Research projects for October 2017 entry

Dr Patrick Baird

DPhil Research Opportunity on Ultra-High-Q Microresonators for Optical Frequency Comb Generation

Ultra-High-Q microresonators are extremely powerful devices that allow confining enormous amounts of light into tiny micron-scale mode volumes. This enables the observation of nonlinear optical effects at low threshold powers, making microresonators ideal components for future integrated photonic circuits and for the next generation of optical computing.

A key application that utilizes nonlinear optics in microresonators is the generation of optical frequency combs. Optical frequency combs have been first developed 15 years ago and have become ubiquitous tools for spectroscopy, precision metrology and optical clocks. In 2005 optical frequency combs have been awarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics. Microresonators have recently shown to be promising candidates for shrinking optical frequency comb generators into chip-based devices for out-of-the-lab use [1]. However, the underlying physics of optical comb generation in microresonators is far from being fully understood and fundamentally different from conventional mode-locked laser comb generators [2].

There is opportunity for an Oxford D.Phil student to join a recently established research team at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) to work on microresonator-based frequency comb generation. At present there are several research projects available both on the applied side of frequency comb generation in microresonators as well as on the fundamental research side with the goal of understanding the physics of the underlying comb generation process.

NPL provides an ideal environment for research on optical frequency combs with an existing infrastructure of optical atomic clocks and conventional frequency combs that can be used for future experiments.

[1] Del'Haye, Optical frequency comb generation from a monolithic microresonator
Nature 450, 1214-1217 (2007)
[2] Kippenberg, Holzwarth, Diddams, Microresonator-Based Optical Frequency Combs
Science 332, 555-559, (2011)

For further information please contact either Dr Patrick Baird or Dr Pascal Del'Haye. There is funding for a least one studentship on this project.


Professor Christopher Foot

1. Experiments with ultracold atoms and Bose-Einstein condensates

Professor Foot’s research group investigate the fascinating properties on ultracold quantum gases at temperatures of a few tens of nanokelvin. The samples are produced using laser light to cool atoms from room temperature and then confining them in a magnetic trap where evaporation leads to further cooling. These processes increase the phase-space density by many orders of magnitude to reach quantum degeneracy (Bose-Einstein condensate for atoms with integer spin). The research group in Oxford has pioneered new methods of trapping ultracold atoms using a combination of radiofrequency and static magnetic fields that enables the investigation of the properties of 2D quantum systems. We are setting up experiments to work with multiple atoms species, e.g. two isotopes of Rb, or Rb and K atoms, in which atoms of one species act as ‘quantum probes’ of the surrounding gas. This will enable us to read out the quantum information from these systems and investigate new aspects of quantum thermodynamics and statistical physics. This work on understanding the fundamental quantum physics of many-body system has important implications for quantum devices and technology based on them. We also plan to carry out experiments on the transport properties in 1D quantum systems. Experiments with cold atoms allow single particles to be imaged and their properties measured thus providing deep insights that are complementary to work on quantum matter in Condensed Matter.


2. Development of cold-atom sources for quantum technologies

This project is suitable for those with an interest in developing new apparatus that will be applied to practical devices. We have developed a compact source of cold rubidium atoms based on a novel (patented) design of magneto-optical trap and we are collaborating with a laser company based in Scotland (M Squared Lasers) to commercialise this work. In this project we will develop a compact source of laser-cooled strontium atoms working with that company and other interested parties. Strontium requires a considerably different approach to that used for rubidium and developing the experimental methods into a robust and reliable system is the primary task. We anticipate that there will be considerable demand for sources of cold strontium since they are necessary for clocks that use atoms in optical lattices (strontium clocks are currently the world-leading technology), matter-wave interferometers (for which one of the strontium isotopes is very suitable), as well as more fundamental research work on ultracold molecules and quantum gases. In summary, strontium has considerable advantages for quantum technology but it is not (yet) used so widely as rubidium because it requires more complicated apparatus. The technical issues will be addressed in this project and the cold-atom source will be demonstrated by building a matter-wave interferometer. Collaborations with other research teams to demonstrate other applications are likely. It is expected that this project will be fully supported by a studentship for 4 years. Further information is available from Professor Foot.


