School of Physical Sciences

Available Research Projects

This list of example available research projects can be adapted for study at MSc or PhD level. This list is not exhaustive - we can accept applications for a research topic of your own choosing provided we have an academic member of staff whose area of expertise matches your proposal. To find out more about our academic staff research interests, click here.

For details of the funded positions available 2017 entry, click here.


Example available research projects by Research Group


Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science (CAPS)


Please make enquiries with Prof Michael Smith in the first instance, or contact the project supervisors to seek more details about the programme.


The collisional evolution of icy satellites with interior liquid oceans (Prof Mark Burchell)
This will involve laboratory studies of impact disruption combined with modelling to extrapolate to larger scales and prediction of the impact history of icy bodies with internal oceans in the outer Solar System.

Cosmic dust and cometary structure (Prof Mark Burchell)
This will involve studying the composition of comets using recent data from space, combined with laboratory calibrations. Data from the NASA Stardust space mission.

Astrobiology (Prof Mark Burchell)
This will involve studying the survival of fossils in impact experiments and considering how they may be found in terrestrial impact ejecta which subsequently impacts the Moon.

Outbursting young stars (Dr Dirk Froebrich)
The main objective of this project is to characterise long term variable young stars based on photometric and spectroscopic data. A link of stellar variability and jets and outflows from young sources will be investigated.

Investigations of UWISH2 data (Dr Dirk Froebrich)
The main objective of this project is to investigate data taken by the UK Widefield Infrared Survey for H2. A number of research areas from jets and outflows from young stars, HII regions and Planetary Nebulae are possible.

Astronomical Observations of Comets at Optical and Thermal-Infrared Wavelengths (Dr Stephen Lowry)
This project involves the physical characterization of the nuclei of comets, using thermal infrared imaging data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and optical imaging data from various large ground-based telescopes (PhD project).

Direct Detections of the Asteroidal YORP Effect (Dr Stephen Lowry)
This project involves working on astronomical imaging and spectroscopy data from a Large Programme currently being conducted at the European Southern Observatory. The programme is designed to survey a large sample of Near-Earth Asteroids to study the YORP effect. This project can be adapted to PhD, MSc and Euromasters.

Effects of magnetic field on the morphology of Bright Rimmed Cloud (Dr Jingqi Miao)
A magnetic field pervades the entire Universe and exerts forces on moving charged particles such as those around or within BRCs. The project is to advance our understanding on the magnetic field effects on the evolution of BRCs morphology through numerical simulation.

Photoevaporation of a molecular cloud by ionising stars (Dr Jingqi Miao)
This project will investigate the dependence of the photoevaporation rate by ionising stars on the physical properties of clouds. The morphological instability of the surface of the cloud will be studied.

UV radiation triggered star formation by SPH (Dr Jingqi Miao)
This project will investigate the physical conditions for UV radiation triggered star formation in molecular clouds,and the effects of induced shocks with SPH simulations.

Topologically ordered phases and quantum devices (Dr Gunnar Mller)
The goal of this PhD project is to create accurate microscopic models of topologically protected edge channels in fractional quantum Hall devices via the use of tensor product state representations. The candidate will develop numerical simulations of the equilibrium and non-equilibrium properties of fractional quantum Hall edge states in order to promote a detailed understanding of quantum devices that may enable topological quantum computation, including both quantum Hall point contacts and interferometers.

Computer simulations of radio galaxies (Prof Michael Smith)
A study of the largest objects in the Universe. This involves computer simulations of relativistic magnetohydrodynamic flows and their visualisation and analysis.

Radiative shocks in astrophysics (Prof Michael Smith)
These two projects involve either a mathematical or numerical study of the variable properties of shock waves associated with supernovae remnants, planetary nebula and the interstellar medium.

Star-forming clouds (Prof Michael Smith)
Multi-dimensional computer simulations of gas flows, aimed at understanding how molecules are destroyed in supersonic turbulence. This involves large-scale computer simulations, visualisation and analysis.

Determine an evolutionary sequence for massive star formation (Dr James Urquhart)
This project will use a combination of millimetre molecular line observations and infrared and submillimetre continuum surveys to determined an evolutionary sequence for the most massive stars in the Galaxy.

