Find a PhD Project Here
Opportunities for fully funded PhD or EngDoc research projects are available in all fields of research within the School. You may search for current projects on this page. APPLY HERE for a PhD Place.
Search current PhD opportunities in the School of Physics & Astronomy:-
Turnbull, Dr Graham - email@example.com
Visible light communications is an emerging field that aims to deliver high-bandwidth wireless data through solid-state (LED) lighting. This project will be part of a new multi-disciplinary Programme Grant collaboration between the Universities of St Andrews, Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge which will develop the next generation VLC technology.
The aim of this project will be to develop nanophotonic hybrid light sources and detectors based on luminescent polymer films. The student will design novel nanophotonic components, and fabricate these using nanoimprint lithography. Working with the partner universities, these components will be combined with gallium nitride LED arrays and CMOS electronics, for applications in visible light communications.
Dholakia, Prof Kishan - firstname.lastname@example.org
the aim of this project is to explore new routes for imaging both in vitro and in vivo using concepts of light transmission through disorder. In turn this will allow us to shape light at will for example at the end of an optical fibre and use this perhaps in an endoscopic scenarios. Other forms of microscopy to consider will involve using a light sheet for imaging larger biological systems (eg embryos). The study will involve advanced photonics, numerical studies and practical work. The research will also investigate strategies to image beyond the diffraction limit. Samples under investigation will include tissue and, at later stages of the work, potentially neuronal cells/tissue to target advanced understanding of neurological disease using these methods.
Wood, Dr Kenny - email@example.com
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a treatment for cancer that involves light-activation of a photosensitiser and causes cell death by release of singlet oxygen and free radicals. The Scottish PDT Centre was established in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee in 2000 thanks to a generous donation from the Barbara Stewart Charitable Trust. Since its introduction in Dundee, over 2,000 treatments have been carried out. The photosensiters used for PDT also have the property that they fluoresce and so they can be used for photodiagnosis (PD), which is performed at the Scottish PDT Centre to direct the surgeon towards tissue that is likely to be cancerous.
The purpose of the proposed PhD program is to gain a fuller understanding of the interaction between the incident light and the tumour. Optimal treatment regimes have not been established. We would like to be able to model both PDT and PD. To assist in this, we propose to develop theoretical radiation transfer models using Monte Carlo techniques in order to simulate the incident light and the fluorescent emission. This will be done for the range of tissue types where PDT is performed in Dundee. This includes skin (the most accessible), the oral cavity, the brain and bladder.
The work will also find application in a wide range of other areas in the drive towards minimally invasive and highly targeted therapies. In addition to the PDT described above, the techniques can be applied to so-called ‘caged compounds’ that are a range of biologically active compounds that are activated with light. In order to apply such compounds within a therapeutic environment, understanding the light tissue interactions is of key importance.
Light distribution measurements will be made around a range of light delivery devices, including cylindrical diffusers and miniature balloons filled with light-scattering media. Further measurements will be carried out using optical fibres embedded in tissue samples and using ultrashort pulses to probe two-photon activation at depth within the body. Fluorescent emission spectra will also be measured using a specially constructed optical biopsy system.
This project provides many opportunities for the student to study PDT and other light activated therapies from theoretical, experimental, and clinical perspectives.
There will be joint supervision from Dr Harry Moseley, who is Technical & Scientific Director of the Scottish PDT Centre and Honorary Reader at the University of Dundee, and Drs Tom Brown and Kenny Wood, who are Lecturers in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews. Dr Wood will supervise the theoretical aspects of the PhD (Monte Carlo radiation transfer), Dr Brown the experimental light tissue studies and Dr Moseley will supervise the clinical applications at Ninewells Hospital.
Technologies for explosive detection are widely required in for clearance of land mines and submunitions, for detection of improvised explosive devices in war zones and counter terrorism scenarios. One approach to explosive detection is to sense the very dilute vapors of explosive molecules that exist around a source of explosives. The established approach for this is to use sniffer dogs to smell for the vapors.
In many situations it would be attractive to have a compact technology-based alternative to the sniffer dog. We are developing artificial noses based on organic semiconductors that can radpidly detect trace concentrations of TNT-like vapors. This project will develop organic semiconductor laser sensors for vapor detection and understanding the underlying physics of the interactions involved.
