School of Physics & Astronomy

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.

 PhD in Photonics
 PhD in Condensed Matter
 PhD in Astrophysics

Search current PhD opportunities in the School of Physics & Astronomy:-


organic semiconductor polariton light emitters
Samuel, Prof Ifor -
Turnbull, Prof Graham -

When light is confined on the nanoscale it is possible to observe light-matter interactions that are not normally observed in bulk materials. One example is the strong coupling of photons and excitons in wavelength-scale microcavities which leads to a number of unusual phenomena [1,2]. The modes of the cavity couple with the exciton to make a hybrid-light-matter state called a polariton. One can make polaritons lasers that emit coherent light [3] and it has been shown that polaritons can form a Bose-Einstein condenstate [4].

This project will explore the properties of polaritons in microcavities based on organic semiconductors [2,4-6]. It will involve the fabrication of microcavities that include J-aggregate dyes or semiconducting polymers to explore how the energy states of organic materials can be modified when coupled to the cavity modes, and be applied in photonic devices including lasers and LEDs.

[1] C. Weisbuch et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 69, 3314 (1992)
[2] D.G. Lidzey et al., Nature 395, 53 (1998)
[3] S. Christopoulos et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 126405 (2007)
[4] J D Plumhof, T Stöferle, L Mai, U Scherf & R F Mahrt, Nature Materials 13, 247–252 (2014)
[5] T. Schwartz, J. A. Hutchison, C. Genet, and T. W. Ebbesen, Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 196405 –(2011)
[6] S Kéna-Cohen*, S A. Maier and D D. C. Bradley, Advanced Optical Materials 1, 827–833, (2013)
Plastic Lasers
Samuel, Prof Ifor -
Turnbull, Prof Graham -

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.
Advanced Imaging for the Biomedical Sciences (with Dr F Gunn-Moore, School of Biology)
Cizmar, Dr Tomas -
Dholakia, Prof Kishan -

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.
Aligning molecules to improve efficiency in next generation organic LEDs
Gather, Prof Malte -

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are novel type of LEDs in which electroluminescence is generated by plastic-like organic molecules. OLEDs are at the heart of modern smart phone displays and are likely to become the dominant technology for computer screens and large area TVs in the future. In addition, OLEDs are considered for general illumination, an area where efficiency is of key importance. While OLEDs can operate with close to 100% internal electron-to-photon conversion efficiency, typically less than 20-25% of the generated light is extracted into the surrounding air; the rest is trapped in waveguided modes and eventually lost to absorption.

Various strategies have been proposed to improve light extraction from OLEDs. Very recently controlling the average orientation of the electroluminescent molecules inside an OLED has been identified as a promising avenue. However, accurate measurement of molecular orientation is difficult and it remains unclear how molecular orientation can be controlled efficiently. Within this project, these challenges will be approached by making use of different spectroscopic and computational methods. Provided certain formal criteria are met, the student can benefit from placement with a major commercial developer of OLED materials and technology.

Further reading:
Biophysical Aspects of Photodynamic Therapy (Ninewells Hospital, Dundee)
Brown, Prof Tom -
Wood, Dr Kenny -

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.

Hawking radiation in the laboratory
Koenig, Dr Frieder -

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 calculation, 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 further quantum field theory effects in curved spacetime.
High resolution coherent imaging with sub-millimetre wave radar
Robertson, Dr Duncan -

This PhD is funded as an EPSRC CASE studentship in conjunction with QinetiQ Ltd.

**If you are interested in this PhD please contact Dr Robertson.**

Until recently the use of the region of the RF spectrum termed ‘sub-millimetre wave’ (300 to 1000GHz) has received little attention. It sits between the millimetre wave (30 to 300GHz) and Terahertz (>1000GHz) bands where radar and spectroscopy techniques are well-established. QinetiQ is recognised as a World leader in radar techniques applied to predominantly military and security applications at frequencies up to 94GHz. An internally funded QinetiQ study into low Terahertz applications has identified the region between 100 and 400GHz as suitable for extending QinetiQ’s radar capabilities and opens up new opportunities not feasible at lower frequencies. Currently, QinetiQ has no RF capability above 100GHz, in particular, component technology and facilities to carry out work at these frequencies. QinetiQ has strong capability in signal processing techniques and providing innovative, bespoke radar solutions for challenging radar requirements.