The role of filaments (Dr James Urquhart)
Filamentary structures have been found to be a ubiquitous feature of the molecular interstellar medium and have a wide range of physical properties. On the largest scales they are found to be associated with the spiral arms and on the smaller scales they are intimately associated with star formation. This project will use data from a new molecular line survey of the Galactic plane to investigate the connection between filaments, the large scale structure of the Galaxy and star formation.

Triggered star formation around HII region bubble (Dr James Urquhart)
Mid-infrared surveys of the Galactic plane have reveal many hundreds of molecular bubbles. These are produced by the expanding HII regions round massive stars; these expanding bubbles sweep up and compresses molecular material to form dense shells of material that can subsequently fragment and collapse leading to a new generation of star formation. This project will use multi-wavelength data sets to perform a detailed statistical study of large numbers of these bubbles and evaluate their contribution to the Galactic star formation rate.


Applied Optics Research Group (AOG)


Optical Design for Optical Coherence Tomography (Dr George Dobre and Prof Adrian Podoleanu)
The proposed research will investigate novel methods to increase imaging performance of Optical Coherence Tomography systems (speed, range, spatial and depth resolution, noise limitations). A dual channel OCT channel using polarisation maintaining components will be implemented. The aim is to measure the polarisation rotation of the retina nerve fibre layer.

Novel Adaptive optics (AO) devices and systems for simultaneous optical coherence tomography (OCT) and AO (Prof Adrian Podoleanu and Dr George Dobre)
A high performance AO system requires a deformable mirror with a large number of elements and large stroke and a very sensitive, wave-front sensor. We are aiming for an OCT orientation as that familiar to ophthalmologists using scanning laser ophthalmoscopy, achievable via en-face OCT.

OCT imaging of the choroid (Prof Adrian Podoleanu)
In applying OCT to diagnose conditions of the retina it is essential to image and distinguish details of the choroid. Different solutions will be researched: (i) using Germanium avalanche photodetectors or special photomultipliers and (ii) using a supplementary wavelength, which could be delivered by the same source.

Polarisation sensitive imaging of the retina (Prof Adrian Podoleanu)
A dual channel OCT channel using polarisation maintaining components will be implemented. The aim is to measure the polarisation rotation of the retina nerve fibre layer.


Forensic Imaging Research Group (FIG)


The Art of Hidden Communication (Dr. Stuart Gibson)
The aim of this project is to develop an open source software tool to be used by researchers and educators to test the security of different methods for embedding secret information in digital images (MSc or PhD project).

Interactive Image Enhancement for Forensic Applications (Dr. Stuart Gibson)
Forensic Image Analysts are often highly skilled in the use of proprietary graphics packages such as Photoshop. These software packages offer a vast array of digital image processing tools that can overwhelm non-experts. The aim of this project is to design and implement a simple computer software tool specifically for preparing/enhancing digital imagery that may subsequently be shown in a court of law.

Rejection Strategies for Interactive Evolutionary Computation (Dr. Christopher Solomon)
This project will investigate the use of visual rejection as a genetic operator for interactive evolutionary computation. The project will contribute the Forensic Imaging Group's highly successful work in the field of holistic facial composite construction.


Functional Materials Research Group (FMG)


Trace Analysis Using Vibrational Spectroscopy (Prof Mike Went)
Most of this research has used Raman spectroscopy which is similar to infra spectroscopy but has several advantages including the facts that it requires no sample preparation, it is non-destructive and also non-contacting meaning that evidence is preserved. We have detected drug particles (e.g. MDMA) in fingerprints after the print has been developed with a powder and recovered with an adhesive lifter. Newer studies are investigating the spectroscopic detection and identification of trace evidence derived from the use of cosmetics such as talc, face powders, antiperspirants, sunscreens, lipstick and eye liner, all of which are easily transferred to skin or garments.

