicity transitions to a scale which can be incorporated into the Met Office JULES climate-change dependant hydrological model (NE/K004212/1). 

    A major advance, which identifies voids that a likely to be clusters of smaller voids, was published in September 2018.  This is now being used by, amongst others, Rothamsted Research, and Heraeus GmbH.

    From January to April 2007, Matthews was Royal Society visiting associate professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics, in the Research School of Physical Science and Engineering at the Australian National University, Canberra. He was associate editor of the European Journal of Soil Science in 2012-2104, and was founding editor of InterPore News, the newsletter of the international society for porous material research.  In September 2012 he and his team won the Vice Chancellor’s Enterprise Award for expertise in applied research.  Also in September 2012, the university gained a National Enterprise Educator Award, with a significant element being his incorporation of the Flux business challenge into the chemistry course.  In June 2012,Matthews’ laboratories were one of three at the university that together were awarded the competitive national S-lab Award, (S = Safe, Successful and Sustainable).  In 2010-13 he was advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Science on staff resourcing issues, on the basis of his development of the Faculty Resource Model which cross-correlates teaching activity, research activity and financial income from students. 


    Research degrees awarded to supervised students

    Matthews has supervised 21 PhD projects, 18 as Principal Investigator, with a 100% completion rate.

    The following students have completed since 1999: 

    • C. Levy. Nanoporous calcium carbonate-based substrates for controlled delivery of functional materials. 2017
    • D. Gantenbein.  Talc and modified calcium carbonate formulations for the control of pitch in paper production. 2012
    • C.M. Gribble. Surface adsorption and pore level properties of mineral and related systems of relevance to the recycling of paper. 2011
    • J.C.Price. A study of wicking and depth filtration.  2008
    • D.A.Holtham, Measurement and modelling of soil structuring under white clover.  2006
    • G.M.Laudone, Environmentally Friendly Technology: The Behaviour of Natural and Synthetic Binder Systems within Paper Coatings,  2005
    • A. Johnson, Modelling and prediction of pollutant flow in natural and perturbed soils,  2004.
    • P. A. Bodurtha, Cleaner technology - optimising absorption and optical characteristics of novel paper coating formulations, 2003.
    • J. Schoelkopf, Cleaner technology - wetting characteristics of pigment structures, 2002.
    • L.A. MacDonald, Sub-surface migration of an oil pollutant into aquifers, 2000.
    • T.J. Mathews, Void structure, colloid and tracer transport properties of stratified porous media, 1999.

    Grants & contracts

    Total: £4.6m, of which £1.5m has been from industry, and £2.7m from UK research councils.  

    Research groups

    • Chemical Sciences

    Other academic activities


    The Environmental and Fluid Modelling Group laboratories, located in Davy Building 601 and 602, provide consultancy services for the characterisation of porous solids. 

    Equipment includes a Thermo Fisher mercury porosimeterhelium and powder/envelope pycnometers, Kruss picolitre goniometer , and Bel Nippon analyser for low surface area samples. 

    The laboratory achieved full ISO 9001:2008 accreditation in August 2010, and all mercury porosimetry work is already done according to strict protocols which exceed those required by the instrument manufacturer. 

    Additional information

    Peter Matthews takes a paternal delight in the achievements of his family, and the business, medical, scientific and engineering interests of his children.

    With his wife Diane as main carer, Peter has extensive experience in the rehabilitation of babies and children following abuse, neglect or abandonment.  The efforts of Peter and his wife were recognised in a prize and citation presented by Pirate FM, on behalf of Cornwall County Council Children's Services, at a celebration evening in Newquay in October 2008.

    Peter also sings first bass in the East Cornwall Bach Choir.

    He is a keen photographer, with several photos published by local media, such as The Cornish Times in March 2018, and has raised beef and dairy cattle, sheep and ponies in his SPS registered 0.9 hectare field.


    For details of poreXpert, research group members, latest news and publications, please see the research group website at