Black holes can be understood in a simple picture: Imagine a river flowing towards a waterfall with ever increasing flow speed. Also imagine fishes in the river swimming upstream. At some position in the river the maximum speed of the fish will equal the flow speed and all fish beyond that "point of no return" will be flushed into the waterfall. Here the flow speed corresponds to the gravity of a black hole and the point of no return to the event horizon.
Arguably the most facinating aspects of astronomical black holes is the emission of Hawking radiation from the event horizon, an intriguing quantum effect combining gravity, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics.
Unfortunately, the astrophysical Hawking radiation is far too weak to ever being detected directly. Recently, however, we have invented a method to create moving artificial event horizons with short pulses in optical fibers. Moreover, the expected Hawking radiation is strong enough to be detectable with single photon coincindence counting.
The idea of the PhD programme is the detection and characterization of this elusive Hawking radiation for the first time. The work has already gained momentum in our group and a setup is built using optical pulses of just a few cycles pulse length. In addition we will explore similar quantum effects such as the Unruh effect and the dynamical Casimir effect.
The new EPSRC Doctoral Training Centre in Integrated Magnetic Resonance is a collaboration between 6 of the UK's leading Universities in Advanced Magnetic Resonance Instrumentation and Techniques and includes St. Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen, Warwick, Nottingham and Southampton.
The aim is to provide a coherent training program for doctoral students whilst working on new research topics in instrumentation and methodology, associated with Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Electron Magnetic Resonance, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation (which collectively represent £multi-Billion annual markets). Training is delivered from all centres, through residential workshops and over the Access Grid, primarily in the first two years of study.
Funded 4 year PhDs include fees and maintenance of £14000 (tax free) per annum as well as an enhanced travel budget. All PhDs will have internal and external mentors from other centres.
At St Andrews, PhD projects are available on themes associated with major advances in Electron Magnetic Resonance and Dynamic Nuclear Polarisation and are likely to involve collaborations with other centres and other interdisciplinary groups.
PhD topics are likely to involve a combination of instrumental, methodological and computational techniques that would normally be associated with Basic Technology programs.
Representative PhDs from all 6 centres are listed on www.imr-cdt.ac.uk, but other PhD topics may be available on request.
For PhDs at St Andrews, applications can be made directly to St Andrews or via Warwick where the DTC program is administered.
MM-waves represent the area of the electromagnetic spectrum that sits between microwaves and Terahertz frequencies. It is the part of the spectrum where electronics meets optics and a wide variety of physical techniques are used to design components and systems. MM-waves are used in high resolution radar, fusion diagnostics, earth resource studies, magnetic resonance and security systems.
The mm-wave group at St Andrews is one of the largest and most well established groups in this field in the UK, and has a strong track record in designing components, sub-systems and full system. Much recent work ahas concentrated on developing radar imaging systems for earth resource studies (imaging volcanos, monitoring rainfall) and for various security related systems.
There is also a very strong program in mm-wave magnetic resonance.
A variety of PhD topics are always available and any interested student should get in touch with Dr Graham Smith in the first instance.
Nano-technologies and nano-particles are of broad interest both for fundamental science investigations and for various applications ranging from hard drive, light emitting diodes and solar cells, to biological tagging. Colloidal syntheses provide access to a large range of parameters allowing cheap but drastic control over chemical compositions, crystalline structures, shapes and surface states, while retaining solution based low cost processes. Materials under investigation include metal, semiconductor and magnetic materials, … however understanding and fine tuning the properties of these nano-elements remain to be improved for further development of their applications.
Our interests involve both synthesis and characterisation of new nano-elements with emphasis on core-shell structures and hybrid nano-materials for the design of specific physical properties. Various experimental projects are currently being developed requiring the group members to be at the interface of at least Physics and Chemistry when not biomedicine. Most of the projects involve collaborations in St Andrews, in the UK and abroad and when possible we aim at joining experimental and numerical contributions to better understand and control material properties.
Candidates should have a solid scientific background with a 1st class MSc or equivalent and a strong interest in at least two of the following Physics, Chemistry, Material Sciences, Chemical-Physics, Chemical-Engineering and Pharmarcy along with a serious commitment to collaborative and interdisciplinary research. Information requests & CVs should be sent to Pascal.Andre@st-and.ac.uk.