The nature of phonons in low-phonon glasses (Dr Gavin Mountjoy)
Low phonon glasses are unconventional glasses which don't contain light elements like oxides. The presence of heavy atoms in these glasses means their vibrational modes, or phonons, have lower frequencies than normal glasses like window glass. This makes low phonon glasses important for optical applications such as fibre lasers. Two key examples are zirconium barium fluoride glasses and gallium lanthanum sulfide glasses. This project will first examine the atomic structure of low phonon glasses using a combination of x-ray and neutron scattering techniques, and molecular dynamics modelling. The description of atomic structure will then be combined with inelastic neutron scattering measurements to obtain a detailed description of the phonons present.

Predicting the properties neodymium in fibre amplifiers (Dr Gavin Mountjoy)
The optical properties of fibre amplifiers depend on the presence atoms with 4f electrons, such as neodymium. The 4f electrons in neodymium undergo transitions in the visible region. Two key factors in the efficiency of fibre amplifiers are the shape of the wavefunctions of the 4f electrons, and the closest distance between two neodymium atoms. The former can be predicted using spherical harmonic functions, and the latter can be predicted using the Poisson distribution. and this will be done in the project. The predictions will them be compared with the results of molecular dynamics modelling carried out during the project, and with experimental results reported in the literature.

Modelling glass seals for solid oxide fuel cells (Dr Gavin Mountjoy)
Diverse energy production methods are required to meet society's energy needs in the coming decades. One alternative to combustion engines are solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) in which oxygen and hydrogen gas combine and release electricity. A SOFC combines several different materials in a special geometry, and must have a hermetic seal (air tight). All SOFC are sealed with SrO-La2O3-Al2O3-SiO2 oxide glasses that are thermally resistant and bond well to the other components. This project will examine the atomic structure of such glasses using molecular dynamics modelling.

Artificial Water Channels (Dr Chris Serpell)
This project involves the synthesis of molecules which will mimic highly specific and permeable protein water channels, through application of supramolecular principles. The channels will then be incorporated into membranes for water purification and desalination.

Sequenced Polyphosphoesters (Dr Chris Serpell)
It is sequence specificity which endows nucleic acids and proteins with their structural, chemical, supramolecular, dynamic, and information-rich character. Through using solid-phase synthesis techniques, non-natural sequenced polymers will be generated which will be programmed to display precise folding, molecular recognition, and optical properties.

Unconventional superconductors (Dr Jorge Quintanilla)
Superconductivity is a fascinating phenomenon in which electrons behave coherently, like photons in a laser. It has many applications from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to ultra-fast levitating trains (MagLev). There is, however, a growing number of so-called “unconventional superconductors” with many puzzling and potentially useful properties which do not fit existing theories. In this project we will investigate such materials using theoretical and computational techniques. You will become a member of the EPSRC-funded collaboration “Unconventional Superconductors: New Paradigms for New Materials”, working as part of an international team of theorists and also in close contact with some of the top experimental groups in this rapidly-growing field.

Structural Engineering … at the Nanoscale (Dr Dean Sayle)
For millions of years, nature has fashioned complex nanoporous architectures into ceramic (meta)materials conferring optimised mechanical properties with light-weight design (bone, crustacean shell). More recently, porous ceramics have been manufactured with framework architectures of nanometer dimensions. Structural engineering, which has evolved over thousands of years - perhaps emanating from the 'arch construct' (1850 B.C.) - is central to modern civilization and facilitates: space travel, bridges that span nearly 2 km and towers nearly a km in height. However, do such 'engineering rules' translate to the nanoscale? And can these (new?) 'rules' be exploited to engineer ultra-strong and light metamaterials - nature shows us that they can. Here, we will formulate the first engineering rules at the nanoscale.

Nanomedicine (Dr Dean Sayle)
Nanoparticles, with potential application as bio-medicinal agents, exploit the chemical properties of a solid, with the ability to be transported - like a molecule - to a variety of bodily compartments. Here we will generate atom level models of nanoparticles and calculate their chemical reactivity to help predict their therapeutic or toxic effects.

Lithium ion Batteries; Energy Materials (Dr Dean Sayle)
We will generate atom level models of materials that can store and release lithium. The models will be used to simulate lithium entering and leaving the host material (charge/discharge process). This will help us understand the mechanism underpinning charge/discharge cycling of rechargeable lithium ion batteries at the atom level.

Synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials (Dr Anna Corrias)
(1) Nanomaterials exhibit novel and significantly improved physical, chemical and biological properties, phenomena and processes due to their nanoscale size. (2) Nanomaterials with controlled size can be synthetized mediating their growth with the use of surfactants and/or of a nanoporous matrix. (3) Nanomaterials are characterized using a multi-technique approach including laboratory based techniques such as X-ray Diffraction, Thermal Analysis, Transmission Electron Microscopy, and synchrotron radiation based techniques such as X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy.

Synthesis and characterization of novel nanomaterials for catalytic applications (Dr Anna Corrias)
The project is devoted to the synthesis of catalytic nanoparticles dispersed in a suitable highly porous matrix, such as aerogel silica and templated mesoporous silica. These materials have very good potential to be used as catalysts for a variety of interesting reactions such as production of carbon nanotubes, Fisher-Tropsch Process and Water-Gas-Shift Reaction. Moreover the proposed nanomaterials can be considered model systems to study how to disperse and dilute nanoparticles and to study in detail the correlation between the structural and catalytic properties. All the samples are thoroughly characterized using a multi-technique approach including laboratory based techniques such as X-ray Diffraction, Thermal Analysis, Transmission Electron Microscopy, and synchrotron radiation based techniques such as X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy.

Magnetism, Superconductivity and Novel Quantum Order (Dr Emma Pugh)
The aim of the project is to investigate magnetic, superconducting and novel quantum systems. The techniques to be employed include resistivity, ac-susceptibility and synchrotron and neutron scattering methods at high pressures, low temperatures and high magnetic fields.

Scientific Instrumentation Development (Dr Emma Pugh)
Control of the lattice density by the application of pressure to materials is a way of cleanly and precisely controlling the electron interactions. This project will involve development of high pressure techniques and is likely to be of interest to a student who has an interest in instrumentation and equipment development. The advances will then be applied to the study of strongly interacting electron systems.

Understanding novel multiferroic character (Dr Donna Arnold)
Multiferroic materials which exhibit coupling between ferroelectric and magnetic order are of interest for the next generation device applications, including transducers, actuators and memory. Our work focuses on understanding the effects of doping multiferroic bismuth ferrite as well as searching for new multiferroic materials.

Strongly correlated electron materials (Dr Donna Arnold)
We are interested in understanding materials where the magnetic degrees of freedom are incompatible with the underlying crystal geometry. Geometrically frustrated materials often exhibit exotic magnetic ground states realising interesting physics and chemistry.

High Permeability materials for electronic applications (Dr Donna Arnold)
We are interested in investigating soft magnetic materials which operate at high frequencies due to their potential application in the electronics and telecommunications industries. This work is in collaboration with Prof. Batchelor in EDA.

Chiral MOFs for Heterogeneous Organocatalysis (Dr Barry Blight)
We are interested in producing solvolytically stable homochiral Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for heterogeneous catalysis by incorporating chiral struts in the MOF architecture. We grow chiral crystals that can mimic enzyme-like chiral environments and then further enact enzyme-like chemical transformations with sterospecificity. We will be able to incorporate these systems into continuous-flow reactors, making them ideal catalysts for the fine chemical industry.

Super-strong Hydrogen Bonding in the Assembly of 'Smart' Organic Electronic (Dr Barry Blight)
We are interested in exploring the effects of strong hydrogen bonding in conventional light-harvesting, light-emitting, and electron transport polymer materials. We will assemble complimentary hydrogen bonding structures akin to DNA base-pairs in extended arrays in a manner that will enable easy deposition of these materials. We will be able to readily incorporate these systems as electron transport materials, emissive materials or as light-harvesting chromophores.

MOFs as Biological Moderators (Dr Barry Blight)
We have initiated studies into the use OF MOFs as energy traps for specific biological analytes, while exploring novel methods for MOF assembly in biological environments. This cross-disciplinary work is in collaboration with the School of Biosciences at Kent with (Dr J. Rossman).

Radiopharmaceuticals (Prof M Went)
In collaboration with Prof P.J. Blower (King’s College London) I am interested in the synthesis and characterisation of novel transition metal based radiopharmaceuticals for imaging and therapy.

School of Physical Sciences, Ingram Building, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NH

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Last Updated: 14/03/2017