The University of St Andrews is one of 2 universities in the UK with strong radar capabilities at sub-millimetre wave frequencies and has demonstrated radars at 220GHz and 340GHz. The PhD is designed to build on the University’s practical capabilities and experience at frequencies up to 400GHz and on QinetiQ’s knowledge of the military and security domains and experience of synthetic aperture radar (SAR).

Scope of the PhD
Radar at sub-millimetre wave frequencies offers new opportunities by exploiting the high angular and range resolutions to provide detailed coherent imaging in a compact physical envelope. Until recently devices for power generation, receiver elements and antennas have been either experimental or prohibitively expensive and achievable radar performance has been limited by noise figure, power generation, propagation characteristics and manufacturability. Currently the main applications are for short range automotive radar and for concealed weapon and IED detection. QinetiQ has an interest in military and security applications especially for imaging difficult targets.

The PhD is intended to investigate novel techniques to use sub-millimetre wave radar to provide very high resolution, coherent imaging against ‘difficult’ targets. ‘Difficult’ includes targets with low radar cross section, fluctuating targets and targets that are difficult to discriminate against other targets. Specifically, this is likely to include change detection techniques, motion compensation, complex SAR imaging and auto-focusing. The scope is focused on SAR but could include real-beam imaging.

It is envisaged, budget permitting, that a linear, rail-mounted sub-millimetre wave radar system will be constructed to record measurements and to evaluate algorithms developed during the PhD. The PhD shall also explore the limits of range resolution, with bandwidths >10GHz, and how this relates to the capability to discriminate and characterise targets. If necessary for a particular application, polarisation and propagation effects shall be considered.

QinetiQ hopes to increase its understanding of the capabilities of sub-millimetre wave radar and, subject to IP considerations, develop the ideas generated into military and security applications. Here are some examples of the types of application that QinetiQ would be interested in;
• Characterisation of surface texture and features, for example, detecting wear and tear on road and airport runway surfaces
• Detection of targets in a high clutter environment, perhaps through gaps or transparent materials
• Geolocation using SAR and/or multiple sensors
• Imaging to detect variations in surfaces, moisture content, cracks in buildings, vegetation, man-made vs natural features, wave profiling
• Vibrometry for engine vibration, fault detection
• Detecting very slight movements of objects exploiting Doppler
• Mounting a sub-millimetre wave radar on an unmanned air vehicle (UAV)

The majority of the PhD work shall be carried out at The School of Physics and Astronomy at St Andrew’s but a minimum of 3 months in total shall be carried out working with the SAR group at Malvern. Working at Malvern will require security clearance although no information disclosed under the PhD will be classified. The requirement for security clearance means that UK nationality is preferred.

Integrated Magnetic Resonance Doctoral Training Centre
Smith, Dr Graham -

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, 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.

Linear and nonlinear properties of 3D optical Metamaterials.
Di Falco, Dr Andrea -

Metamaterials (MMs) are man made materials with engineered optical properties. They are made assembling their artificial atoms at a scales much smaller than that of light, so as to appear homogenous. They are at the basis of very thought provoking proposals, including super imaging and cloaking applications.
In the group of Synthetic Optics we have developed a large portfolio of fabrication techniques for one- and two-dimensional MMs.

The aim of this project is to develop the fabrication protocol and applications of three-dimensional MMs obtained with a bottom up approach. The student will combine the extraordinary physical and optical properties of silica based aerogels with the flexibility of the design of nanoplasmonics to realise effective materials with bespoke optical behaviour. The aerogel is an ultra light material with refractive index close to unity and thermally more insulating than air. Combining these features with the field enhancement offered by infiltrated metallic nano particles is specially suited to address nonlinear effects at ultra-low powers.

This challenging but rewarding project requires a thorough understanding of the physics involved and the experimental rigour to fabricate and test the MMs, but offers the student the chance to learn a broad range of design, fabrication and experimental techniques.

Living Lasers: Lasing from biological cells
Gather, Prof Malte -

Optical phenomena in biological structures have fascinated mankind for centuries and biological materials with optical functionality are currently a major topic of research. In the future, photonic devices may indeed be based on natural or genetically engineered optical function.

Recently, we developed a biological laser – a device based on a single living cell genetically programmed to produce the fluorescent protein GFP. The laser is biocompatible and biodegradable, and thus offers unique physical and biological properties not shared by any existing device.

