University of Exeter funding: Quantum optical cavities

Quantum optical cavities for characterisation of single photon emitters as probes of biochemical activity and single-molecule lasers - PhD funded Ref: 3843

About the award


Lead Supervisor:

Prof Frank Vollmer, Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Exeter


Additional Supervisors:

  • Dr Deshui Yu (theory support), Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Exeter
  • Dr Samir Kashanian (experimental support), Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Engineering, Maths and Physical Sciences is inviting the applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in April 1st 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 in Physics in the College of Engineering, Maths and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Location: Streatham Campus, Exeter. Prof Vollmer’s Laboratory is part of the newly established Living Systems Institute, see

Project Description

Optical microcavities are important for many applications such as lasers, metrology and biosensing. Optical microcavities confine a light beam into a box, example for this is a Fabry-Perot cavity build by two opposing micro-mirrors. By adding a metal nanostructure to the box, the local light field can be dramatically enhanced, which potentially achieves the strong coupling between microcavity and single molecules. A light-driven metal nanoparticle exhibits the so-called localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR), at which the electromagnetic (EM) field is confined with a region much smaller than the cube of light wavelength, exceeding the refraction limit. The resulting enhancement factor of the local EM field can be as high as 103. Placing a single-molecule quantum emitter within this region strongly raises the emitter-photon coupling strength as well as the sensitivity of a sensor [1-3]. Such an optoplasmonic device composed of optical microcavity, plasmonic nanostructure and single molecule has been utilised for the single molecule sensing [1]. In this project you will take the next step and develop the optoplasmonic approach to study the photons emitted by single molecules attached to the sensor. The resulting quantum optical probe for analysing single photons characteristics emitted from single-molecule biochemical activity has important applications in biosensing and for realising single-molecule lasers. Also, the techniques for analysing single-photon correlations and statistics have important applications in imaging.

The project aims at the implementation and quantum optical characterization with optimized parameters of a single-biomolecule photon source for biochemical sensing, and imaging applications. Optoplasmonic Whispering Gallery Mode (WGM) optical cavities with very high quality factors will be designed and fabricated to realize the reliable and robust collection and characterisation of emitted single photons from single molecules. The study will also extend into the possible tuning and optimization schemes for the integrated sensing of biochemical activity at the single-photon and single molecule level, and approaching single-molecule laser device characteristics. The present experimental research project involves supporting theoretical studies for the design of optimized cavities and derivation of fundamentally new analysis of single photon correlations from single molecules operated in the lasing regime of an optoplasmonic sensor. Further, with the implementation of photon statistics analysis of the quantum optical single-molecule source, the project also explores novel approaches for quantum spectroscopy and imaging of chemical activity based on quantum-correlated-photon-based detection schemes.

Well-motivated physics or engineering students with a passion for applied quantum optics and with a quantum optics background will be desirable for the present cutting-edge doctoral research project. The project is experimental but also has a strong theoretical component. You will work as part of a team of physicists, electrical engineers, and biochemists. For more information see


[1] Martin D. Baaske, Matthew R. Foreman and Frank Vollmer, Nature Nanotechnology 9, 933 (2014).
[2] Baaske and Frank Vollmer, Nature Photonics 10, 733 (2016).
[3] Eugene Kim, Martin D. Baaske, Isabel Schuldes, Peter S. Wilsch, and Frank Vollmer, Science Advances 3, e1603044 (2017).

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. 

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in April 1st or as soon as possible thereafter.

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. 
Applicants are expected to have the experimental experiences in solid-state/external-cavity diode lasers, laser frequency locking to resonator and atomic transition, and fiber optics. The basic knowledge on the theoretical quantum optics, such as light-mater interaction & laser physics is highly desirable.

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.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”. 
• 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)
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English

The closing date for applications is midnight on February 17th 2020. Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus in the following weeks.

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.


Application deadline:17th February 2020
Duration of award:per year
Contact: STEMM PGR Admissions