School of Physics & Astronomy

Undergraduate Summer Scholarships

Every year, the School of Physics and Astronomy offers a number of projects with research groups at the school for undergraduate students to take over the summer. The projects are a great way to experience what it is like to do reasearch and cover a diversity of fields such as medical physics, astronomy, experimental quantum optics, material science and computational methods in physics.

Projects duration is set to 8 weeks, with the start and end date to be agreed individually and flexibly between the student and the supervisor. Students will receive a bursary of £250 per week. Students can take a two week break during the internship, to be negotiated with the supervisor.

Application process

Projects are aimed at the penultimate year undergraduate students (BSc and MSci), but second year MSci students are also welcome to apply. Applications from students from other universities are also welcome.

To apply, please send a CV that includes a personal statement of motivation about why you would like to do the project, to You can apply up to three projects. Please state a list of your selected project in the order or priority on your CV as part of your personal statement. You do not need to write a separte motivation statement for each project, just a general one about why you would like to do a research project at the School and what your interests are (about 350 words). Your CV can be longer than one page.

Applications are now closed. Projects run this year are listed below for your information.

Summer projects 2024

Project title: Illuminating the Dark: Using the Faintest Light to Understand the Most Massive Objects in the Universe

Project supervisors: Dr. Jesse Golden-Marx and Prof Nina Hatch (co-supervisor)

Project description: New space-based observations from JWST and Euclid highlight that we are living in a golden age for studying the faintest objects in the universe. While this light may be faint, it’s impact on Astronomy is large and this light holds secrets to understanding the brightest and most massive objects in the Universe. Massive, brightest central galaxies, which are found at the centre of galaxy clusters, are surrounded by faint diffuse intracluster light that is bound to the cluster’s mysterious and unseen dark matter. While this light is far fainter than the brightest parts of the galaxy, it accounts for a significant fraction of the cluster’s mass. Moreover, intracluster light can be used to determine how these massive galaxies grow and evolve over cosmic time, while also allowing Astronomers to observationally trace the unseen dark matter structure that exists within clusters.  The student who works on this project with me will use state-of-the art data to map the light profiles of intracluster light to understand how these massive galaxies and this faint light grow and evolve over the last 10 billion years and where we can use the intracluster light to trace the dark matter.   

Project title: Telephone cord blister formation; the role of confinement in thin solvent swollen polymer films

Project supervisor: Dr James Sharp

Project summary: Adhesion between a film and a substrate is crucial in determining the effectiveness of many thin film coatings. It is vital that we understand the physical processes that result in film failure as this has many potentially important industrial applications in ensuring that photonic, acoustic, photovoltaic and barrier coatings retain integrity when exposed to external factors such as heat, mechanical stresses and harsh solvents.

In this project you will study the formation of telephone cord blisters in constrained polymer layers [1]. Solvent swelling of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) will be used to generate stresses in thin films, cause failure of the interface between film and substrate and generate these intrinsically interesting sinusoidal blisters. You will explore the effects of confining blister formation upon the physical dimensions and growth rates of these structures. You will also explore the effects of using different swelling solvents to drive blister formation. A combination of video microscopy and Python based image analysis will be used to extract key physical parameters such as blister wavelength, width and growth speed. Your data will be interpreted in the context of existing theories of telephone cord blister formation [1].

[1] James S. Sharp and Nathaniel M. Roberts., Soft Matter, 2023,19, 7796-7803


Project title: Black hole feedback with a next generation X-ray observatory

Project supervisor: Dr Helen Russell

Project summary: NASA’s 2020 Decadal Review laid out the scientific priorities for the next 10 years of astronomy, including an X-ray or far-IR probe-class mission to launch in the early 2030s. The Advanced X-ray Imaging Satellite (AXIS) is a leading X-ray mission concept that combines large throughput with high angular resolution across a wide field of view. AXIS offers X-ray capabilities that are well-matched in depth to JWST and the near-future ground- and space-based facilities that will dominate the next 15 years of astronomical research.