However, so far our biolasers require an artificial resonator and an external pump source. This project is aimed at gaining a better understanding of lasing and stimulated emission in biological materials and at developing new avenues to biolasers. For example, this can include the study of bio-assembled resonators based on naturally occurring structures, photophysical investigations aimed explaining why fluorescent proteins are such efficient laser materials, or the development of biocompatible nanolasers.

The project is inter-disciplinary, involving photonics, laser physics, genetic engineering, proteomics, and material science and adequate training in these fields will be provided within the school and through external collaborators.

Further reading
MM-wave Radar, Components and Techniques
Smith, Dr Graham -

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.
New photonics tools unravel the mysteries and mechanics of biological cells
Gather, Prof Malte -

Biologists have compelling evidence that in addition to biochemical signals, mechanical forces have a major impact on a wide range of processes in cell biology, with examples ranging from cell migration and cell growth to the spreading of cancer and the differentiation of stem cells. However, there is at present a shortage of suitable tools to measure the force exerted by a cell which often is well below 1nN (i.e., < 10-6 N (!)).

By developing a novel optical micro-cavity-based sensor technology, the Gather Lab seeks to overcome current limitations in measuring cellular forces and – for instance – investigate the mechanics involved in the formation and the growth and repair of nerve cells.

The basic working principle of our sensors is to detect shifts in the resonance frequency of a micro-cavity due to mechanical forces applied by cells cultured on the sensor. These shifts can be detected with high spatial and temporal resolution and the forces at play are then computed from this by a finite element method.

A PhD in the field of cellular mechanics provides you with a broad, interdisciplinary skill set: You will learn and apply a range of micro- and nano-fabrication methods and work in a state-of-the-art cleanroom. You will use different types of optical spectroscopy and work with atomic force microcopy. You will receive hands-on training in cell culturing techniques and perform studies of e.g. stem cell differentiation.

The project is part of an international collaboration with leading scientists at Harvard Medical School and University of Cambridge which is funded by the Human Frontier Science Program, the leading funding institution for interdisciplinary and international collaborative research into complex biological systems.

Non-reciprocal optics
Schulz, Dr Sebastian -

In contrast to traditional, reciprocal optical systems, non-reciprocal systems allow the realization of interesting physical effects, for example optical isolation or the breaking of seemingly fundamental physical limits, such as the link between a system’s delay and its bandwidth [1]. Typically, non-reciprocal optical elements are realized using magneto-optic materials, for example in a Faraday Rotator. However, these materials are not suitable for integration in nanophotonic devices and thus new methods of achieving non-reciprocity need to be explored, for example nonlinear optical effects or time-variant modulations [2-4].

This project addresses the realization of on-chip non-reciprocal optical elements, new applications enabled by these elements and the exciting new physics achieved by combining non-reciprocal elements with components such as absorbers, emitters or resonators [1].

You are expected to have an interest in studying fundamental concepts in physics as well as mastering hands on nanofabrication and laboratory techniques. The project includes collaborations with groups across Europe and North America, offering you opportunities to visit the laboratories of collaborators and to build your own professional network.

The project will be supervised by Dr. Sebastian Schulz, who will join the department in March 2018. For more details on this topic and for any question regarding the project, please contact Dr. Sebastian Schulz (

[1] H. Tsakmakidis, L. Shen, S. A. Schulz, X. Zheng, J. Upham, X. Deng, H. Altug, A. F. Vakakis and R. W. Boyd “Breaking Lorentz reciprocity to overcome the time-bandwidth limit in physics and engineering” Science 356, pp1260-1264 (2017).

[2] E. A. Kittlaus, N. T. Otterstrom and P. Rakich “On-chip inter-modal Brillouin Scattering” Nature Communications 8, p.15819 (2017).

[3] L. Feng, M. Ayache, J. Huang, Y.-L. Xu, M.-H. Lu, Y.-F. Chen, Y. Fainman and A. Scherer “Nonreciprocal Light Propagation in Silicon Photonic Circuit” Science 333, p. 729 (2011).

[4] D. L. Sounas and A. Alu “Non-reciprocal photonics based on time modulation” Nature Photonics 11, p 774 (2017).
Nonlinear Optical Micromanipulation
Dholakia, Prof Kishan -

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.
Nonlinear optics using Epsilon-near-zero materials
Schulz, Dr Sebastian -

In Epsilon-near-zero (ENZ) [1] materials, for a certain spectral region, the electric permittivity, epsilon, is below 1, i.e. smaller than that of free space/air. The small epsilon results in strange optical properties and offers great potential for linear and non-linear optical applications. For example, the low values of epsilon imply that there is no (or little) phase advancement within the material and therefore the requirement for phase matching of non-linear optical processes is removed.