New uses of trapped colloid as nonlinear media and uses for observations of soliton-like waves and new forms of in-situ imaging as well as nonlinear processes (eg 4 wave mixing). This is a very exciting project based on novel ordering of colloidal particles in the presence of light fields as well as the use of these colloids as new media for nonlinear effects.
The large scale movement and storage of data has now become an essential component of the modern world. The emergence of Google, Facebook, Amazon and many others have changed the face of society and are now indispensable parts of everyday life. The Internet experience is now, somewhat invisibly, built around data centers, huge warehouses of computers. The power consumed by these is becoming very important (1% of US electricity consumption in 2005 ) with most of this power used to move data between computing cores. Optical interconnects are the solution to this problem offering dramatically higher bandwidths and low power consumption than the electrical equivalents.
The light source is the key component of an optical link. Not only must it be efficient, but it must also have a very controllable emission wavelength so as to enable Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM)- a key technique to maximise the available bandwidth. To date, this has not deployed for Datacommunications due to the lack of a suitable light source.
This project will develop new power efficient, narrow linewidth, tunable lasers based on novel highly efficient Photonic Crystal resonators and state-of-the-art semiconductor optical amplifiers.
 "Device Requirements for Optical Interconnects to Silicon Chips," Proceedings of the IEEE 97, 1166-1185 (2009)
Caged compounds are biologically active molecules that have had their functionality blocked by the addition of a chemical group. A flash of light at the right wavelength removes this caging group switching on the functionality of the drug. Working closely with collaborators in Oxford we are exploring how we can combine advanced photonic techniques with the action of these drugs to permit, for example different colours to activate different drugs in the same system. We would also like to explore the interaction of short pulses with these drugs to further enhance the possibility of their activation in experimental systems, and ultimately within living tissue. AT this stage some of our research is focussed on the application of these techniques to problems in neuroscience including initial attempts at better understanding the physical basis of memory.
Mazilu, Dr Michael - firstname.lastname@example.org
Optical trapping leads to the confinement of microscopic and nanoscopic objects using light. In the domain of optomechanics we would like to cool small "trapped" mechanical oscillators down to the quantum regime. This project aims to experimentally explore new ways to levitate and trap microparticles in air and vacuum. The ultimate aim is to slow down or 'cool' spheres to the ground state of motion. The topic is currently one of the most exciting and rapidly growing areas of physics and will involve both theory and experiment.
Visible light emission can be stimulated by applying a voltage to a thin layer of an organic semiconductor. The light emitted provides a window on the physics of the material, enabling us to learn about the nature of the excited states in the material. It is also useful for information display, lighting, and even for the treatment of skin cancer. We have developed a new class of light-emitting organic semiconductor, which could be used for high efficiency lighting, thereby reducing energy consumption.
The energy crisis is probably the most important problem facing the world today. Sunlight is the most abundant renewable energy source, but at present the cost of photovoltaics is too high for solar cells to be a serious alternative to fossil fuels. Organic semiconductors offer the prospect of low cost solar cells, but their efficiency needs improvement. We are working on new measurements to understand organic solar cell operation, and new materials to improve it.
Turnbull, Dr Graham - email@example.com
Conjugated polymers are a very special class of plastics that are both semiconducting and efficient light-emitters. They have been widely applied as flat and flexible light emitting displays, as well as visible lasers, optical amplifiers, solar cells and electronic circuits. As novel laser media, polymers are particularly attractive because they can be easily and inexpensively formed into flexible shapes and structures that are inaccessible to crystalline materials.
This project builds on our internationally recognised research programme in polymer lasers. We have demonstrated plastic lasers driven by a light-emitting diode and are currently developing lasers and optical amplifiers integrated with nitride LEDs and CMOS control electronics. Novel photonic nanostructures are used to control
laser emission, develop new modes of operation and applications in sensing and datacomms.
Conjugated polymers are a very special class of plastics that are both semiconducting and efficient light-emitters. They have been widely applied as flat and flexible light emitting displays, visible lasers, and solar cells.
For photonics applications, polymers are particularly attractive because they can be easily and inexpensively formed into flexible shapes and structures. Simple processing such as nanoimprint lithography and electrospinning has enabled polymer microlasers with unorthodox resonators and for nanostructured OLEDs for enhanced efficiency.
