University of Exeter funding: Imaging at the tip of a needle

PhD in Physics/Engineering: Imaging at the tip of a needle - realising multimode fibre based micro-endoscopes Ref: 3365

About the award

This exciting 3.5 year project is for self-funded students only. You need to be able to cover at least fees (UK/EU approx. £4,320 per year; International approx. £23,700 per year) and your living expenses (minimum of £15,000 per year is recommended) to take up this opportunity.

International applicants seeking a scholarship are advised to consider the Global Excellence Scholarships scheme (deadline 4 March 2019), and to contact in advance of any application.  Sanctuary Scholarships (deadline 17 May 2019) to enable individuals seeking asylum and refugees who are not able access student finance to study at the University of Exeter, are also available. In exceptional circumstances the College may be able to waive the additional study fees for international applicants.

The succesful candidate will have the opportunity to participate in training courses provided by the Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM²).

XM2 now has over 80 post graduate researchers.  Our 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 visit for more information about the current CDT and an indication of what to expect.

This research project will be based on the Streatham Campus in Exeter. 

Joint supervisors: Dr Dave Phillips, Dr Isaac Luxmoore, Dr Jacopo Bertolotti

Statement of Research

The way we take pictures of the world is changing. A wave of new computational imaging techniques is redefining our understanding of how images can be recorded. Such systems offload aspects of the image formation process to a computer, enabling a wealth of powerful new features, and heralding imaging in situations that until recently were considered intractable. For example, computational imaging techniques have enabled us to see around corners [1] and through opaque scattering media [2].

The aim of this project is to apply these computational techniques to unscramble light that has propagated through a hair thin strand of multimode optical fibre – to create a new form of ultra-thin micro-endoscope.

When light propagates through an opaque material, such as a multimode fibre, it fragments and scatters multiple times. This scattering scrambles any spatial information the light carries, preventing the formation of images of objects behind (or inside) the scattering system. Recently it has been discovered that although highly complex, this scattering process is deterministic, and it is possible to use state-or-the-art light shaping technology to measure and reverse the scattering [3].

The micro-endoscopic imaging system we will develop in this project will be capable of capturing high-resolution video from the tip of a needle – delivering an exciting new way to look inside the body with subcellular resolution, a concept that has a wide array of future applications to medical imaging.

The key challenge lies in measuring and inverting the scattering that light undergoes as it propagates through such a narrow dynamic channel. To do this we will combine cutting-edge computer controlled laser beam shaping techniques, fast cameras, and state-of-the-art computational techniques. These aspects build closely on the existing experience of the supervisory team [2,3,4].

In summary: This is an experimental project to develop a new imaging technology – a multimode fibre based micro-endoscope. This research project would ideally suit a candidate with a background in one of the following disciplines: Physics, Electronic Engineering, Bioengineering, Computer Science, or Natural Sciences, although we are open to any enthusiastic applicant with a science related background – you will learn the skills you need on the job.

This PhD studentship is available from the 2019 academic year for 4 years. You will be based in the University of Exeter physics and engineering departments, and conduct your project in brand new laser lab. facilities. As the project develops, you will have the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at the Exeter Medical School. During the project you will develop significant expertise in programming, optical system design and, more generally, the field of photonics. Throughout the project, there will also be opportunity to travel to international conferences to present results.

[1] A. Velten et al. Nature communications 3 (2012): 745.
[2] J. Bertolotti et al. Nature 491.7423 (2012): 232.
[3] S. Turtaev et al. Optics express 25.24 (2017): 29874-29884.
[4] D. Phillips et al. Science advances 3.4 (2017): e1601782.

About us 

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record in functional materials and metamaterials research, spanning a unique mix of interests in our focus areas:

  • Acoustic, Phononic and Fluidic Metamaterials
  • Microwave and RF Metamaterials and Devices
  • Nanocomposites and Manufacturing
  • Photonic and Plasmonic Materials
  • Soft Matter, Biomaterials and Sensors
  • Spintronics, Magnonics and Magnetic Materials
  • Theory and Modelling to drive Targeted Material and Device Design
  • Two Dimensional Electronic and Photonic Materials

Exeter is amongst the top 150 universities worldwide according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the most influential global league table.
Functional Materials (from fundamentals to manufacturing) is one of 5 key themes supported by the UoE as part of its £320 million Science Strategy investing in staff and facilities. This theme has benefitted from the appointment of 23 new academics (including 7 full professors) along with £20m of investment in research infrastructure (including 3 new electronics/photonics clean-rooms, a graphene engineering laboratory, a nano-functional materials fabrication suite, a materials characterisation suite).

This is in parallel to significant external capital investment in our research including over £2m of equipment funding from the EPSRC/HEFCE SIA award (Exeter-Bath Centre for Graphene Science), the £2.6m ERDF-EADS funded Exeter Centre for Additive Layer Manufacture (CALM); £1.1, for Exeter’s EPSRC Time-Resolved Magnetism Facility; £1.2m for equipment funding from the EPSRC Graphene Engineering Call. Such investments ensure that we have, in-house, all the state-of-the-art materials, fabrication and characterisation facilities required by our PGRs.

Our research and PhD training experience, expertise, facilities and network makes the University of Exeter one of the very best places to pursue postgraduate and early career research.

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.

  • An academic CV;
  • A cover letter outlining your research interests in general, the title of the project you are applying for;
  • A Personal Statement consisting of two parts*:
  1. Describe a) why you would like to study for a PhD, b) why you would like to focus on this particular topic, c) any relevant expertise and d) your future career ambitions;

  2. Describe the qualities that you believe will make you a great researcher (in particular as part of a team).

  • Degree transcript(s) giving information about the qualification awarded, the modules taken during the study period, and the marks for each module taken;

You will be asked to provide the contact details of two academic referees.

* We foster creativity and utilisation of individual strengths. Applicants are encouraged to provide evidence to support their statements. This might include conventional written documents (e.g. examples of work), but we also encourage alternatives such as audio or video recordings, websites, programming etc. Please ensure to include accessible links to such files in an appropriately named document as part of the upload process.

Application procedure

Shortlisting and interviews

Applications will normally be reviewed within two weeks of receipt from February 2019.

Candidates will be short-listed against a set of agreed criteria to ensure quality while maintaining diversity. Failure to include all the the elements listed above may result in rejection.

The essential criteria:

  • Undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline (minimum 2:1);
  • Vision and motivation (for research & professional development);
  • Evidence of the ability to work collaboratively and to engage in a diverse community;
  • Evidence of excellent written and oral skills in English.

The highest quality candidates will also be able to demonstrate one of more of the following:

  • Specialist knowledge about one or more of the 8 research areas listed above;
  • Training in research methodology (e.g. undergraduate research projects);
  • Research outputs (e.g. papers) and/or other indicators of academic excellence (e.g. awards).

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an entry interview to assess whether they are suited to the CDT concept. The panel will normally consist of 3 people, including members of the CDT's Strategic Leadership Team and a current postgraduate researchers or post-doc in Physics or Engineering. If the applicant is successful, a second interview will take place to assess academic skills and fit to the project by the project supervisors.

Interviews are expected to start in February 2019.

Please email if you have any queries about this process.


Application deadline:30th July 2019
Number of awards:1
Value:self-funded applicants only.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Prof. Alastair Hibbins (Admissions Tutor)