EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (PhD studentship): A quantum thermodynamic study to improve magnetic data storage Ref: 2853

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: Dr Janet Anders, Dr Simon Horsley, Prof Robert J Hicken

This is a theoretical PhD project within the CDT in Metamaterials, University of Exeter, to start autumn 2018.  http://emps.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials/

The critical components of magnetic hard drives have been continually scaled down in size. The magnetic grains, which store the information, are now pushing below 8nm and further miniaturization faces new challenges.  Notably, magnetically hard materials are required to ensure thermal stability of the information encoded in these small bits.  But the magnetic write-fields in recording heads are no longer strong enough to switch them.  Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) has been proposed as a candidate technology that would enable the switching of grains by providing additional energy in form of heat delivered by a laser diode in the recording head. The effective inclusion of such laser diodes in the recording head is being actively developed by industry [1]. However, problems with the standard theoretical tools describing the writing process have now surfaced and require a fundamental rethink [2] that goes well beyond industry's capability.

This project is concerned with the application of new theoretical tools from the field of quantum thermodynamics to the problem of collections of spins that are subject to variable temperatures and are strongly coupled to each other and their environment [3, 4].  Quantum thermodynamics is a new field where thermodynamics is studied in the limit where a fully quantum mechanical description is necessary, and seeks to extend the applicability of well-known concepts such as ‘work’ and ‘heat’ beyond classical physics [5]. The aim of this project is to quantify the importance of quantum mechanical and strong coupling effects as the size of a spin grain is reduced.

You will start with a simple quantum mechanical model of coupled spins, applying analytical as well as numerical techniques to solve for the motion of the spins under the application of an external magnetic field and an external source of heat. This will allow the quantification of the degree to which quantum mechanics and strong coupling effects are important.  You will identify experimental parameter ranges where these effects could be evident and these will be given to experimental groups who may be able to test these predictions.  You will be trained in several techniques in quantum thermodynamics theory and become an expert in assessing if the miniaturisation of devices can lead to qualitatively different behaviour and how this may be controlled/harvested.

[1] “Seagate continues to lead as HAMR advances”   http://blog.seagate.com/business/seagate-continues-to-lead-as-hamr-technology-advances/ (2017)
[2] R. F. L. Evans, W. J. Fan, O. Chureemart, T. A. Ostler, M. O. A. Ellis and R. W. Chantrell, J. Phys. Cond. Mat. 26 103202 (2013).
[3] S. Hilt, S. Shabbir, J. Anders, E. Lutz, Phys. Rev. A 83, 030102 (2011).
[4] H. Miller, J. Anders, Phys. Rev. E 95, 062123 (2017).
[5] S. Vinjanampathy, J. Anders, Contemporary Physics 57, 545 (2016); 
[6] J. Goold, M. Huber, A. Riera, L. del Rio and P. Skrzypczyk, J. Phys. A 49 143001 (2016).

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.