This project will address the use of transition metal oxides, such as Indium Tin Oxide as ENZ materials [2]. In these materials, the ENZ spectral region can be controlled by the growth conditions and deposited films can be combined with optical elements to form tailor made metamaterials and devices [3,4] with tailored optical properties.

You will be expected to deposit and characterise ENZ material films, design composite optical elements consisting of ENZ films coupled to nanophotonic devices, for example antenna arrays or individual resonators, to create tailored optical responses. You will gain a deep understanding of one of the most exciting new fields in optics, gain expertise in optical simulation, nanofabrication and characterisation techniques and work in an international collaboration, allowing you to build your own professional network.

The project will be supervised by Dr. Sebastian Schulz, who will join the department in March 2018. For more details on this topic and for any question regarding the project, please contact Dr. Sebastian Schulz (

[1] N. Engheta “Pursuing Near-Zero Response” Science 340, pp 286-287 (2013).

[2] M. Z. Alam, I. De Leon and R. W. Boyd “Large optical nonlinearity of indium tin oxide in its epsilon-near-zero region” Science 352, p 795 (2016).

[3] S. A. Schulz, A. A. Tahir, M. Z. Alam, J. Upham, I. De Leon and R. W. Boyd “Optical response of dipole antennas on an epsilon-near-zero substrate” Physical Review A 93, 063846 (2016).

[4] M. Z. Alam, S. A. Schulz, J. Upham, I De Leon and R. W. Boyd manuscript accepted for publication.
OLED micro-displays as biophotonic platform
Gather, Prof Malte -

Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are novel optoelectronic devices with potential applications ranging from displays (e. g. in smart phones or for flexible screens) to general illumination. In contrast to conventional LEDs, OLEDs are based on plastic-like organic materials. Thus, they can be mechanically flexible and are believed to offer improved biocompatibility.

In this project, micro-displays based on >200,000 individual OLEDs, each smaller than a single biological cell, are used as a platform for advanced studies in cell biology. Potential applications include lens-free, low-cost, continuous microscopy of cells and structured illumination for optogenetic studies. Optogenetics is a technique which allows controlling the biological activity of genetically modified cells by exposure to light. Over the past decade, the technique has greatly improved the understanding of various fundamental processes in biology, in particular in neuroscience. OLED micro-displays may enable optogenetic experiments, like stimulating growth or movement of neurons, with improved temporal and spatial control, higher degree of parallelization and over longer times than currently possible.

This project is highly interdisciplinary involving photonics and materials science but also cell biology and genetics. Training will be provided in all these aspects from within my group and through collaboration with the School of Biology and external collaborators at University of Cambridge and Harvard Medical School.

Further reading:
optical antennas for visible light communications (Li-Fi)
Samuel, Prof Ifor -
Turnbull, Prof Graham -

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 multi-disciplinary research 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 optical antennas, and fabricate these using thin film depostion and nanoimprint lithography. Working with the partner universities, these components will be combined with gallium nitride LEDs and CMOS detectors to develop next generation tranceiver technologies for visible light communications.
Optical Imaging of Biological Specimens
Brown, Prof Tom -

ptical imaging can provide detailed information about a range of biological specimens from whole animals to small tissue samples. A drawback however is that such imaging often only provides data from structures at or near the surface. By contrast Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), a low coherence interference imaging technique, can provide detailed information on tissue structure at depths of a few mm with resolution of around 10 um in living animals.

In this project we will apply OCT to a range of biological specimens to provide information which has proved to be unobtainable using other techniques. In particular the project will use OCT to provide information on tissue regeneration in amphioxus (fish-like marine chordates with close affinity to vertebrates) which are used as a model for testing concepts in nerve cord growth and repair. We will also apply OCT to Antarctic Krill (Euphasia superba), perhaps the key species in the Antarctic food web. The information these studies provide will be used to develop advanced models for acoustic imaging Krill and may also support studies on the effects of global climate change on this key species. We may also apply the system to recently launched studies of surface vasculature in Southern Elephant Seals to support ongoing studies into the diving physiology of this species.

