The Applied Optics Group hosts students studying for 3-year PhD and 1-year MSc (by research) degrees in Physics in the School of Physical Sciences (SPS).

In addition to funded positions, which are advertised when they become available, we welcome applications from self-funded students at any time, and can also support strong candidates in applying for external funding. Various university scholarships are listed on the ‘Find a Scholarship‘ page.

Research areas

PhD and MSc projects are available in a broad range of areas around biomedical imaging and sensing, including in optical coherence tomography, photoacoustic imaging, confocal microscopy and endomicroscopy, optical design, light-tissue interaction and modelling, optical sources and fast tuneable lasers, signal processing methods and GPU processing. See the research overview and research projects pages for more details.

Application process

Applications are made through the University’s main admissions site, but we prefer candidates to make contact with a potential supervisor (Prof Adrian PodoleanuDr George DobreDr Adrian Bradu or Dr Michael Hughes), to discuss opportunities before applying. If you are unsure who would the best match for your interests, please direct general inquiries to the Head of Group, Prof Adrian Podoleanu. When applying via the admissions site, select either MSc Physics or PhD Physics, and be sure to include the name of your preferred supervisor. You do not need to provide a detailed research proposal, but should clearly set out your motivation for obtaining a research degree in applied optics.

Example projects

Some example projects that may be undertaken by self-funded students (PhD or MSc) are below, but a range of other projects can be designed to match your skills and interests, and we will also consider proposals from innovative and highly-motivated students to develop new research ideas which are compatible with our expertise and facilities.

Novel adaptive optics (AO) devices and systems for simultaneous optical coherence tomography (OCT) and AO (Prof Adrian Podoleanu)

A high-performance AO system requires a deformable mirror with a large number of elements and large stroke, very sensitive, wave-front sensor. Such elements are known in the art of AO for astronomy, however they are very expensive. The en-face orientation is exactly what is required for combining OCT with AO for imaging the retina. We are aiming for an OCT orientation as that familiar to ophthalmologists using scanning laser ophthalmoscopy, achievable via en-face OCT. We predict that by incorporating AO elements, the transversal resolution of en-face OCT would become comparable to its depth resolution. Specific skills will be acquired in OCT, AO, and morphology and function of the retina.

Supercontinuum fibre source for OCT and spectroscopy (Prof Adrian Podoleanu)

Supercontinuum generation has long been used as a convenient experimental technique for producing broadband radiation for various spectroscopic applications. The use of photonic-crystal fibres and tapered fibre for generation of supercontinuum emission, offers a way to create new broadband sources for spectroscopic and OCT applications. We plan to develop a compact and small-size supercontinuum source for OCT, controlled entirely through graphical easy-to-use software package. Specific skills will be acquired in: fiber optics (technology), lasers, fibre optic amplifiers, photonic crystal fibre, non-linear fibre optics, general optoelectronics, fiber optic characterisation and testing, and LabVIEW.

Point of care imaging – bringing the microscope to the patient (Dr Michael Hughes)

Microscopy is a vital tool of modern medicine, allowing tissue samples and specimens to be examined in cellular scale detail for diagnosis of a wide range of diseases. Today, almost all medical microscopy takes place in the pathology lab, but you will work in the rapidly developing field of miniature, portable systems for use at the patient’s bedside. You will focus on developing new technology to reduce the size, cost and complexity of these point-of-care microscopes, helping to extend their use, even to low resource settings. You will need to be prepared to work at the interface of physics, engineering and medicine, have or be willing to develop strong practical laboratory and computing skills, and above all have the drive and ambition to find innovative technical solutions to the problems of global healthcare. Read more on our optical biopsy research.

Shaping and twisting light with high speed digital holography (Dr Michael Hughes)

A number of applications of photonics require light fields with specific amplitude and phase distributions. This can be achieved with spatial light modulators, which provide a high degree of control, but with relatively slow update rates. In this project, you will develop a spatial light modulator using a digital micro-mirror device (DMD), using holography techniques to achieve phase and amplitude control with kHz update rates. This device will then be used for a number of possible applications, including the generation of twisted light (optical vortices with central phase singularities, carrying orbital angular momentum) for micromanipulation, as well as optical phase conjugation for imaging through scattering media or multimode fibres. This project will require a good background in Fourier optics and/or linear algebra as well as interests in scientific computing using Matlab or Python.