Dr H Russell is the co-lead of the ‘Galaxy evolution and black hole feedback’ science working group for AXIS. Gas accretion onto a supermassive black hole can launch powerful high-velocity winds and relativistic jets into the host galaxy. Known as feedback, this is thought to be the essential mechanism slowing massive galaxy growth at late times in the Universe. The clearest observational evidence for this mechanism is found in nearby massive galaxies, where shocks and cavities generated by feedback are visible in X-ray observations.

This project will use existing Chandra X-ray observations of black hole feedback in nearby massive galaxies to outline a potential observing program for AXIS. This will primarily involve image analysis and will suit students with a strong interest in astronomy.


Project title: Super-resolution Raman microscopy

Project supervisor: Prof Ioan Notingher

Project description: Raman spectroscopy is based on Raman scattering, a phenomenon in which incident photons lose or gain energy via interactions with vibrating molecules in a sample. These energy shifts can be used to obtain information regarding molecular composition of the sample with very high accuracy. In Raman microscopy, a Raman spectrometer is coupled to an optical microscope such that molecular composition can be mapped across the sample. Applications of Raman microscopy in the life sciences have included quantification of biomolecules, hyperspectral molecular imaging of cells and tissue, medical diagnosis, and others.

As any optical technique, spatial resolution in Raman microscopy is limited by the diffraction limit of light (~300 nm). In the last decades, several techniques have been developed for breaking the diffraction limit (Nobel Prize 2014), but these super-resolution techniques require the molecules of interest to be labelled with fluorescent tags and complex instrumentation. Super-resolution radial fluctuations (SRRF) is a computational approach, in which inherent fluctuation of emitted photons are used to predict a more precise localization of the molecules emitting the photons based on radial fluctuations in the light detected.

This project will use SRRF to obtain super-resolution Raman microscopy images. The project involves experimental work in recording Raman maps of a range of samples with nanoscale features (using a Raman microscope with integrated atomic force microscope) and image analysis using the SRRF ImageJ algorithm to generate super-resolution images. The student will work in Prof Notingher’s research group, in a team with other PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.


Project title: Mechanical Systems in the Quantum Regime

Project supervisor: Prof Andrew Armour and Dr Jonas Glatthard

Project description: Quantum mechanics doesn’t just apply to the very smallest of objects like atoms and molecules. Over the last couple of decades it has become possible to explore subtle forms of quantum behaviour in an ever wider range of devices such as electrical circuits and mechanical oscillators which can be coaxed into displaying quantum behaviour, even though they contain very large numbers of individual atoms. Exactly what one has to do to reveal the quantum regime depends on the details of the device, but extremely low temperatures and a high degree of control over the interactions between the system and its surroundings are typically important. This project will involve modelling and exploring the quantum dynamics of micromechanical oscillators, systems which have dimensions of a few micrometres or less and vibrate with frequencies in the range 1MHz-1GHz [1,2]. The project will suit students who have a strong interest in theoretical quantum physics and enjoy programming in Python.

[1] A macroscopic object passively cooled into its quantum ground state of motion beyond single-mode cooling, D. Cattiaux et al., Nature Communications 12, 6182  (2021)

[2] Strong Dispersive Coupling Between a Mechanical Resonator and a Fluxonium Superconducting Qubit, N.R.A. Lee et al., PRX Quantum 4, 040342 (2023)


Project title: A standard method of thin film thermoelectric measurement for clean energy

Project supervisor: Dr Mike Weir 

Project description:  Thermoelectric materials convert waste heat into a sustainable source of electricity, or vice versa act as solid-state heat pumps. Existing thermoelectric materials are impossible to adopt on a global scale which holds back progress.

A new generation of sustainable thermoelectrics should be based on organic materials like semiconducting polymers. These can be dissolved in solvents and coated on to substrates, which can be stiff such as glass or silicon, or flexible such as PET (polyethylene teraphtalate) or Kapton (a polyimide). This allows light weight, versatility, and ultimately low cost.

