EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (PhD studentship): Microscopy in scattering media Ref: 2842

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: Jacopo Bertolotti, Christian Soeller

Light scattering is what make most materials opaque. This happens because light gets scrambled by the scattering process, resulting in images that appear to only show a shapeless halo. This is a major problem especially for bio-imaging, as biological tissues often strongly scatter light, thus preventing imaging beyond the surface layers [1]. In recent years it has been realized that it is possible to circumvent this problem and extract a surprisingly large amount of information from scattered light as long as one understands the mesoscopic physics of transport in disordered metamaterials [2]. There have been several proof of principle demonstrations for this approach [3,4], but so far translating them into real world application has proven challenging.
This project aims to develop a practical microscopy technique able to produce high resolution images of objects hidden deep within a scattering medium. This will include the creation of suitable ‘phantoms’ which contain a fluorescent structure of known shape within a scattering medium, to validate the new approach. The phantoms will be manufactured using optical machining to create a metamaterial where scattering properties can be accurately controlled by sub-micrometre targeted refractive index inhomogeneities in a polymer. The phantoms will be imaged on a fluorescence microscope to evaluate the ability of correlation algorithms developed by Bertolotti to reconstruct the shape and distribution of the fluorescent structures embedded in the scattering medium.
The findings will be translated to imaging deep within actual biological samples of scattering tissue (cartilage, collagen matrix, brain tissue) with the aim to identify and reconstruct fluorescently labelled structures inside the tissue. This will represent a major advance in the ability to obtain information deep in scattering biological tissue. The project will exploit the supervisors’ extensive experience in tissue imaging [5,6] and the availability of an advanced fluorescence microscopy setup to translate the new insights into a practical new imaging modality that will be of major relevance for biomedical applications.
A student undertaking this project will benefit from the very interdisciplinary environment within the Metamaterials CDT that closely matches the interdisciplinary scope of this project. This includes frequent exchange with peers in the cohort who work on different projects but which share underlying physics principles and ideas.

[1] V. Ntziachristos, “Going deeper than microscopy: the optical imaging frontier in biology” Nature Methods 7, 603 (2010).
[2] E. Akkermans, and G. Montambaux, “Mesoscopic Physics of Electrons and Photons” (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).
[3] J. Bertolotti et al. "Non-invasive imaging through opaque scattering layers", Nature 491, 232 (2012).
[4] O. Katz et al. “Non-invasive single-shot imaging through scattering layers and around corners via speckle correlations”, Nature Photonics 8, 784 (2014).
[5] D.J. Crossman et al. “Combining confocal and single molecule localisation microscopy: A correlative approach to multi-scale tissue imaging”. Methods 88, 98 (2015).
[6] D.J. Crossman et al. “Increased collagen within the transverse tubules in human heart failure.” Cardiovasc Res 113:879 (2017).

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/£16,500] 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.