The projects described are interdisciplinary and will require an open mind and a willingness to work with partners within Biology and Marine Science in the UK and at the Australian Antarctic Division. Australia. In order to fully develop our systems and to enable in vivo testing some travel and extended stays may be required to partner institutions.

The main supervisor for the project will be Professor Tom Brown in the School of Physics, with co-supervision by Dr Ildiko Somorjai within the School of Biology.

Prospective students should have a good background in Physics with an interest in applying their work in other fields. We are also interested in applications from students in Biology who have a strong background in imaging techniques.

Examples of the application of OCT to Krill can be found at:

M.J. Cox, S. Kawaguchi, R. King, K.Dholakia and C.T.A. Brown, “Internal physiology of live krill revealed using new aquaria techniques and mixed optical microscopy and optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging techniques”, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, 48, p. 455 (2015)

N. Bellini, M.J. Cox, D.J. Harper, S.R. Stott, P.C. Ashok, K. Dholakia, S. Kawaguchi, R. King, T. Horton and C.T.A. Brown, “The Application of Optical Coherence Tomography to Image Subsurface Tissue Structure of Antarctic Krill Euphausia superba”, PLOS ONE, 9, Art. No. e110367 (2014
Optical manipulation: air/vacuum trapping for cavity optomechanics
Dholakia, Prof Kishan -

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.
Organic light-emitting diodes
Samuel, Prof Ifor -

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.
Organic Solar Cells
Samuel, Prof Ifor -

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.
Redefining optical resolution limit
Mazilu, Dr Michael -

Classically, Abbe’s relation on diffraction gives the optical resolution limit. This means that every imaging device, such as a microscope, will not be able to resolve features smaller then this limit. Physically, this limit is defined by the area of the diffraction pattern (Airy disk) of a circular aperture illuminated by a plane wave. Recently, multiple methods have been proposed to focus light and image with resolutions beyond this limit. This project will look at redefining the 140 years old optical resolution limit theorem to include recent new developments such as those based on non-linearity, structured illumination, propagation of the optical degrees of freedom and compressive sensing. The project is theoretical in nature where the beams are numerically modelled to determining their resolving powers in the different configurations. The project can also have an experimental component where the novel theoretical understanding is checked in the lab. Ultimately, the questions we want to answer are: What is the optical resolution limit of a given optical setup? How is this limit extended when including non-linear effects? What is the role of structured illumination and structured detection in defining this limit? How can compressive sensing be used to overcome this limit?
SAGES: The application of millimetre wave radar to the study of volcano-glacier interactions and ice-ocean interactions in conditions of reduced visibility
Robertson, Dr Duncan -

This PhD will be part funded by SAGES, the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society (, in a competitive process. ** The closing date for applications is January 26th 2018.** Interviews are schedule for 19-21 February 2018 and will take place in Edinburgh.

The remaining funding will be provided by an EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership studentship.

**If you are interested in this PhD please contact Dr Robertson well before the closing date.**

The overall aim of this PhD is to develop the use of millimetre wave radar for applications in geosciences, focusing on volcano-glacier and ice-ocean interactions.

Millimetre wave radar offers a key advantage over conventional optical survey methods in its ability to map terrain with high resolution whilst operating in conditions of reduced visibility. The AVTIS radars developed at UStA by Macfarlane & Robertson for volcano imaging [1] have demonstrated the potential for such instruments to map topographic change on volcanoes through complete obscuration (e.g. ash, clouds). In addition to topography, the millimetre wave radar can measure reflectivity and the velocity of moving targets, including high spatio-temporal resolution mapping of rainfall.

DEM extraction and the discrimination between terrain types based on reflectivity, or normalised radar cross section (NRCS), will be developed and refined for improved classification of different terrain surface types. These are central to the study of volcano-glacier interactions and related hazards, which are still poorly understood (e.g. the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption) as critical periods of activity during eruptions are often obscured. The AVTIS radar will elucidate changes in the volcano and glacier geometries, impacting eruption timing, magnitude or meltwater-induced mass movements e.g. lahars. The first case study will thus target ice-capped volcanoes (e.g. Iceland).

The calving of icebergs at the margins of glaciers and ice sheets is critical to our understanding of the near future contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet to sea level rise. Continuous monitoring of grounded ice margins under conditions of heavy cloud cover and precipitation is thus needed, where conventional techniques (LIDAR and time lapse photography) are rendered useless. The ability of the millimetre wave radar to generate DEMs under these conditions will be invaluable. The second stage of the project will thus be glacier mapping with the AVTIS-2 radar, which has never previously been reported in the literature.