Professor Gianluca Gregori

High Energy Density Laboratory Astrophysics - Scaling the Cosmos to the Laboratory

We are looking for DPhil experimental/theoretical positions to study and simulate in the laboratory extreme astrophysical conditions. The research is focussed on the following themes:

1. Investigation of the equation of state of ultra dense matter as the one occurring in the core of giant planets (such as Jupiter and many exoplanets). The experimental work involves using high power laser facilities to compress the matter to densities above solid and then applying x-ray techniques to probe its microscopic state. Interested students can also focus their work onto theoretical topics involving strongly coupled and partially degenerate plasmas - which are particularly relevant for describing white dwarf structure.

2. The understanding of the generation and amplification of magnetic fields in the Universe. We are particularly interested at the role of turbulence (and dynamo) in producing the present day values of magnetic fields in cluster of galaxies. Experiments on large laser facilities are planned in order to simulate in the laboratory intra-cluster turbulence and measure the resultant magnetic field generation and amplification by dynamo.

3. Quantum gravity with high power lasers. The idea is to use high intensity lasers to drive electrons to very high accelerations and then observe effects connected to the Unhruh-Hawking radiation. The ideal candidate is expected to work in defining the required experimental parameters and the proposal for a future experiment.
Our group has access to several laser facilities (including the National Ignition Facility, the largest laser system in the world). Students will also have access to a laser laboratory on campus (currently hosting the largest laser system in the department), where initial experiments can be fielded. Further details can be found by browsing our research web-page

Prospective candidates are encouraged to contact Prof Gregori for further information.


Professor Simon Hooker

1. Plasma accelerators

In a laser wakefield accelerator an intense laser pulse propagating through a plasma excites a trailing plasma wave via the action of the ponderomotive force, which acts to expel electrons from the region of the laser pulse. The longitudinal electric field in this plasma wakefield can be as high as 100 GV / m, more than three orders of magnitude larger than that found in conventional RF accelerators such as those used at CERN. Particles injected into the correct phase of the plasma wave can therefore be accelerated to energies of order 1 GeV in only a few tens of millimetres.

Theoretical and experimental work on plasma accelerators in Oxford is undertaken by a collaboration of research groups in the sub-departments of Particle Physics and Atomic & Laser Physics.

Please note that applications to work in this area should be made to the sub-department of Particle Physics, as explained at this page also gives further information on DPhil projects which are available in this area.

2. Ultrafast lensless imaging with OPA-driven high-harmonic generation

The project involves the generation of high-order harmonics of ultrafast visible laser pulses, and the application of this radiation to coherent diffraction imaging (CDI). High-harmonic generation (HHG) is a fascinating process in which an intense, femtosecond-duration laser pulse strongly drives the valance electrons of an atom to induce a highly nonlinear polarization; these oscillating dipoles radiate the odd harmonics of the driving field to generate a coherent beam of harmonics extending from the visible into the soft X-ray region.

CDI is a new method for "lensless imaging,” which is invaluable in spectral regions (such as the X-ray region) in which conventional optics are not available. In essence, CDI works by recording the diffraction pattern of an object, and inverting this using fast phase-retrieval algorithms to deduce the original object.

We are interested in: (i) developing more efficient HHG sources, with improved properties, by using optical parametric amplifiers (OPAs) to optimize the wavelength of the driving laser; (ii) using the HHG beams for element-specific X-ray imaging of microscopic objects.

This work is supported by a 4-year research programme funded by EPSRC.

Further details are available at:

Further details from Prof Simon Hooker.


Dr Steve Kolthammer and Professor Ian Walmsley

Quantum photonics

Experimental quantum optics plays a key role in our growing understanding of the essential features of quantum physics, from foundational principles to consequences in information processing. To date, however, most experiments have been restricted to simple quantum systems composed of just one or two photons. A major aim for the field is developing methods to realise increasingly complex states from which remarkable properties are predicted to emerge. The Quantum Photonics team in the Ultrafast Quantum Optics Group works at the forefront of this challenge, using novel optical devices that enable the study of new large-scale quantum systems. We are developing photonic chips using the latest fabrication technologies that enable integrated quantum light sources and programmable multiport interferometers, optical fibre networks for time-domain manipulation of quantum light, and superconducting thin films that efficiently count single photons. We use these tools to study applications in quantum computation and metrology, as well as fundamental issues including the quantum-classical boundary and macroscopic quantum systems.

