EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (Robert Brown PhD studentship): Probing mechanics in quantum mechanics – Josephson nano-resonator metamaterials Ref: 2852

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.

In addition, this project attracts a stipend and project consumables topup of £2,000 and £2,500, respectively, per year due to a philanthropist donation through the Diamond Jubilee Doctoral Scholarship Match Fund.

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 Saverio Russo, Dr Eros Mariani

External sponsor: Robert Brown (Diamond Jubilee Doctoral Scholarship Match Fund)

Industrial partner: National Physical Laboratory (NPL)

Synopsis – Quantum mechanics has been a main cornerstone of physics, and of science in general, for the last century. And yet, for all this time the word “mechanics” – commonly associated to macroscopic moving objects – hardly played any role in the quantum description of the world. Only few years ago scientists started investigating the interplay between the quantum properties of electrons and of mechanical degrees of freedom in nano-electromechanical systems (NEMSs).
In this project we will explore experimentally and theoretically the quantum behaviour of NEMSs in innovative metamaterials based on mechanical oscillators suspended between two superconductors – the Josephson junction nano-resonators. The remarkable sharpness of the resonator oscillations, further increased by the absence of dissipation induced by the superconductors, will turn these devices into force and mass sensors with unprecedented sensitivity, to be exploited in sensors and RF transducers of the next generation.

Project description – A conventional Josephson junction is constituted by an insulator or a normal metal sandwiched between two superconductors. The Josephson effect manifests itself as a dissipationless electronic current (a super-current) flowing through the system despite the normal metal or insulating junction.
Here we will explore for the first time the interplay between electronic supercurrents and mechanical oscillations in arrays of Josephson junction nano-resonators. Starting with a single suspended junction – based on graphene or other atomically thin materials – we will exploit supercurrents to controllably amplify mechanical oscillations in the resonator and unveil their signatures on the very nature of the Josephson effect.
In the second stage of the project we will explore pairs of Josephson nano-resonators coupled via a superconducting loop in a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID). The supercurrents in the SQUID mediate a coupling between the two resonators, yielding quantum entanglement between macroscopic mechanical oscillators. This unprecedented result will open novel scenarios in the context of quantum computation, leading to macroscopic mechanical qubits with electrical control and read-out.
The final stage of the project will focus on quantum metamaterials constituted by arrays of Josephson junction nano-resonators, with the aim of controlling and detecting registers of mechanical qubits.

A world-leading research challenge – This pioneering project targets a novel area of research on Josephson junction NEMSs. Only recently few groups worldwide realised Josephson junctions or SQUIDs with suspended components. So far still no one reported the controllable amplification of resonator oscillations and their signatures in electronic quantum transport. The track record of the two supervisors and of their groups, together with an innovative activation setup, will be key to guarantee the success of this challenging project.

The role of the CDT – This project naturally fits three themes of the metamaterials CDT: a) Graphene and other 2D Materials, b) Nanomaterials and nanocomposites, and c) Quantum Metamaterials. The student in this project will benefit from the broad range of activities on metamaterials at the Exeter CDT. In particular, the top-notch training offered to CDT students will complement the technical skills acquired in the project and diversify the student’s strengths in view of a career in academia or in the industrial sector.

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:31st January 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.