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Department of Physics and Astronomy

Research projects

Find a postgraduate research project in your area of interest by exploring the research projects we offer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Postgraduate projects

Our postgraduate project booklet contains information on some of the projects currently on offer (subject to change).

Find a postgraduate research project in your area of interest by exploring the research projects we offer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Opportunities within the department are advertised by supervisors as either:

  • Specific, well-defined individual projects: which you can apply for directly after contacting the named supervisor
  • Research fields with suggestions for possible projects: where you can discuss a range of potential projects available in a specific area with the supervisor.

Choosing the right PhD project depends on matching your interests to those of your supervisor.

Our research themes page gives an overview of the research taking place in the Department and contacts for each area. They will be able to tell you more about the type of projects they offer and/or you can suggest a research project yourself.

Please note that all PhD projects are eligible for funding via a variety of scholarships from the Department, the Faculty of Science and Engineering and/or the University; see our funding page for further details. All scholarships are awarded competitively by the relevant postgraduate funding committees.

Academics regularly apply for research grants and may therefore be able to offer funding for specific projects without requiring approval from these committees. Some specific funded projects are listed below, but many of our students instead arrive at a project through discussion with potential supervisors.

Specific, individual projects

Browse all of our specific, individual projects listed on FindAPhD:

Research field projects

In addition to individual projects listed on FindAPhD, we are also looking for potential postgraduate researchers for potential projects within a number of other research fields.

Browse these fields below and get in contact with the named supervisor to find out more.

Accelerator, nuclear and particle physics

Terahertz driven linac: Shrinking the size and cost of particle accelerators

Theme: Accelerator physics  | Supervisor: Dr Robert Appleby / Dr Darren Graham

Terahertz radiation, which sits between infrared and microwave radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum, has the potential to reduce the size and cost of particle accelerators, opening the door to new applications in compact medical therapy, security screening, and fundamental materials science with ultrafast electron or x-ray pulses. We are seeking PhD students to work on terahertz driven particle beam acceleration, joining a collaborative project at the Cockcroft Institute. The primary objective of this project will be to optimise high power ultrafast laser based terahertz radiation sources and investigate novel concepts for terahertz-based manipulation of the 5-50 MeV relativistic electron beams provided by the VELA accelerator at STFC Daresbury Laboratory. By developing new concepts for acceleration we seek to enable a new generation of table-top particle accelerators.

The Institute has been heavily involved in the design, commissioning and operation of the Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA) facility which is capable of delivering a highly stable, highly customisable, short pulse, high quality electron beam to a series of test enclosures.

This project will involve using a number of high-power ultrafast lasers, including state-of-the- art femtosecond laser systems in Dr Graham’s lab at the Photon Science Institute, a Terawatt laser system at the Cockcroft Institute, and high-energy particle accelerators at STFC Daresbury Laboratory. Hands-on experience in the use of lasers and optical components is not essential, but the student is expected to have a keen interest in experimental physics.

Contact supervisor

Astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology

Active and Passive Satellite Observations with e-MERLIN

Theme: Astrophysics | Supervisor: Prof Michael Garrett

Space Situational Awareness (SSA) is now becoming an increasingly urgent aspect of Space Sustainability with the proliferation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for global internet provision and increased space debris populations. At the same time, the protection of important national assets in space, especially in geostationary orbit (GEO) is becoming more important.

A related area is the study of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) with organisations like NASA and Project Galileo tasked with understanding their nature and origins, and their impact on national security and air traffic management. Active satellites can be tracked using various telemetry methods and almost all objects in space (depending on size) can be tracked using radar and/or optical techniques. Radar observations have the advantage of providing additional data on distance and velocity and are usually made using the same antenna to transmit and receive (monostatic). Because radar sensitivity scales with D4 tracking objects at GEO is much more challenging.

Using large radio telescopes as the receivers in a bistatic configuration has significant advantages: large collecting area, highly sensitive and continually operating receivers, and the possibility to calibrate using astronomical sources. Initial experiments have already demonstrated the potential of this approach using transmitters at MIT (US) and FHR (Germany) and receiving antennas in the UK, Netherlands and Italy. In the UK, we have used antennas of the e-MERLIN array which comprises 7 large radio telescopes, including the 76-m at Jodrell Bank Observatory, and detected GEO satellites using both the MIT and TIRA transmitters. These observations include coherent processing to form range-Doppler ‘maps’ of clusters of satellites and to show the micro-Doppler signatures of tumbling space debris, such as rocket bodies. This Doppler signature can be inverted (using a range of techniques) to form high-resolution images (< 1m) of space debris in mid-Earth orbit (20,000km). This project would build on this initial demonstration to use e-MERLIN as an array, combining the received signals from multiple telescopes to provide improved position and velocity measurements and to extend the observations to a wider range of targets. In particular it will exploit the capability of the e-MERLIN network to make synchronised and coherent measurements between antennas separated by up to 220km.

The work may include: coordinating observations between transmitters in US and Germany with e-MERLIN (and potentially other European radio telescopes) ; simulating and processing radar data to derive ranges and velocities; synthesising data from multiple antennas; developing observing strategies to combine astronomical and radar observations to improve accuracy, coherence time and sensitivity and placing the results in a precise frame of reference; investigating novel cross-correlation techniques to augment current radar processing strategies; applying these techniques to passive observations of transmitting satellites and passive radar techniques using opportunistic transmissions. The techniques developed here could also be applied to studies of UAP and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

Contact supervisor

Condensed matter, atomic and biological physics

Physics and applications of 2D materials and their heterostructures

Theme: Condensed matter physics | Supervisor: Prof Andre Geim

Prof Geim’s current research focuses on developing van der Waals (vdW) heterostructures and smart Lego-style materials based on 2D crystals. This is a very broad field of research, encompassing many new systems that allow to access electronic, optical, transport and other properties not readily found in ‘natural’ materials.

A number of current projects focus on exploiting non-trivial topology of graphene-based heterostructures, developing new systems Page | 27   that allow new types of measurements (for example, a recently developed technology for fabricating designer nanochannels with monolayer precision), and studying little explored properties of graphene, boron nitride and other atomically thin crystals for transport f subatomic particles (protons, deuterons). Available PhD projects are constantly evolving and interested students are encouraged to contact Prof Geim for latest opportunities.

Contact supervisor

Theoretical physics

Neutron reflection study of protein adsorption

Theme: Biointerface  | Supervisor: Prof Jian Lu

Proteins are large biomacromolecules that perform many functions in living systems. They are folded up from one or several polypeptide chains. In order to perform their functional roles, they must retain their 3D structures. Once exposed to surface or interface, protein molecules tend to adsorb, become deformed and then desorbed. During these interfacial processes of adsorption and desorption, protein molecules undergo different interactions that may damage their 3D structures and deactivate them. Neutron reflection could help determine the structural conformation of an adsorbed protein layer. The information could help us develop biocompatible surfaces and interfaces whilst improving our basic understanding. This project also involves computer modelling and collaboration with scientists at Rutherford Laboratory and industry. 

Contact supervisor