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Funding and scholarships for students

Award details

mm-wave imaging for cancer detection. (CDT in Metamaterials, PhD in Physics) Ref: 4369

About the award



Prof Euan Hendry, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter

Prof Nick Stone, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter


Department of Physics and Astronomy, Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation, Streatham Campus, Devon, University of Exeter

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials, with industry partners QinetiQ, is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship.  The studentship can commence in early 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. 

The student would be based in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:

Radiation in the mm-wave band is intrinsically safe, non-ionising and non-destructive. These frequencies also correspond to a “sweet spot” in the electromagnetic spectrum, where radiation can pass unimpeded through fatty tissues that normally scatter or absorb infrared and visible radiation, while giving rise to useful contrast in protein rich tissues for cancer imaging. This contrast arises primarily from the differing water content in tissues, allowing one to effectively image the water rich tumour tissue through the normally opaque, surrounding fatty tissue. The problem with standard implementations of RF and mm-wave imaging is depth determination - how does one determine the depth of healthy tissue across the entire surface of a tumour?

In this project we will develop a new strategy to this well-known problem using frequencies in the range 10 to 50 GHz. Combining this with Exeter developed techniques for near field modulation [1-3] and super-resolution imaging [4], we will be able to image water contrast at differing depths within tissues. We will first optimise the technique, tuning the imaging depth of view to match current guidelines for breast cancer margins, before testing our imaging approach by measuring excised breast samples in the operating theatre unit at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, using histopathology and deep Raman measurements for comparison at known locations. Once fully designed and optimised, we believe that this approach could reduce the occurrence of second surgeries, cancer reoccurrence and metastasis.

Applicants must have a working knowledge of optics, and have taken modules in optics and/or electromagnetism during their undergraduate degree. Proficiency in programming using Python, Matlab or Labview would also be helpful.

[1] R.I.Stantchev et al, Science Adv. 2, 1600190 (2016)
[2] S.M. Hornett et al, Nano Lett. 16, 7019 (2017)
[3] R.I.Stantchev et al, Optica 4,989 (2018)
[4] L.E. Barr et al, Optica 8, 88 (2021) ]

Cohort-based training in the CDT in Metamaterials:

You will be part of the Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation and join its doctoral training programme, the Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2).

Since 2014, XM2 was and is home to more than 100 PhD students (~55 active, ~50 graduates) and their individual research projects, embedded in strong academic groups and supervisor teams.

The PhD students learn together in targeted courses, self-driven activity groups, and events with exposure to industry to gain scientific background knowledge beyond their areas of expertise, and to equip themselves with transferable professional skills such as creative thinking, project management, and leadership.

To date, our graduates went on to careers in academia and industry, and started to act as role models for the next generation of researchers.

We believe in the benefits of a cohort model that fosters knowledge exchange and peer support to prevent isolation.

Contact the student advisory group if you'd like to learn more about the CDT from your potential new peers!

The Award:

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students from the UK who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £16,062 per year tax-free stipend (increasing each year as per UKRI standard PhD stipend).  The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence as soon as possible. The collaboration with industry partners QinetiQ is subject to contract. 

For further information on the project, please contact Professor Euan Hendry, e-mail, or telephone 01392 725654.

Entry requirements

This studentship is open to UK and Irish nationals, who if successful in their application will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

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 Physics or an appropriate area of science or technology.  

Applicants must have a working knowledge of optics, and have taken modules in optics and/or electromagnetism during their undergraduate degree. Proficiency in programming using Python, Matlab or Labview would also be helpful.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 7.0 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).
  • Research proposal
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
  • Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis with interviews expected to be within four weeks of receipt of application. Once a successful applicant has been appointed the project will be withdrawn and no further applications will be considered. You are advised to apply early as the application process will be competitive. The project start date is negotiable. However, the latest start date will be September 2022, which would align with the new PhD student cohort starting in the next academic year.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process or the project itself please email

Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Professor Euan Hendry, e-mail, or telephone 01392 725654.


Application deadline:30th June 2022
Value:Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office