EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (PhD studentship): Photosynthetic Metamaterials Ref: 2820

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.

XM2 studentships are of value around £90,000, which includes £11,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend of approximately £14,500 per year for UK/EU students. 

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, and prospective students can consider projects from a wide variety of fields:

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

Please visit www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials to learn more about our centre and see the full list of projects that we have on offer this year.

International students are welcome to apply: fees and project costs will be paid, but the stipend can only be provided in exceptional circumstances.  We encourage international scholarship applicants or recipients to contact us directly prior to making their application (metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk).


Statement of Research

Joint supervisors: Prof Bill Barnes, Dr Isaac Luxmoore, Dr Philip Thomas

External supervisor: Prof. Graham Leggett, University of Sheffield

Photosynthesis harnesses the collective action of many pigment (dye) molecules working in concert. Indeed, speculation has been rife in recent years that quantum coherence may be important in photosynthesis. Whether this is true or not is still a controversial topic, but the fascinating optical and excitonic properties of these molecules and molecular complexes provide other important opportunities. In this project an entirely new use for photosynthetic molecules is proposed – using them to provide nanoscale confinement, enhancement and guiding of light. The absorption of some photosynthetic light harvesting complexes (similar to those found in spinach) is sufficiently strong that the associated permittivity goes negative. This negative permittivity gives materials made from such molecules a plasmonic character (J. Opt, 18, 015001 (2016))

Although these ideas are now becoming established (Barnes and others, 2014-2017, see e.g. Nano Letters, 14, 2339 (2014)) NO ONE has yet managed to make artificial nanostructures from these molecules. It is only by introducing nanostructure that the full power of such materials to control light will be achieved – just as has been the case for metals and plasmonics (Nature, 424, 824 (2003)).

FURTHER, combining these nano-structured materials with ideas from metamaterials, entirely unexplored realms will be opened. In particular, nanostructured photosynthetic molecular elements will become a new class of meta-atoms, thereby enabling novel molecular metamaterials to be investigated. Prospects include greatly enhanced transport of excitons in synthetic light-harvesting structures (PRL, 114, 196402 (2015)), potentially important for future clean fuel technologies.
The main thrust of the project will be to fabricate nanostructured molecular assemblies from photosynthetic molecular complexes, characterise their optical properties (absorption, residual fluorescence, permittivity, field confinement) and then exploit them to make molecular metamaterial structures to greatly (many orders of magnitude) enhance exciton conductance with artificial photosynthesis in mind. As an example of the metamaterial-type structure considered, sub-wavelength arrays of photosynthetic ‘nanoparticles’, i.e. meta-atoms will be investigated. Electromagnetic interactions between these meta-atoms are expected to provide the coherence needed for extended exciton transport (Nano Letters – in-press).

Carrying out this project within the CDT is ideal because of the many different aspects within the CDT that will overlap with the proposed project, these include: microwave metamaterials, quantum metamaterials, together with a range of approaches to explore theoretically/numerically the problems involved (wave physics, finite-element modelling). The cohort approach to training will also benefit the student to quickly develop a professional approach, directly relevant for the collaborative nature of this project (it will involve research visits to Sheffield and may involve working in the US for short periods).

About XM2

Metamaterials are fabricated microstructures having properties beyond those found in nature. They are an important new class of electromagnetic and acoustic materials with applications in many technology areas: energy storage and improved efficiency, imaging, communications, sensing and the much-hyped ‘cloaking’. Having recruited nearly 70 new PhD researchers in its first four years, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (XM2) hosted by the University of Exeter (www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials) will admit its fifth cohort of PhD students in September 2018.

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 download a copy of our prospectus.

The University of Exeter combines world class research with excellent student satisfaction. It is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities. Formed in 1955, the University has over 20,000 students from more than 130 different countries. Its success is built on a strong partnership with its students and a clear focus on high performance. Recent breakthroughs to come out of Exeter's research include the identification and treatment of new forms of diabetes and the creation of the world's most transparent, lightweight and flexible conductor of electricity. Exeter is ranked amongst the UK’s top 10 universities in the Higher Education league tables produced by the Times and the Sunday Times. It is also ranked amongst the world’s top 200 universities in the QS and Times Higher Education rankings.


Application deadline:30th April 2018
Number of awards:1
Value:Approximately £90,000, including research and travel budget, tuition fees and stipend (approximately £14,500 payable to UK or EU students only) ,
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 cover letter that discusses your preferred area(s) of study and/or your interest in a particular project/supervisor,
  • 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,
  • The contact details of two academic referees.

Please note that of all the projects advertised we expect, as a Centre, to fill 15-20 posts only.

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.