Potential research projects include:

* The quantum-classical transition in large optical networks: Optical fields provide a promising route to create quantum correlations across a network consisting of many nodes that span large distances. The preservation, manipulation, and measurement of multipartite quantum features, including entanglement, in these systems is an important challenge. We plan to develop practical theoretical tools and experimental methods to study the operation of large-scale quantum networks and how they differ from their classical counterparts.

* Quantum-enhanced biological sensing and imaging: Precisely designed quantum optical fields have potential to probe light-sensitive biological samples with unmatched precision. We will study the design of novel quantum-powered microscopes based on stimulated emission and phase-contrast imaging. The end goal is a laboratory demonstration of performance that exceeds the capability of a device using only classical optics.

* Direct quantum simulation and analogue computation: photonic coprocessors have potential to add purpose-built hardware to quantum computers. The fundamental properties of light enable unique construction of processors based on the quantum interference of non-interacting bosonic fields. We will study analogue computation based on the principles of boson sampling, and investigate the design of few-mode photonic simulators that can be used to study the physics of complex molecular and condensed matter systems.

We invite applications from outstanding, motivated students interested in joining our Quantum Photonics team to undertake a DPhil research project. You will gain expertise in experimental quantum optics, including knowledge of optics, lasers, integrated photonics, and quantum information. Your work will be carried out as part of a large team of experimental and theoretical quantum physicists, both in Oxford and collaborating institutions worldwide.

An overview of our research group is found at

For further information please contact Dr Steve Kolthammer or Professor Ian Walmsley.


Professor David Lucas and Professor Andrew Steane

Quantum Computing with Trapped Ions, Lasers and Microwaves

Quantum computers offer the prospect of dramatic increases in information processing power, but this potential will only be realized if the qubits which hold the quantum information can be manipulated sufficiently precisely, and if the system can be scaled up to larger numbers of qubits.

At Oxford, we have recently developed the highest-performing qubit in the world, consisting of a single ion held in a microfabricated "chip trap". The qubit has a coherence time of nearly one minute, its quantum state can be prepared and read out with a fidelity of over 99.9%, and we can perform single-qubit quantum logic gates with an average fidelity measured to be 99.9999%. The key to achieving these results, which now define the state of the art, was the use of microwave techniques: the ion trap itself is a novel design, being the first to incorporate on-board microwave circuitry, and is built using a technology which is in principle scalable to much larger numbers of qubits. In related experiments we have recently demonstrated the highest-fidelity (99.9%) two-qubit quantum logic gate in the world, implemented using laser manipulation of the same type of qubit (hyperfine ground states in calcium-43 ions). Together, these results represent the first demonstration, in any qubit technology, of all fundamental qubit operations with sufficient fidelity for fault-tolerant quantum computing. As an application, we used our quantum logic gate to make the first test of Bell's Inequality with two different species of trapped atoms. We plan to scale our systems up to larger numbers of qubits by interfacing trapped-ion qubits using photonic qubits.

We are looking for one or two highly motivated first-class students to join these world-leading projects. For further information, please see our web page at or email


Professor Dieter Jaksch

1) Simulation of two-dimensional strongly-correlated quantum systems using high-performance tensor network theory algorithms

Tensor network theory (TNT) provides efficient and highly accurate methods for simulating many-body quantum systems, which cannot be represented exactly for all but the smallest systems due to the exponential growth of the number of parameters required with system size. The many-body wave function, and the operators that act on them, are represented as a network of tensors (multi-dimensional arrays of numbers) which is manipulated by performing a series of tensor manipulations such as reshaping, contracting and factorising. This computational/numerical DPhil project focusses on developing new algorithms for treating two-dimensional systems that utilise TNT, and will be added to the existing TNT software library. This high-performance library has been developed in our group for the last two years, and already has many users. The project will provide algorithms that are the first of their kind freely available as part of a software library, and will be used not only by members of our group, but research groups throughout the UK. The code is being developed in C, with OpenMP and MPI also being used to implement a hierarchical parallelisation scheme. The DPhil student will collaborate with members of our group to design routines that can be used by them to solve physics problems. The student will also have the chance to work with scientific software engineering experts who provide us with advice on producing high-quality sustainable software and on optimising our codes for running on large–scale supercomputers, such as the national supercomputing cluster ARCHER.

