University of Exeter funding: Nano-Optics and Molecular Physics

Weak and Strong Coupling of Light for Ultrasensitive Detection of Chiral Molecules – PhD (Funded) Ref: 3783

About the award


Professor Frank Vollmer University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in April 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter. For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based at the Living Systems Institute in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

More information about Prof Vollmer’s lab:

Weak and Strong Coupling of Light for Ultrasensitive Detection of Chiral Molecules
Optical micro/nanostructures are important for many applications such as lasers, metrology and biosensing. Optical microcavities confine a light wave into a small and controlled sensing area. Within this sensing area, light matter interactions can be precisely controlled and explored. By adding a metal nanostructure, it becomes possible to explore the interaction of single molecules with the metal nanostructure. Particularly interesting is the study of the interaction of the molecule with a plasmon resonance that is excited in the metal nanostructure. Our goal is to study this fundamental interaction between a single molecule and a plasmon resonance, preferably in the weak and strong coupling regimes. Further, by introducing an intracavity Faraday Effect and external magnetic fields, the interaction of light with the molecule becomes sensitive to the molecule’s handedness (chirality). It is our ambitious goal to exploit weak and strong light-molecule interactions and their dependence on chirality and magnetic fields to detect the handedness of a single molecule.

Your project: You will work with two optical sensing platforms that are available in our laboratory and that you will modify further to achieve project goals. The first platform utilises a glass microsphere optical cavity that confines light on a whispering gallery mode. You will introduce the Faraday Effect by fabricating the microcavity from magneto-optical glasses, or by coating the cavity with molecules that exhibit a large Faraday rotation. You will learn how to modify this cavity with various plasmonic nanoparticles. You will probe the light matter interactions between plasmonic nanoparticles and single-molecules using non-fluorescent, fluorescent, and chiral molecules. The second platform you will work with confines light on silicon photonic crystal waveguides. You will investigate means for introducing plasmonic nanostructures and Faraday rotation on this platform. You will manipulate both sensing experiments with externally modulated magnetic fields that reach up to 1 Tesla at the sensing region. The two platforms will provide you with an extraordinary parameter space to probe weak, strong and chiral light matter interactions of plasmonic nanoparticles with single molecules.

What we are looking for: We are looking for well-motivated students with a passion in optics, physics, nanophotonics, applied electromagnetic theory, and knowledge of biosensing or enthusiasm for single-molecule biosensing. You are enthusiastic about working in our interdisciplinary research team to develop single-molecule optical sensing methodologies.


1. J Topolancik, B Ilic, F Vollmer, Physical review letters 99 (25), 253901
2. Advanced Materials, 30, 1801246 (2018)

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,009 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. 

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

The closing date for applications is midnight on 17th February 2020.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus or by Skype (date to be confirmed).

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor prof Frank Vollmer


Application deadline:17th February 2020
Value:£15,009 per year for 3.5 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5150