EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials: Plasmonic tuning of nanoparticle constructs - Developing new tools for nanomedicine Ref: 2350

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.

Please see our website for more details www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials

Supervisory Team:

Prof Nick Stone, Physics, Biophysics University of Exeter

Mr John McGrath and Mr Douglas Ferguson – RD&E Hosp.

Prof Pavel Matousek, STFC Rutherford Appleton Labs

Statement of Research

The rapidly emerging field of Theranostics is widely expected to have a major impact on healthcare in the next decade and beyond. It combines the fields of therapy and diagnosis into a single modality; leading to point-of-care testing and personalised treatment in a single procedure. This has significant potential to improve outcomes and reduce the financial burden of healthcare. Current theranostic research is generally limited by the reliance on large expensive scanners and technological restrictions on the ability to multiplex targets.

The use of recently developed nano-technologies, and novel spectroscopic readout technologies, allows unprecedented sensitivity and specificity to disease, through simultaneous detection of multiple disease specific molecules, measured at depths of cm’s. Furthermore, light can be used to trigger the nanoparticles to destroy the diseased cells or tissues identified using this concept. We can in principle measure the presence of a particular nanoparticle label functionalised for binding to the surface proteins in abnormal cells. This can be multiplexed.

Light can be used to induce plasmonic heating in the NPs, provided the appropriate wavelength for surface plasmon resonance is selected. This can be used to provide a hyperthermia treatment by thermally killing the abnormal cells where the NP are localised.

This project will focus on: Tuneable Plasmonic NPs Development of new strategies for tailoring the optical response of NPs; to build safe NP cluster constructs (~100 nm) optimised for effective readout and subsequent triggered/gradual disintegration into ultra-small, safe (<5nm) gold NPs.

We have just invented a method to read out the temperature and pH of environment local to the nanoparticles. This can be used though many cm’s of tissue and provide a method for feedback on the hyperthermia treatment / radiotherapy and chemotherapy – non-invasively.

The major potential barrier to the implementation of such an approach is the safe administration and excretion of the nanoparticles used for detection of disease and therapy.

Here we need to prove the concept of tuned NP clusters coupled together to provide a surface Plasmon resonance at NIR wavelengths to allow light transport through tissue. We would tune to maximise diagnostic signal at one wavelength, therapeutic heating at another and develop a method for NP construct disintegration to enable safe excretion.

About XM2

Metamaterials are fabricated microstructures having properties beyond those found in nature. They are emerging as an important new class of materials with applications in many technology areas, from energy harvesting, through perfect imaging, to the much-hyped ‘cloaking’. Having recruited over 50 new PhD researchers in its first three years, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (XM2) hosted by the University of Exeter (www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials) will admit its fourth cohort of 14-18 PhD students in September 2017.

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, spanning a unique mix of interests. We will run projects in the following fields (see our list of themes for full details)

  • Optical, Infra-red and THz Photonics and Plasmonics
  • Microwave Metamaterials
  • Magnonics, Spintronics and Magnetic Metamaterials
  • Acoustic and Fluid-dynamical Metamaterials
  • Wave Theory and Spatial Transformations
  • Graphene and other 2D Materials, and related Devices
  • Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites
  • Biological and Bio-inspired Metamaterials
  • Quantum Metamaterials

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 email us for a copy of our prospectus.

The University of Exeter is a top 10 UK university, in the top 1% of universities globally, and a member of the elite Russell Group of institutions. The University has committed itself to a substantial expansion in its science base and within Physics and Engineering, over £10m has been spent on infrastructure since 2008 and around 30 new academic staff have been appointed across the Centre's themes.


Application deadline:31st July 2017
Number of awards:1
Value:4-year studentship: UK/EU students, includes tuition fees and an annual stipend equivalent to current Research Council rates (14,553 for 2017-18)
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 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.

In addition, we advise that you upload a cover letter or provide further information about your your preferred area(s) of study within the XM2 themes and/or your interest in a particular project, and also whether you've been in contact with a particular supervisor. You will be asked to provide the contact details of two academic referees.

Please note that of the 25 projects advertised we expect, as a Centre, to fill 14-18 posts only.


Application procedure

Applications should be made via the Apply Online system.  Please email metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk if you have any queries about this process. 

You will need to specify that you are making a Research application, with a keyword search of Metamaterials, specifying the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, and Full Time.  Please then select the course, Physics / Engineering (CDT) - Metamaterials - Doctor of Philosophy - (Full Time) with the start date September 2017.

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.