The Cyphochilus beetle
Photo: Professor Pete Vukusic.
Research shows how some of the beetle's highly unusual brilliant white shell structure can be mimicked to produce coatings for white paper.

PhD Research in Physics and Astronomy

Physics’ research activities are concentrated in four research groups: Astrophysics, Biomedical Physics, Electromagnetic and Acoustic Materials, and Quantum Systems and Nanomaterials. All research students join one of these groups, and those associated with the two materials themes may be allocated a studentship as part Exeter’s Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2).

World-leading research staff

Physics at the University of Exeter is exemplified by our world-leading academic staff. Our academic team have an outstanding breadth of knowledge, passion and energy across a wide range of research interests, from quantum behaviour in nanomaterials, the formation of stars and the age of the universe to biomedical physics, photonics and astrophysics. that will support you throughout your research. You will develop a strong personal relationship with your supervisor and tutor which will support you to achieve your ambitions. 

Our academic team are enthusiastic about sharing their expertise and knowledge with the next generation of physicists, and are on hand to assist you in your innovative research projects. As well as dedicated contact hours with your supervisor and tutor, our team operate an open door policy which allows you to raise questions and issues as they arise.  This collaborative approach allows you to flourish by creating a supportive, cooperative environment in which to excel in your research.


Being part of a collaborative research community is the ideal environment for you to flourish.  We encourage our students to engage with each other, as well as our world-class academics, to promote a vibrant, supportive and friendly research atmosphere.  The group structure provides a very positive support mechanism, helping research students to sustain productive research; over 90 per cent submit within the EPSRC deadline period, with most publishing several scientific papers during their period of study.  We understand that it is vital that you are a part of a stimulating and energetic environment with your peers throughout your research degree.  We also recognise  that being in a position to discuss stages of your work is essential to your long-term success.  To support this, we organise a series of postgraduate seminars where research students discuss their work, carry out presentations and swap ideas. We strive to ensure that you are a valued and intrinsic member of a close-knit group of ambitious research students, who will cooperate and provide support to each other when necessary.

All postgraduate research students are allocated a second supervisors and/or mentor to guide you throughout your postgraduate degree and we deliberately create a policy of openness and approachability. You will undertake a full programme of induction and training in order to

  • provide the technical, mathematical, organisational and personal skills required for your research;
  • heighten your awareness of recent advances in physics and astronomy research, through the Colloquium Programme;
  • provide you with essential safety, and fire training;
  • introduce you to the facilities, support and monitoring services provided by Physics and Astronomy and throughout the College.

Research facilities

Our world-class academics are supported and complemented by state-of-the-art facilities, to ensure that your research is of the highest possible quality and standards. We are well equipped with a variety of modern apparatus and extensive IT facilities on campus, as well as more specialised equipment including clean rooms, laser beam lithography, workshops and dedicated office space and private research areas. The Physics Building has also recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment, which included new nanofabrication facilities and a femtosecond laser facility.  We also offer a helium liquefier producing 55,000 litres of liquid helium per year, materials processing and clean rooms. The addition of a 14 TFlop/s supercomputer has given us one of the most powerful computing facilities in the UK. The recent investment in facilities also included £5 million to establish the Centre of Graphene Science and funding of £3 million to commercialise our anti-counterfeiting and electromagnetic materials research.  Many of these new facilities can be seen by viewing our 360 degree virtual tours.

Following the inspiring atmosphere and personal approach Exeter offered me as an undergraduate I was keen to further my education here. I experienced working in the Electromagnetic Materials Group as part of my Masters project and loved it! I was also impressed by the amount of world leading research produced by this Group, so I wanted to carry on and I hope to complete my study here in 2012.

After graduating in 2007 I was employed in Cornwall for a year as a Radio Frequency and Microwave Development Engineer where I worked in the research, design and development of precision waveguide components and test equipment. I returned from industry to further enhance my future employability while maintaining links through my industrial sponsor QinetiQ.

In my current study the understanding of fundamental electromagnetism enables me to explain much more complex systems. My work concerns controlling the transmission, reflection and absorption of electromagnetic radiation through sub wavelength metallic meshes which is important as our society develops more wireless technology where electromagnetic signals need to be screened or controlled.  I’ve taken part in several conferences during my time here and gave a talk at my first conference, Nanometa 2009, in Seefeld Austria. I’ve also presented posters of my work at Metamorphose 2009 in London, at META 2010 in Cairo, Egypt and at a Royal Society Meeting (2010), at Chicheley Hall, UK.

I would recommend postgraduate study or research at Exeter to anyone as it provides world class research opportunities in a great location. There’s the beauty of the North Devon coast, Dartmoor and Exmoor a short distance away, and yet the city itself is close, lively and friendly. As an undergraduate the lecturers were enthusiastic and were always available to sit down and provide support, which proved invaluable. I’ve enjoyed the friendly atmosphere through all levels of my study, in addition to the opportunity to present my own work at international conferences, and the chance to work with world leading physicists on world leading research.

Celia Butler, PhD in Physics (Microwave Photonics, Electromagnetic Materials Group)

Masters in Physics with Professional Experience, (MPhys), University of Exeter

Applying for a PhD studentship

If you are interested in applying for a PhD at Exeter you should first look at our research pages and decide which research areas interest you. You should also look at our Research projects and XM2 pages that list the topics available. When you apply, you should specify the research themes that you are interested in and, if you wish, a particular supervisor and/or request a XM2 studentship. Funded studentships are competitive, so it helps not to be too precise in your choice of project. PhD projects in Physics are usually of three and a half or four years duration.

International students can complete the INTO Postgraduate Certificate in Pre-doctoral Studies to improve their English language proficiency, study and research skills before starting a Physics research degree at the University of Exeter.