The project will follow broadly this structure:

* Develop improved DEM extraction methodology using existing AVTIS data. Initially using LIDAR data from a coincident survey of a local quarry as ground truth, methods for DEM surface extraction from the AVTIS radar data sensing volume will be investigated and refined. These new methods will be evaluated against existing AVTIS datasets (mainly data from the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat). Additional data for algorithm development can also be acquired locally.

* Develop terrain classification algorithms based on analysis of existing AVTIS data and rough surface scattering models, tested on the extensive AVTIS data set, which already includes volcanic terrain and locally acquired data e.g. Rest and Be Thankful, Argyll; Lomond Hills Fife; Old Man of Storr, Skye.

* Gather millimetre wave NRCS data of glacier ice as function of incidence angle using the AVTIS-2 radar on field campaign to e.g. Iceland and develop an empirical model suitable for radar performance prediction.

* Collect the first mm-wave radar DEMs of glaciers using AVTIS-2 and quantitatively compare with contemporaneously acquired lidar (terrestrial laser scanned) DEMs.

* Explore the new interpretational potential of the instrument in terms of volcano-ice and ice-ocean interactions

[1] Macfarlane, D.G., Odbert, H.M., Robertson, D.A., James, M.R., Pinkerton, H. & Wadge, G., “Topographic and thermal mapping of volcanic terrain using the AVTIS ground based 94GHz dual-mode radar/radiometric imager”, IEEE Trans. Geosci. Rem. Sens., 51, (1), 2013, pp. 455 - 472.

The supervisory team for this PhD will consist of:-
Dr Duncan A. Robertson [Director of Studies], Dr David G. Macfarlane: School of Physics & Astronomy, University of St Andrews (physics / mm-wave radar)
Dr Brice Rea, Dr Matteo Spagnolo: School of Geoscience, University of Aberdeen (glaciology/spatial analysis)
Dr Luca De Siena: School of Geoscience, University of Aberdeen (volcanology)
Prof. Doug Benn: School of Geography & Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews (glaciology)

The successful candidate should be highly numerate and have, or expect to have, a UK Honours Degree at 2.1 or above, or equivalent, in a relevant subject area (e.g. geophysics, physical geography, environmental science, geology, electronic engineering, physics).

Single-molecule spectroscopy of organic semiconducting polymers
Penedo-Esteiro, Dr Carlos -
Samuel, Prof Ifor -

Organic semiconductors based on light-emitting conjugated polymers are attracting considerable interest in semiconductor physics and are emerging as exceptional ‘plastic-like’ materials for optoelectronic applications including displays, lasers and solar cells. We have recently reported the first single-molecule studies regarding the conformation of individual polymer chains in organic solvents commonly used for device fabrication [1 ,2]. Now, in this project, we aim to combine this observation method based on single molecule fluorescence spectroscopy with magnetic tweezers to apply force to the polymer chain. By merging both techniques we will be able to stretch the polymer chain at will and understand in more detail how the conformation of the polymer chain impacts its light-emission properties. The results will help to develop new solution-processing methods that improve device performance. The project is a collaboration between the groups of Prof Ifor Samuel and Dr Carlos Penedo

[1] Dalgarno, Paul A., Christopher A. Traina, J. Carlos Penedo, Guillermo C. Bazan, and Ifor D. W. Samuel. 2013. “Solution-Based Single Molecule Imaging of Surface-Immobilized Conjugated Polymers.” Journal of the American Chemical Society 135 (19): 7187–93.
[2] Tenopala-Carmona, F., S. Fronk, Gui Bazan, Ifor DW Samuel, J. Carlos Penedo. (2018) Real-time observation of conformational switching in single conjugated polymer chains. Sci. Adv. In press

Slow and structured light in nanophotonics
Schulz, Dr Sebastian -

Slow light waveguides have the potential to strongly enhance light matter interactions, leading to efficient non-linear optical processes, optical switches and optical modulators amongst other applications [1]. On a photonic chip slow light is typically realized through Photonic Crystal waveguides or coupled optical resonator waveguides [2], with the speed of light typically between 1/ 10 and 1/100 of the free space value. However, all these realizations suffer from optical scattering from fabrication defects [2-4], leading to optical losses and light localization, limiting the current device performance and rendering physical concepts such as the group velocity meaningless. Yet at the same time optical information can travel through completely opaque materials, implying that the current limit – not using photonic devices in the strong scattering regime - is self-imposed.

