EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials: Sensing the dynamics of a metamaterial and its constituent parts with a near-field optical antenna Ref: 2453

About the award


The studentship is part of the UK’s Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2) based in the Departments of Physics and Engineering on the Streatham Campus in Exeter.  Its aim is to undertake world-leading research, while training scientists and engineers with the relevant research skills and knowledge, and professional attributes for industry and academia.

Please see our website for more details www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials

Joint supervisors:  Prof. R. J. Hicken, Prof. E. Hendry

Statement of Research

To fully understand the dynamic behaviour of an electromagnetic metamaterial it is necessary to observe the response of its individual constituent parts.    With today’s lithographic fabrication techniques routinely producing sub-micron feature sizes, a non-invasive dynamic probe with deep sub-nanoscale resolution is required.  We have constructed a near-field time-resolved optical microscope in which an optical antenna is mounted on a transparent atomic force microscope tip so that light from a femtosecond laser may be confined within a near-field spot on the sample surface.  This internationally unique instrument is an ideal platform on which to test near field antennas designed to interact with specific types of metamaterial.  For example, an antenna capable of receiving and transmitting orthogonal linear polarisation states is required to sense the response of magnetic and chiral materials.  The antennas will fabricated by focused ion beam milling of gold-coated atomic force microscope tips made from a transparent quartz-like material.  Therefore you will gain experience of advanced nano-fabrication techniques as well as the use of ultrafast lasers and polarizing optics.  The sensing of magnetic materials is of immediate interest to our collaborators in the magnetic data storage industry with our collaborative research on magnetic metamaterials [1,2] benefiting from enhanced spatial resolution. As a member of the CDT you will receive a broad training, which will help you to identify opportunities for near field sensing in different areas of nanotechnology, and develop transferable skills suited to a wide range of future careers.

[1] “Observation of vortex dynamics in arrays of nanomagnets”, W. Yu, P. S. Keatley, P. Gangmei, M. K. Marcham, T. H. J. Loughran, R. J. Hicken, S. A. Cavill, G. van der Laan, J. R. Childress and J. A. Katine, Phys. Rev. B 91, 174425 (2015).

[2] “Imaging the equilibrium state and magnetization dynamics of partially-built hard disk write heads”, R. A. J. Valkass, W. Yu, L. R. Shelford, P. S. Keatley, T. H. J. Loughran, R. J. Hicken, S. A. Cavill, G. van der Laan, S. S. Dhesi,  M. A. Bashir, M. A. Gubbins, P. J. Czoschke, and R. Lopusnik, Appl. Phys. Lett. 106, 232404 (2015).

About XM2

Metamaterials are fabricated microstructures having properties beyond those found in nature. They are emerging as an important new class of materials with applications in many technology areas, from energy harvesting, through perfect imaging, to the much-hyped ‘cloaking’. Having recruited over 50 new PhD researchers in its first three years, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (XM2) hosted by the University of Exeter (www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials) will admit its fourth cohort of 14-18 PhD students in September 2017.

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, spanning a unique mix of interests. We will run projects in the following fields (see our list of themes for full details)

  • Optical, Infra-red and THz Photonics and Plasmonics
  • Microwave Metamaterials
  • Magnonics, Spintronics and Magnetic Metamaterials
  • Acoustic and Fluid-dynamical Metamaterials
  • Wave Theory and Spatial Transformations
  • Graphene and other 2D Materials, and related Devices
  • Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites
  • Biological and Bio-inspired Metamaterials
  • Quantum Metamaterials

The first year of the studentship includes an assessed, stand alone project, and a substantial programme of training. Students will choose from a wide range of taught modules, and participate in academic and personal development skills-based workshops, together with creativity events and conference-style meetings. The cohort will also be expected to disseminate their results to the international community via high-impact publications and international conferences. They will spend time working with our academic and industrial partners.  Full details of the programme are available here, or email us for a copy of our prospectus.

The University of Exeter is a top 10 UK university, in the top 1% of universities globally, and a member of the elite Russell Group of institutions. The University has committed itself to a substantial expansion in its science base and within Physics and Engineering, over £10m has been spent on infrastructure since 2008 and around 30 new academic staff have been appointed across the Centre's themes.


Application deadline:31st July 2017
Number of awards:1
Value:4-year studentship: UK/EU students, includes tuition fees and an annual stipend equivalent to current Research Council rates (14,553 for 2017-18)
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Prof. Alastair Hibbins (Admissions Tutor)metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

Application criteria

During the application process you will need to upload the documents listed below. Please prepare these before starting the application process.

  • A statement describing why you would like to study for a PhD in Physics or Engineering,
  • A statement describing why you are considering a PhD programme that offers a cohort-based doctoral training model,
  • An academic CV,
  • A document outlining your research interests and any relevant expertise,
  • Degree transcript(s) giving information about the qualification awarded, the modules taken during the study period, and the marks for each module taken.

In addition, we advise that you upload a cover letter or provide further information about your your preferred area(s) of study within the XM2 themes and/or your interest in a particular project, and also whether you've been in contact with a particular supervisor. You will be asked to provide the contact details of two academic referees.

Please note that of the 25 projects advertised we expect, as a Centre, to fill 14-18 posts only.


Application procedure

Applications should be made via the Apply Online system.  Please email metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk if you have any queries about this process. 

You will need to specify that you are making a Research application, with a keyword search of Metamaterials, specifying the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and Full Time.  Please then select the course, Physics / Engineering (CDT) - Metamaterials - Doctor of Philosophy - (Full Time) with the start date September 2017.

Shortlisting and interviews

Applications will be reviewed by members of the XM2 management board and candidates will be short-listed against a set of agreed criteria to ensure quality while maintaining diversity. Failure to include all the the elements above may result in rejection. Criteria will include:


  • Excellence in a lower degree in a relevant discipline;
  • Excellence in written and oral skills in English;
  • Evidence of knowledge of XM2 ethos, research themes and/or supervisors.


  • Specialist knowledge about one or more XM2 topics;
  • Research outputs (e.g. papers) and/or has undertaken training in research methodology (e.g. undergraduate research projects);
  • Ability to work collaboratively

Short-listed candidates will be interviewed by a panel of two academic members of staff drawn from the management board. If successful, a second interview will be undertaken by the potential academic supervisors for the student concerned. Offers are normally made shortly after a successful second interview.