School of Physics & Astronomy

UG Summer Scholarships

We are pleased to announce the following summer projects for the summer 2021. Project duration is between eight and ten weeks, with the start and end date to be agreed between the student and the project supervisor. These are paid projects with the payment of £200 per week.

Applications are now closed. Successful candidates will be conacted by the supervisors at the end of February.


Project supervisor: Alfonso Aragón-Salamanca

Project Title: Galaxies in filaments around massive clusters (the project can be done remotely)

Project Summary: Understanding how galaxies and the large-scale structures they inhabit evolve are key scientific challenges. An extensive body of research shows that the main physical drivers of this evolution are both intrinsic (e.g., galaxy mass) and extrinsic (e.g., environment). Decoupling their complex interplay requires the simultaneous exploration of the broadest possible range of environments and masses. The cores of galaxy clusters have been studied in detail, but the vast majority of galaxies spend significant time in filamentary structures and in the infall regions that feed clusters. The large area and lower contrast of these structures means that these regions are largely unexplored and at present there are few direct observations characterising these filaments in detail.

This project will combine wide-field multi-object observations obtained with the new WEAVE spectrograph in La Palma Observatory with state-of-the-art numerical simulations of galaxy clusters from The Three Hundred project to explore galaxies in filamentary structures far beyond the clusters’ virial radii as important sites of galaxy evolution. By the summer of 2021, the first galaxy spectra obtained with WEAVE will be available, and the student working on this project will be able to start analysing the star-formation activity of galaxies in and around a massive cluster, including the filaments that feed its growth. The observational results can be compared with the predictions of the numerical models.


Project supervisor: Dr James Sharp

Project Title: Structural relaxations in crumpled matter (lab based project)

Project Summary: It is relatively easy to crumple thin sheets of material and we have all, at some time or other, scrunched up pieces of paper in frustration before throwing them away. However, we seldom stop and ask whether the structures that form have any potential applications.

Weight for weight crumpled sheets have mechanical properties that are comparable to – if not better than – some carefully designed engineering structures and foams [1]. The reason that crumpled structures have not received significant attention from engineers is that their properties are not predictable – or at least, so they thought. Recent experiments show that simple scaling arguments can be used to predict the properties of crumpled matter without detailed knowledge of the crumpled structure [1]. However, while these experiments show excellent promise there is still much to do to understand the physics of crumpled matter.

This project will involve studying mechanical relaxations of folded and crumpled sheets of material [2]. A video camera will be used to film these structures as they relax and relatively simple physical models will be used to try understand their behaviour. This project would be suitable for someone with an interest in experimental physics and python programming (specifically image processing).

[1] Croll, A.B., Twohig, T. & Elder, T. The compressive strength of crumpled matter. Nat Commun 10, 1502 (2019).

[2] Thiria, B. and Adda-Bedia, M., Relaxation Mechanisms in the Unfolding of Thin Sheets, Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 025506 (2011)


Project supervisor: Dr James Sharp

Project Title: The beat of a nanoscale drum (lab based project)

Project Summary: The drive toward miniaturisation has resulted in the production of materials and devices with ever smaller components. A key challenge involves understanding how the properties (mechanical, electrical etc.) of materials changes as we approach the nanometre length scale and how this influences the relevant devices.

Measurement of mechanical properties presents a particular challenge - it is not easy to perform controlled deformations on nanoscale materials without causing significant damage to them. In these experiments we will study the vibrational modes of free-standing membranes comprised of ultrathin (10-500 nm thick) polymer membranes suspended over a hole in a substrate. The vibrational spectrum of the resulting nanoscale drums will be used to determine the resonant frequencies of the thin film membranes and the physics of a vibrating drum skin will enable us to extract the mechanical properties of the ultrathin films.

This project will allow you to be involved in sample preparation (spin coating polymer films and a novel floating technique for producing free standing membranes) and measurement using acoustic detection techniques and ellipsometry.

Project supervisor: Dr Lucia Hackermueller

Project Title: Quantum Information applications in a wave-guide based atom-photon interface

Project Summary: The development of laser cooling techniques has led to a rapid growth of the field of cold and ultracold atoms, which deals with (mainly alkali) atoms at micro- and nanokelvin temperatures. At these record low temperatures, quantum phenomena are important and can be directly observed. Cold atoms are interesting quantum systems, because they are relatively easy to model theoretically and at the same time can be used to study genuine quantum effects.

