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Award details

The Link in Quantum Mechanics between Breakdown and Permittivity (CDT in Metamaterials, PhD in Physics/Engineering) Ref: 4487

About the award


Dr Steven Hepplestone - University of Exeter, Physics and Astronomy

Prof Saverio Russo - University of Exeter, Physics and Astronomy

Dr Ned Taylor, University of Exeter, Physics and Astronomy

Statement of Research:

This exciting project is to study quantum mechanics in nanoscale systems.  In particular, this project will focus on how charge polarisation and breakdown manifests in the quantum realm.  Breakdown is the process by which lightning happens in the atmosphere and describes the maximum electric field any material can sustain before being torn apart.  In this non-equilibrium process, the role of By studying two-dimensional materials we intend to explore how one can control and define the permittivity and breakdown of a material.  [1-3].  By custom designing the structure of this material, it is possible to create nanoscale metamaterials with dramatically changing properties.
This will be an experimental PhD developing state of the art new systems for exploration of quantum mechanics with the opportunity of expanding into theoretical areas.  The project will be supervised by Prof. Russo, Dr. N. Taylor and Dr. Hepplestone.

[1] Peimyoo N, Barnes MD, Mehew JD, De Sanctis A, Amit I, Escolar Ulibarri J, Anastasiou K, Rooney AP, Haigh SJ, Russo S. (2019) Laser writable high-K dielectric for van der Waals nanoelectronics, Science Advances, volume 5, article no. eaau0906, DOI:10.1126/sciadv.aau0906.
[2] De Sanctis A, Amit I, Hepplestone S, Craciun M, Russo S. (2018) Strain-engineered inverse charge-funnelling in layered semiconductors, Nature Communications, volume 9, article no. 1652, DOI:10.1038/s41467-018-04099-7.
[3] Taylor NT, Davies FH, Davies SG, Price CJ, Hepplestone SP. (2019) The Fundamental Mechanism Behind Colossal Permittivity in Oxides, Advanced Materials, volume 31, no. 51, pages 1904746-1904746, DOI:10.1002/adma.201904746.

About the studentship:

The 3 year studentship is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It is of total value around £82,000, which includes £23,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend starting at £16,062 per year for UK students.

About the CDT in Metamaterials (XM2)

XM2 is the doctoral training programme of our Centre for Metamaterial Research and Innovation at the University of Exeter. We provide scientific knowledge as well as transferable and technical skills training to all our students to prepare them for careers within and outside of academia.

In 2014, we started off as a £12 million Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Metamaterials, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC/EP/L015331/1), the University of Exeter and industry.

The PhD students learn together in targeted courses, self-driven activity groups, and 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.

XM2 now consists of more than 60 active PhD students (Postgraduate Researchers, PGRs) from the UK, the EU and beyond, who are training in a stimulating, challenging yet supportive cohort-based environment. Since 2018, over 30 graduates went into employment in industry and as postdocs in Higher Education Institutions in and outside of the UK.

About the University of Exeter:

The University of Exeter combines world class research with excellent student satisfaction. It is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities. Formed in 1955, the University has over 20,000 students from more than 130 different countries. Its success is built on a strong partnership with its students and a clear focus on high performance. Recent breakthroughs to come out of Exeter's research include the identification and treatment of new forms of diabetes and the creation of the world's most transparent, lightweight and flexible conductor of electricity.

We are one of the very few universities to be both a member of the Russell Group and have a Gold award from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), evidence of our established international reputation for excellence in both teaching and research. Our success is built on a strong partnership with our students and a clear focus on high performance.

Exeter is also ranked amongst the world’s top 200 universities in the QS and Times Higher Education rankings.
Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Commitment

Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Commitment

With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength. We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive; where diverse voices are heard through our engagement with evidence-based charter frameworks for gender (Athena SWAN), race equality (Race Equality Charter Mark), LGBTQ+ inclusion (Stonewall Diversity Champion) and as a Disability Confident employer. Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our working community. Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workplaces.

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 meet the required level (Profile A) as per our guidance at

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)

• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.

• 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 Tuesday 30th August 2022

Interviews will be held virtually in the week commencing 12th September 2022.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers) 

Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor. Dr Steven Hepplestone (


Application deadline:30th August 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 for 3 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team