2) Optically steering, manipulating and cooling strongly correlated electron systems

In the past decade there have been pioneering experiments which have shown how laser light can manipulate, measure and selectively cool not only atoms or ions, but also single modes in macroscopic opto-mechanical devices. A major long-term aim in our group, in collaboration with Prof. Andrea Cavalleri Oxford/Hamburg experimental group, is to apply these techniques to strongly correlated electron systems such as Mott insulators and cuprate superconductors. Broadly this work plans to identify and realize "hidden" phases of materials, that are metastable out-of-equilibrium states which only exist while the system is driven. A key example of this would be to devise techniques to engineer the coupling of a stacked cuprate material to a surrounding cavity so that emissions into the cavity mode result in the cooling of superconducting phase fluctuations. These phase fluctuations are thought to be responsible for the transition to a non-superconducting state, thus even moderate cooling of this specific degree of freedom, as opposed to the entire material, may provide a novel route to stabilizing superconductivity above its critical temperature.

This theory DPhil project will work towards this grand challenge by investigating in detail the interaction between various strongly correlated electron systems and light both in and out of a cavity. Regimes of moderate and strong coupling to desired degrees of freedom, such as superconducting order parameter for stacks of Josephson junctions, will be determined. Various approaches will be pursued, such as using the cavity to perform continuous weak measurements to steer the state of the system, or strongly driving structural modes of the material to dynamically modulate its electronic properties. Combinations of phenomenological, mean-field, and numerical techniques will be applied to characterise the response of the system. Insight from these studies should lay the foundations for gauging the physical parameter space in which techniques for phase cooling are possible, and to what extent.

3) Quantum probes of quantum systems, impurities in cold atomic gases

Researchers in many areas have recently separately considered extracting information about a quantum system by bringing it temporarily and coherently into contact with another smaller quantum system, a probe, which is then measured. This has several advantages over traditional methods for measuring properties of a quantum system: It has the potential to be non-destructive; the potential to exploit entanglement and superposition of a perhaps spatially-extended probe in order to extract information directly about complicated correlation functions; and can involve strong interactions and thus occur on smaller time-scales than, say, linear response, and measure non-equilibrium properties. This theoretical DPhil project focuses primarily on impurity atom probes of cold atomic gases, how they could be realised, what information could be extracted or new regimes probed, and the role such probes could play in current or near-future experiments (our theory group is in contact with the experimental groups of Chris Foot, Oxford, and Stefan Kuhr, Strathclyde). Initial avenues of exploration would include using a highly-trapped impurity atom (localised to a few nm rather than the μm resolution of light) to probe a cold atomic gas on length-scales at which mean-field descriptions break down and the corpuscular nature of the gas appears, or using multiple atomic probes to identify whether number conservation occurs in the Bose-Einstein condensation of an atomic gas. This collaborative project will build upon the numerical and analytical expertise of the group in describing the evolution of impurities in cold atom systems, giving the student a firm background in these methods specifically and the vast and exciting area of cold atom physics in general.


Professor Peter Norreys

Laser-Plasma Interaction Physics for Inertial Fusion and Extreme Field Science

Intense lasers have extraordinary properties. They can deliver enormous energy densities to target, creating states of matter in the laboratory that are otherwise only found in exotic astrophysical phenomena, such as the interiors of stars and planets, the atmospheres of white dwarfs and neutron stars, and in supernovae. The behaviour of matter under these extreme conditions of density and temperature is a fascinating area of study, not only for understanding of fundamental processes that are, in most cases, highly non-linear and often turbulent, but also for their potential applications for other areas of the natural sciences. My team is working on:

• Inertial confinement fusion - applications include energy generation and the transition to a carbon-free economy and the development of the brightest possible thermal source for neutron scattering science
• New high power optical and X-ray lasers using non-linear optical properties in plasma
• Novel particle accelerators via laser and beam-driven wakefields - including the AWAKE project at CERN, as a potential route for a TeV e-e+ collider
• Unique ultra-bright X-ray sources

The understanding of these physical processes requires a combination of observation, experiment and high performance computing models on the latest supercomputers. My team is versatile, combining experiment, theory and computational modelling, including applications of machine learning. I can offer projects in all of these areas – please contact me to discuss your interests and let’s take it from there.