In this project you will investigate new slow light waveguide designs, leading to further reductions in the group velocity, while simultaneously reducing the optical losses and scattering. You will address fundamental questions about the behaviour of light and information in scattering media, for example: “At what velocity does information travel through a disordered system and how is this dependent on the disorder level in the system?”. You will investigate the effect of slow light on topics at the forefront of integrated photonics research, for example the use of complex polarization states in integrated optics and how this is affected by the disorder present in real world systems.

You will learn nanofabrication, optical simulation and characterisation techniques and gain a deep understanding of complex physical systems. You will interact with collaborators both in the UK and abroad, giving you the opportunity to visit their laboratories and build your own professional network.

The project will be supervised by Dr. Sebastian Schulz, who will join the department in March 2018. For more details on this topic and for any question regarding the project, please contact Dr. Sebastian Schulz (

[1] T. F. Krauss “Why do we need slow light” Nature Photonics 2, p 448-450 (2008).
[2] S. A. Schulz, L. O’Faolain, D. M. Beggs, T. P. White, A. Melloni and T. F. Krauss “Dispersion engineered slow light in photonic crystals: a comparison” Journal of Optics 12, 104004 (2010).
[3] S. Mazoyer, J. P. Hugonin and P. Lalanne “Disorder-induced Multiple scattering in Photonic-Crystal Waveguides” Physical Review Letters 103, 063903 (2009).
[4] L. O’Faolain, S. A. Schulz, D. M. Beggs, T. P. White, M. Spasenovic, L. Kuipers, F. Morichetti, A. Melloni, S. Mazoyer, J. P. Hugonin, P. Lalanne and T. F. Krauss “Loss engineered slow light waveguides” Optics Express 18, pp.27627-27638 (2010).
The Development of Ultrafast Laser Systems
Brown, Prof Tom -

Ultrafast laser systems generate short pulses of light which may last on a few femtoseconds (fs.) These lasers are used in a wide range of applications from highly sensitive metrology to the 3D imaging of biological specimens.

In this project, we will continue our develops of ultrafast laser systems based on novel-glass gain media supplied by our partners within the UK. The student will be responsible for the design and operation of new laser systems. We will also use these systems to test advanced new components including saturable absorbers based on e.g. graphene and MoS2 and testing new approaches for dispersion compensation. As the project progresses we will also investigate the development of integrated ultrafast sources combining with other staff in the School of Physics and Astronomy and further afield. The lasers developed will be used in a range of new applications including the development of new techniques in dentistry where we will replace worn out enamel using laser sintered materials.

Students undertaking this project should have an interest in lasers and photonics systems. Experience of work within an advanced photonics laboratory would be advantageous (though not necessary) and students should be prepared to work closely with collaborators around the work to develop the laser systems.

Examples of previous work within the group can be seen at:

A. Choudhary, A.A. Lagatsky, Z.Y. Yang, K.J. Zhou, Q. Wang, R.A. Hogg, K. Pradeesh, E.U. Rafailov, W. Sibbett and C.T.A. Brown, “A diode-pumped 1.5 mu m waveguide laser mode-locked at 6.8 GHz by a quantum dot SESAM”, Laser Physics Letters, 10, Art. No. 105803 (2013)

N.K. Metzger, C.R. Su, T.J. Edwards and C.T.A. Brown, “Algorithm based comparison between the integral method and harmonic analysis of the timing jitter of diode-based and solid-state pulsed laser sources”, Optics Communications, 341, p.7 (2015)

A.D. Anastasiou, S. Strafford, O. Posada-Estefan, C.L. Thomson, S.A. Hussain, T.J. Edwards, M. Malinowski, N. Hondow, N.K. Metzger, C.T.A. Brown, M.N. Routledge, A.P. Brown, M.S. Duggal and A. Jha, “β-pyrophosphate; a potential biomaterial for dental applications”, In Press, Materials Science & Engineering C (2017)

A.A. Lagatsky, Z. Sun, T.S. Kulmala, R.S. Sundaram, S. Milana, F. Torrisi, O.L. Antipov, Y. Lee, J.H. Ahn, C.T.A. Brown, W. Sibbett and A.C. Ferrari, “2 µm solid-state laser mode-locked by single-layer graphene”, Applied Physics Letters, 102, Art. No. 013113 (2013)