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Award details

CDT in Metamaterials: Disentangling the Chiral Clutter: Optically Enhanced Rotational Spectroscopy. Ref: 3962

About the award

Statement of Research

Supervisors: Prof Euan Hendry

Chiral molecules are distinct from their mirror image; much like a human hand. These handed molecules play a vital role in many biological functions. However, the handed properties of chiral molecules are difficult to determine, and the information that conventional chiral spectroscopy can provide is minimal and always incomplete. For example, standard techniques such as circular dichroism cannot measure oriented properties of molecules (only rotational averages), cannot resolve molecular mixtures and provides sensitivity only for samples with one handed molecule in excess. As a result, academic and industry labs invest much time, effort and money in developing asymmetric synthesis routes to chirally pure samples, while running many sequential characterisation techniques to obtain even only fragmented and patchy information about the molecules they are synthesising or studying.

In this project, you will be at the heart of a collaborative project aiming to develop the next generation analytical measurement tools for chiral molecules. Working with colleagues from the University of Glasgow, this project will develop a completely new measurement approach, one capable of resolving chiral molecular properties even in the most challenging of circumstance, e.g. determining anisotropic properties of molecular mixtures, and even resolving an equal mixture of right and left handed molecules. The general approach relies on femtosecond pulsed lasers, which can provide electromagnetic fields orders of magnitude larger than by using continuous wave lasers. Using these intense fields, one can manipulate the rotational energy levels of molecules depending on the precise molecular polarisability. Measuring these rotational shifts provides the missing piece of the puzzle: the information required to determine the complete chiral structure of a molecule. Detailed molecular modelling has revealed the feasibility of this approach, and the project here will develop the capability in experimental measurement, and with it a major step change in molecular characterisation and drug development.

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.  Our 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.

The 3.5 year studentship is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It is of total value around £107,000, which includes £25,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend starting at £15,285 per year for UK/EU students.

Eligible candidates: UK and EU nationals only.

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, and prospective students can consider projects from a wide variety of fields:

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

Please visit to learn more about our centre and see the full list of projects that we have on offer this year.

The studentship is subject to funding availability.

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.

How to apply

Application criteria

Eligible applicants: UK and EU nationals only.

Applications are made to the Metamaterials programme for a PhD in Physics/Engineering. We invite candidates to specify their project(s) of interest at the time of application *.

During the application process you will need to upload the documents listed below. Please prepare these before starting the application process.

  • Degree transcript(s) giving information about the qualification awarded, the modules taken during the study period, and the marks for each module taken.
  • An academic CV;
  • A cover letter outlining your research interests in general, the title of the project you are applying for;
    • Describe a) why you would like to study for a PhD, b) why you would like to focus on this particular topic, c) any relevant expertise and d) your future career ambitions;
    • Describe the qualities that you believe will make you a great researcher (in particular as part of a team).

You will be asked to provide the contact details of two academic referees.

* We foster creativity and utilisation of individual strengths. Applicants are encouraged to provide evidence to support their statements. This might include conventional written documents (e.g. examples of work), but we also encourage alternatives such as audio or video recordings, websites, programming etc. Please ensure to include accessible links to such files in an appropriately named document as part of the upload process.

Application procedure


Applications will normally be reviewed within two weeks of receipt.

Candidates will be short-listed against a set of agreed criteria to ensure quality while maintaining diversity. Failure to include all the elements listed above may result in rejection.

The essential criteria:

  • Undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline;
  • Vision and motivation (for research & professional development);
  • Evidence of the ability to work collaboratively and to engage in a diverse community;
  • Evidence of excellent written and oral skills in English.

The highest quality candidates will also be able to demonstrate one of more of the following:

  •  Specialist knowledge about one or more of the 8 research areas listed above;
  •  Training in research methodology (e.g. undergraduate research projects);
  •  Research outputs (e.g. papers) and/or other indicators of academic excellence (e.g. awards).


Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an entry interview to assess fit to the CDT concept. This will be held prior the academic interview with the supervisors and will normally be undertaken by a panel of 2-3 people, including a current postgraduate researcher or post-doc in Physics or Engineering.

Interviews are expected to start within two weeks upon application receipt. It is therefore advisable to apply as soon as possible.

Please email if you have any queries about this process.


Application deadline:25th January 2021
Number of awards:1
Value:Total value around £107,000, which includes £25,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend starting at £15,285 per year for UK/EU students
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Dr. Isaac Luxmoore (Admissions Tutor)