This project will explore novel nanostructures for controlling light emission and absorption in thin polymer films and fibres. Nanoimprint lithography and electrospinning will be used to fabricate photonic nanostructures in polymer waveguides and microcavities. Potential applications include nano light sources, optical concentrators, sensors, solar power and displays.
Samuel, Prof Ifor - firstname.lastname@example.org
This project combines two rapidly advancing fields of physics. One is the field of “plastic” semiconductors which are of interest for light-emitting diodes, solar cells and lasers. The other is single molecule spectroscopy in which light emission from a single molecule is studied. The aim of the project is to perform single-molecule measurements on semiconducting polymers in order to gain new insight into the light-emission process, and how it relates to the structure of the material. Single-molecule spectroscopy is particularly powerful for doing this because it enables the differences between individual molecules to be observed, whereas most measurements just average over many molecules. The project aims to observe and manipulate the structure and light-emission of individual polymer molecules in real time. This is in turn will lead to new understanding of how their properties relate to their structure that could lead to improved optoelectronic devices.
Samuel, Prof Ifor - email@example.com
The ability of proteins, nucleic acids and lipid molecules to assembly in a variety of structures underpins of life processes. However, under cellular stress, some of these biomolecules organize into structures not only unable to perform their biological function but in fact into toxic species with severe consequences in human health. In this context, the aggregation of the amyloid peptide is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and has become a model system for the study of toxic aggregation pathways [1,2].
In this project, we aim to develop and apply specifically tailored wide-field total internal reflection (TIR) and fluorescence correlation single-molecule fluorescence imaging methods (FCS) to investigate amyloid structure and dynamics in the presence of artificial lipid vesicles and supported lipid bilayers as models of the cellular membrane. The combination of both single-molecule approaches is particularly powerful as enables to interrogate the aggregation mechanism with temporal resolutions from microseconds to seconds in freely diffusing samples (Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy) and from milliseconds to minutes and even hours using surface-immobilized techniques (wide-field TIR). In collaboration with Prof. Ifor Samuel, also in the School of Physics, we will investigate the interaction of fluorescently labelled amyloid aggregates and other neurologically relevant proteins with lipid membranes at single-molecule level using protocols already developed in our team.
1. Eisenberg D, Jucker M (2012) The amyloid state of proteins in human disease. Cell, 148: 1188-1203.
2. Miller Y, Ma B, Nussinov R (2010) Polymorphism in Alzheimer amyloid organization reflects conformational selection in a rugged energy landscape. Chem. Rev. 110: 4820-4838.
3. Roy, R. et al (2008) A practical guide to single molecule FRET. Nature Methods 5(6): 506
4. Haustein, E., Schwille, P. (2007) Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy: novel variations of a established technique. Ann. Rev. Biophys. Biomol. Struct. 36: 151
Ultrafast lasers are a class of devices that emit pulses in the fs regime. These lasers are now used in a wide range of applications from eye surgery to materials processing. Many such devices are based on techniques that were developed in St Andrews about 20 years ago. There still remain significant challenges with these systems including reducing cost and complexity, accurately measuring and understanding the output from these lasers and providing mechanisms for remote operation. In this project you will be working with the ultrafast laser group developing new materials and technique. You would also be expected to work closely with applications users to ensure that sources are developed which solve real world problems.
The use of tissue samples underpins much working medical diagnosis. For example patients regularly undergo tests where tissue samples are taken and subsequently examined by a pathologist. In this project we seek to show that advanced techniques such as Raman spectroscopy may be used to provide additional support to the pathologist in making accurate diagnosis by examining the underlying biochemistry of the sample. A project in this area will involve working closely with our researchers in Raman spectroscopy as well as with clinical staff from the School of Medicine. Students will build and run advanced spectroscopy system and play an active role in the statistical analysis of their results.
Most solid-state lasers require bulky and complex cavities. In this project we will explore how, by using optical confinement within a gain medium laser performance can be greatly enhanced. In it’s simplest form this comprises a one-dimensional confinement, however we also wish to explore the operation of channel waveguide devices based on either micro-machined or femtosecond direct written structures. Ultimately with mirrors attached directly to the endfaces of such devices, fully monolithic cavities can be produced. The geometry of such devices also permits intriguing opportunities for innovative pumping designs ultimately allowing the generation of high power output. Our vision is to incorporate technologies that permit the generation of ultrashort pulses for these devices and show, with the help of our collaborators, a wide range of applications for these lasers.