Skip to main content

Funding and scholarships for students

Award details

Hydroacoustic Metamaterials for Focusing and Filtering of Underwater Sound. (CDT in Metamaterials, PhD in Physics/Engineering) Ref: 4439

About the award


Prof Alastair Hibbins, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter

Dr Tim Starkey, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter

Primary Location:

Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation, Physics Building, Streatham Campus, Devon, University of Exeter.

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation, with industry partner, Atlas Electronik UK, is inviting applications for a fully-funded 4 year PhD studentship.  The successful applicant will be employed full-time on band 3 in a permanent position by Atlas Elektronik UK from September 2022.

You will spend the majority of your time at the University of Exeter although some aspects of the studies will be undertaken at Atlas Elektronik UK Winfrith (all expenses will be reimbursed).

AEUK logo

Project Description:

Hydroacoustics is the study of the propagation of sound in water and the interaction of the mechanical waves that constitute sound with the water, its contents and its boundaries. It is a critical underpinning technology for a multitude of activities, ranging from oceanographic and environmental studies, offshore oil and gas, and defence, covering applications that include surveying, communication, navigation (SONAR) etc. This PhD project is concerned with the generation, transmission, and reception of sound in the underwater environment including the interaction between sound and underwater surfaces and structures. You will undertake your work within the research labs of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation, and will be employed for the duration of the programme by Atlas Elektronik UK, an internationally leading maritime high-technology enterprise in the fields of hydroacoustics, sensor engineering and information technology.

Metamaterials are engineered materials with bespoke or artificial characteristics and functionality gained through intelligent, digital design of their structure. Metamaterials are a technology enabler, finding application across an enormous range of markets including energy, health care, imaging, transport etc. In particular, the benefits that metamaterials bring are particularly relevant to the terrestrial transfer of energy and information now ubiquitous in our everyday lives, through an increase in device functionality (e.g. bandwidth, security) and efficiency. However, despite intense efforts, there is still a huge gap between what we can do in air, and the equivalent underwater. This is mainly because undersea communication faces challenges including multi-path propagation, time-variations of the channel (e.g. scattering, refractive index changes etc), strong attenuation and small bandwidth. Hence communication underwater requires complex, expensive and cumbersome hardware. For example, devices typically use complex arrays of active transducers to generate beams of sound in the water. In this project we will tackle some of the challenges presented in the precise generation, manipulation and detection of sound in water using acoustic metamaterials[1] (AMMs). These AMMs will be designed using sub-wavelength structures to incorporate functional properties, such as acoustic filtering, absorption, impedance-matching, and focussing.

You will model, fabricate and characterise acoustic metamaterial structures that will underpin the science for the next generation of metamaterial based hydroacoustic devices. The work will build on our recent works in underwater acoustics that have investigated acoustic surface modes[2] , beaming[3] , and focussing[4] . We are particularly interested in understanding how to improve the detection ability of weak signals, through manipulation of phase fronts and beam profiles, as well as filtering out unwanted sources of sound. Each of these examples uses structure to manipulate the local acoustic field at the metamaterial/water interface to induce designer mode dispersions with properties such as negative or zero group velocities or diffraction to tailor the wave propagation and energy redistribution. As a recent example of the pioneering work developed in Exeter, the figure below shows an aluminium plate with two regions of concentric rings that modify Scholte (a type of elastic wave) modes on the plate causing diffraction and the radiation of sound to a focal point in the water above the sample, at which position a detector can be placed. We have been able to use our longstanding expertise in finite element method modelling to design and model the response of this structure, and have undertaken proof-of-principle experimental verification using our hydroacoustic facility within our lab. It is strongly anticipated that you will undertake a similar mix of theoretical, design and experimental work.

[1] SA Cummer, J Christensen, A Alu, Controlling sound with acoustic metamaterials, Nature Material Reviews, 1 (16001) 2016

[2] TJ Graham, AP Hibbins, JR Sambles, TA Starkey Underwater acoustic surface waves on a periodically perforated metal plate The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 146 (6), 4569-4575, 2019

[3] TJ Graham, JD Smith, AP Hibbins, JR Sambles, TA Starkey Experimental characterization of acoustic beaming from an elastic plate by coupled symmetric leaky Lamb modes, Physical Review B 104 (4), 045105, 2021

[4] GJ Chaplain, RV Craster, N Cole, AP Hibbins, TA Starkey Underwater Focusing of Sound by Umklapp Diffraction, Physical Review Applied 16 (6), 064029, 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:

You will be employed full-time on band 3 in a permanent position by Atlas Elektronik UK. After a short induction at Atlas Elektronik’s headquarters in Winfrith, you will undertake a 4 year PhD project as part of the Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation’s doctoral training programme, the Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2), and will be awarded a PhD in Physics/Engineering upon successful completion of the PhD programme. Your fees will be paid for Atlas Elektronik and your research project will benefit from a generous budget for project costs, training and travel.

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 4 years of full-time study to commence in September 2022.  

During the full-time PhD project, you will be encouraged to work up to 180 h per study year on different projects within the Atlas Elektronik UK Sonar team.

For further information on the project, please contact Professor Alastair Hibbins and Dr Tim Starkey, via 

Entry requirements

Due to the nature of our work and the projects you will be working on, all candidates must be eligible to gain security clearance. Atlas Elektronik UK Ltd is an Equal Opportunities employer and welcomes applications for all posts from suitably qualified people regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

Only successful applicants will be contacted.

How to apply

You will be employed full-time on band 3 in a permanent position by Atlas Elektronik UK. Therefore your application must be made directly to Atlas Electronik UK via 

You are strongly encouraged to contact the Exeter supervisors via at the same time (or prior) to the formal application. 

For further information regarding the Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation, or the project itself, please contact the supervisors Professor Alastair Hibbins or Dr Tim Starkey, via


Application deadline:31st May 2022
Value:Salary from Atlas Elektronik UK plus generoury budget supporting reseach project project
Duration of award:Not applicable
Contact: Metamaterials admin office