Professor Steven Rose

1. New models of the radiative opacity of stellar material

The material in the interior of stars is so hot that many of the electrons have been removed from the atoms and it is in the plasma state. Much work has been undertaken to calculate the electronic structure of the ions in such plasmas so as to understand how energy is transferred within the Sun and other stars through absorption and emission of photons (radiation transfer). Over the last few years experimental data has become available against which those models can be tested and usually the agreement is very good. However some recent experimental absorption spectra of hot, dense plasma taken on the ‘Z’-machine in the USA (a large pulsed-power device) under plasma conditions close to those expected at the convection-zone (CZ) boundary in the Sun have shown unexpected spectral features that current opacity modelling doesn’t explain. Moreover, changing the theoretical opacity to values suggested by the experiments could resolve an outstanding problem in stellar structure modelling concerning the position of the CZ boundary. One possible explanation is that two-photon absorption processes come into play that previously have been ignored.

The project will involve extending current opacity calculations to include two-photon absorption as well as exploring other shortcomings of the present modelling. The project will also involve designing and analysing new opacity experiments to be undertaken on other laboratory facilities such as the National Ignition Facility in the USA, the Laser MagaJoule in France and the ORION laser in the UK which will test the new opacity modelling. The project spans theoretical atomic physics, plasma physics and astrophysics as well as requiring an understanding of experimental possibilities on high-power lasers and pulsed-power machines. It will also have a major emphasis on state-of-the-art computing which will be needed to include the new physical processes in the opacity models that will be developed.

Prospective candidates are encouraged to contact Prof Rose for further information.


Dr Michael Vanner & Professor Ian Walmsley

Cavity opto‐mechanics: from quantum foundations to quantum technologies

Cavity quantum opto-mechanics is one of the newest and fastest growing areas of quantum science internationally and was recently noted by the Nature Publishing Group as a milestone in physics [1]. Central to opto-mechanics is radiation pressure (the force exerted by simply the reflection of light), which is used to control the motion of micro‐ or nano‐fabricated mechanical resonators. Using this interaction in combination with the techniques of quantum optics provides a route to experimentally generate quantum states of motion at a truly macroscopic scale. This rich avenue offers significant potential to contribute to both fundamental and applied science, allowing quantum-enhanced weak force sensing with unprecedented precision, and even offering one of the most promising routes to observe quantum gravitational phenomena with a table-top experiment [2,3]. Specific DPhil projects can be tailored to the student’s interests and can focus in one of two directions: (i) to experimentally develop techniques to generate and probe non-classical states of motion [4,5] to empirically explore fundamental physics, such as potential quantum gravity phenomena [2,3], or (ii) to utilise quantum states of motion to develop ultra-sensitive force sensors that can play a key role in the next generation of quantum technologies.

Successful DPhil applicants will be part of a vibrant international team of researchers working in close collaboration with several research groups in Oxford, London, and overseas, including Australia, Germany, Japan, and the United States. You will gain an expertise in experimental quantum optics, lasers, cryogenics, as well as simulation and theoretical modelling in a number of different areas of physics. You will also have the opportunity to spend some of your DPhil abroad to work with our collaborators. Recent opto-mechanics graduates have went on to pursue exciting careers in Google, NASA, and IBM, as well as becoming internationally leading academics.

[2] R. Penrose, General Relativity and Gravitation 28, 581 (1996).
[3] I. Pikovski, M. R. Vanner, M. Aspelmeyer, M. S. Kim, and C. Brukner, Nature Physics 8, 393 (2012).
[4] K. C. Lee, etal., Science 334, 1253 (2011).
[5] M. R. Vanner, M. Aspelmeyer, M. S. Kim, Physical Review Letters 110, 010504 (2013).

