John Spence

Regents Professor
Physics Department
University Club
University Club
BDI Associate Faculty
Biodesign ASD

Location: TEMPE

Contact Information
(480) 965-6486


  • Ph.D. Physics, Melbourne University 1973
  • M.S. Melbourne University 1971
  • B.S. Physics (First Class Honors), Melbourne University 1969
  • Scotch College, Melbourne, Australia 1964

Research Interests

Spence and his colleagues work applying X-ray lasers to Biology was listed by Science in Dec 2012 as one of the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of (2012). A special issue of Nature (Nature 505, 604606, 30 January 2014) provides an editorial essay on this work, with others.


Professor John C.H. Spence FRS is the Richard Snell Professor of Physics and a Regents Professor at Arizona State University. He is also the director of science for the NSF BioXFEL Science and Technology Center on the application of X-Ray Free-electron lasers to structural biology. This is a consortium of seven U.S. universities (ASU, Stanford, Millwaukee, Cornell, Rice, SUNY Buffalo, UCSF) devoted to the development and application of hard X-ray lasers to biology for a decade.

Spence completed a doctorate in physics at Melbourne University in 1972,  followed by a postdoctoral fellowships at Oxford, UK. He received the Distinguished Scientist Award of the Microscopy Society of America  for 2006,  the Buerger Award of the American Crystallographic Society in 2012, the J.M. Cowley Medal of the International Federation of Societies of  Microscopy for 2014, the Burton Medal of MSA and a Humbolt Senior Scientist Award. He is a fellow of the Royal Society (Foreign Member), a correponding (foreign) member of the Australian Academy of Science, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, the Microscopy Society of American, of the Royal Microscopy Society, of the Institute of Physics (UK), and an overseas fellow of Churchill College Cambridge, UK. He was co-editor of Acta Cryst (A) for North America (Diffraction Physics, 1990-2000) and is main editor of IUCRJ (XFEL Science). He has served on Scientific Advisory Committees at LBNL and was a member of the DOE BESAC Committee for a decade. He was chair of the International Union of Crystallography Commission on Electron Diffraction, a member of the IUCr commission on Charge, Spin and Momentum densities. A Festschrift volume of Ultramic appeared in July 2011. The X-ray laser structural biology work with our collaborators was ranked among the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2012 by Science magazine. Spence has U.S. and Australian citizenship. He currently teaches condensed matter physics to graduate students.

Spence is the author of "LIghtspeed" (Oxford Univ. Press, 2019), a history of measurements of the speed of light and the improbable connection between the search for an absolute frame of reference in the universe (the Aether) and Einstein's theories leading to the equivlence of mass and energy.