Cold atom systems can be applied for “quantum technologies”, where quantum effects are exploited for precise sensing, imaging, quantum information processing or quantum computing. In our experiment [1, 2], we are trapping clouds of cold atoms at a temperature of a few microkelvin in a microscopic void created in an optical fibre or waveguide chip. We first cool atoms in a magneto-optical trap and then load them into an optical dipole trap. This trap passes through the hole in the fibre. Our system is ideal to map photons travelling in the fibre onto the atomic cloud. This situation can be used to store information carried by the photons in the atoms (quantum memory), to precisely probe the atomic cloud or to create entangled photons from re-emission of the atoms.

The project student will work with the PhD students and postdocs and have the opportunity to operate the system and create a cold cloud of caesium atoms. He/she will learn about photon storage, optical setups and systems, spectroscopy and locking mechanisms and help to take data, analyse and interpret it.

This project will enable insights into the everyday life in an experimental lab and will be a great opportunity to learn a wide range of experimental techniques.

[1] E. Da Ros et al., Phys. Rev. Res. 2, 033098 (2020), arXiv:1906.06236., [2] N. Cooper et al. Sci. Rep. 9, 7798 (2019).


Project supervisor: Dr Mike Smith

Project Title: Glassy dynamics in 2d granular fluids (project can be carried out remotely)

Project Summary: “The deepest and most interesting unsolved problem in solid state theory is probably the theory of the nature of glass and the glass transition.” wrote Nobel prize winner Philip Anderson. By glass however, we mean a whole array of systems in condensed matter which revolve around what happens to the dynamics of constituent molecules or particles when the density becomes high or the temperature really low. ( “The nature of glass remains anything but clear”)

This project is an experimental project that will require a good level of coding ability in python. We will study a 2d layer of granular particles subjected to vibrations. By varying the number of particles we will be able to study the system dynamics as we approach the glass transition. The long-term aim is to test a widely influential theory known as dynamical facilitation. The project will involve a combination of experimental development and analysis using existing particle tracking code.

Please note: coding in python essential for this project


Project supervisor: Dr Mike Swift and Dr Mike Smith

Project Title: Simulations of Triboelectric Effects in Granular Media (project can be carried out remotely)

Project Summary: It is well known that if two different materials are rubbed together, charges can be transferred from one material to the other. This 'triboelectric' effect is useful in many applications including electrophotography, powder coating processes and triboelectric separators. It can also have negative consequences leading to unwanted segregation and even explosions. Despite the ubiquity of this effect, the basic underlying mechanism is still not well understood [1].

The aim of this project is to model these charge transfer effects and to develop a simulation to investigate the dynamics of a collection of such charged particles. These particles can be made to collide by fluidisation and the resulting charge distribution can be calculated and compared with experimental results [2]. The understanding gained from these simulations will be of direct relevance to many industrial processes, a topical area being plastic recycling.

[1] "Collisional charging of individual submillimetre particles: Using ultrasonic levitation to initiate and track charge transfer", Victor Lee, Nicole M. James,

Scott R. Waitukaitis, and Heinrich M. Jaeger, Physical Review Materials 2, 035602 (2018).

[2] "Combined effect of moisture and electrostatic charges on powder flow", Antonella Rescaglio, Julien Schockmel, Nicolas Vandewalle and Geoffroy Lumay, EPJ Web of Conferences 140, 13009 (2017).


Project supervisor: Dr Moustafa Gharamti

Project Title: Python GUI for differential forms (project can be done remotely)

Project description: This project aims at building a Python library for differential forms that gives an interactive visualization of forms and their calculus such as exterior derivative, wedge product and Hodge operator, and helps understand their geometric meaning. The library will also be capable of plotting contravariant vector fields and visualizing different geometric structure such as gradient, divergence, curl and inner products between covariant and contravariant vectors. We aim at showing via graphical interface that differential forms are the natural object that should be used to describe fields and visualize their characteristics in different dimensions.

Differential forms are the mathematical language used in most of modern theoretical Physics. Applications such as electromagnetic 2-forms, Lorentz force, Maxwell’s equations and radiation fields will be investigated using the library.

This project is mainly computational and requires strong knowledge and experience in Python coding and using Python libraries. The analytical part of the project requires learning about differential forms and some practice with exterior calculus. Building a library for visualizing differential forms will be very useful for the geometrical understanding of the topic and its applications especially in the context of relativity.



School of Physics and Astronomy

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