For further information on this DPhil opportunity please see our group webpage

and email Dr Michael Vanner


Dr Sam Vinko

X-ray Interactions with Matter on X-ray Free Electron Light Sources

Over the past few years there has been a revolution in X-ray science: the advent of the world’s first hard X-ray free electron laser (FEL), the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) in California, in one step in 2009 increased the spectral brightness of X-ray sources over that of any synchrotron by a factor of a billion. Spatially coherent, monochromatic, femtosecond X-ray pulses can now be routinely produced over a wide spectral range, accessing the spatial and temporal scales of atomic processes simultaneously for the first time. When focused to micron-sized spots, the unique characteristics of X-ray and XUV FELs provide a range of new opportunities to generate and study matter in extreme conditions with unprecedented accuracy and control, at temperatures of several millions of degrees Celsius and at atomic densities of order 1023 per cm3 and above. Such conditions are interesting as they are found towards the interior of stars and in other astrophysical objects, but are also directly relevant to inertial confinement fusion research. Focused FEL beams also show great promise to be used as a type of “giant microscope”: to look at chemistry and biological processes in real time, and to image in 3D tiny nano-crystals, protein molecules, and viruses. These objects are either too small or their processes too fast to be investigated via current techniques, but could be accessed using coherent X-ray diffraction imaging on FELs. For this novel technique to be truly valuable, however, the full information required must be collected before the ultra-high intensity of the FEL turns the sample into a hot-dense plasma, and obliterates it. The way in which this process takes place is however still relatively poorly understood. For these reasons, our research focuses on understanding the fundamental X-ray-matter interaction process that leads to the creation of hot dense plasmas, and on studying their structure, dynamics and evolution in time.

Research projects are available to for students interested in experimental and/or theoretical work on X-ray matter interactions and dense plasmas. On the experimental side, the work will be conducted as part of an international collaboration on key FEL facilities: the LCLS FEL at Stanford in California, the FERMI FEL in Trieste, Italy, and the FLASH FEL in Hamburg, Germany. On the theoretical and computational side, the work will combine a range of techniques such as collisional-radiative simulations and first-principle density functional theory studies of strongly-coupled systems, all at the cutting edge of our current modelling capabilities of these extreme conditions.

For further information please contact Dr Sam Vinko:


Professor Ian Walmsley

Attoscience and Strong Field Physics

Recently, nonlinear frequency conversion has been extended to provide access to coherent extreme ultraviolet (XUV) and soft x-ray radiation. This has enabled experiments routinely performed at synchrotron and free-electron laser facilities to be moved into a compact laboratory environment, and the underlying physics has given birth to attoscience. This emerging field concerns the observation of electron and atomic dynamics at the microscopic level, where the timescale is measured in attoseconds (10-18 s). Such fundamental measurements will have a wide reaching impact throughout the sciences, and potential applications include computation, energy harvesting and healthcare. The Attoscience and Strong Field Physics section of the Ultrafast Group are engaged in all aspects of attoscience research from the production of energetic few-cycle laser pulses, to the generation, all-optical characterization and use of XUV radiation.
Applications are invited from outstanding students interested in joining the Attoscience and Strong Field Physics team to pursue a DPhil research project. You will work with an advanced laser system on a daily basis and gain a deep understanding of ultrafast optics, XUV technology and state-of-the-art imaging techniques. In addition to a strong experimental focus, you will also have the opportunity to develop strong computational skills.
The main research activities are summarised at For further information please contact Dr. Patrick Anderson or Professor Ian Walmsley.


Professor Justin Wark

Studying High Pressure Matter with X-Ray Lasers

An opportunity exists for a DPhil project in the Physics Department at the University of Oxford to use the brightest X-ray source on the planet to study the response of matter to pressures normally only found towards the centre of planets. The student will work under the supervision of Professor Justin Wark in the sub-department of Atomic and Laser Physics. The project, funded by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, will entail both an experimental and theoretical study of matter under extreme conditions. On the experimental side, the student will use intense optical lasers to subject matter to many millions of atmospheres for timescales in the sub-nanosecond regime. In conjunction, the most intense x-ray laser on earth - the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC, will be used to obtain few-femtosecond single-shot diffraction images as the matter deforms or forms new phases. The experiments will be complemented by both classical molecular dynamics simulations, and by ab initio density functional theory calculations. The work builds on previous successful research recently published at the highest level (Science, 342, 220 [2013]). Full funding exists (fees and stipend) for successful UK or EU candidates for a period of 3.5 years. Interested candidates should have a upper-second or first class degree (or equivalent) in Physics, be interested in both experimental and theoretical physics, and be willing to spend some short periods in the US for experiments and collaborations. Enquiries can be made to Professor Justin Wark.