However, the community needs to agree on a standard way to make measurements. In this project you will investigate blade coating and spin coating of semiconducting polymers onto custom substrates of your own design.

You will devise a simple substrate and method that can be widely adopted. You will use high-performing PEDOT:PSS (poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) polystyrene sulfonate) as a benchmark. You will then investigate other polymers such as PTAA (poly(triarylamine)), polyTBD (poly(N,N'-bis-4-butylphenyl-N,N'-bisphenyl)benzidine) and TFB (poly(9,9-dioctylfluorene-alt-N-(4-sec-butylphenyl)-diphenylamine)).

You will become highly trained in this sustainable technology and will learn transferable, industrially-relevant skills. Training will be provided on how to evaluate the “power factor” of a thermoelectric – a key measure of its potential to produce energy.


Project title: Large clouds of cold atoms for quantum gravity experiments

Project supervisor: Dr L. Hackermueller and Dr N.Cooper

Project description: Ultracold atoms have been fascinating systems for several years. They are connected to 2 Nobel prizes and are contributing to the quantum technology revolution.

Ultracold atoms are also interesting candidates for quantum gravity measurements – if it is possible to create large samples of degenerate atoms. When a system that is already “quantum”, i.e. a degenerate cloud of ultracold atoms, reaches a regime, where the cloud also has a relevant mass then this enables us to study the interplay of quantum physics and gravity physics. In this way, we will be able to provide experimental data and thus shed light on long-standing fundamental questions.

We are working towards the creation of cold atom clouds with temperatures of 10-50 microkelvin with record high atom numbers in the regime of 1010 – 1011 atoms. This is done by first collecting atoms in a magneto-optical trap using a novel multi-frequency cooling scheme.

A highly motivated summer student will be able to join our experimental team. They will e.g. work on the experimental characterisation of the magneto-optical trap, help taking data, measure the trap lifetime or look for instabilities in the trapped atomic cloud. The student will also have the chance to build small electronic setups or optical systems. The summer project is an excellent opportunity to get involved with exciting research and to gain experience about working in a research group.


Project title:  Developing phantoms for use in MRI liver cancer detection studies.

Project supervisor: Dr Eleanor Cox and Prof Sue Francis

Project description: Validation in MRI using imaging phantoms is a vital step for the application of new imaging techniques and applying them clinically. We are performing studies of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer. The effectiveness of treatment depends on detection in its early stages. This project aims to develop a phantom for use in MRI which replicates liver cancer of different size. 

The aim of this project is to fabricate an HCC liver phantom with tissue-mimicking materials for MRI. The project will involve 3D printing and the development of materials (gels and gadolinium contrast agent to represent different amounts of iron in different tumour types) to represent tumours of different sizes at different stages of development. You will then image the phantom on the 3T MRI scanner using different MR sequences with different contrast. The goal will be to determine the sensitivity of detection across the range of phantom tumour sizes and types using a range of MRI sequences.

In parallel, you will also have the opportunity to analyze healthy volunteer MRI data collected to set up the MRI sequences used in future liver HCC detection patient studies.


Project title:  Analysis of renal MRI data for the AFiRM study

Project supervisor: Dr Charlotte Buchanan and Prof Sue Francis

Project description: The global burden of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is significant, affecting ~10% of the world’s population. CKD can progress to kidney failure and increases cardiovascular risk. Better imaging methods to determine cause and prognosis are required. Renal multiparametric MRI provides whole kidney structural and functional measurements. 

AFiRM is a multicentre cohort study that will use multiparametric MRI to assess different aspects of kidney structure and function in 450 people with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Participants have renal MRI performed at study entry and again after 2 years. We have recently completed baseline scans for 420 patients.

The aim of this summer project is to contribute to the analysis of data collected within the AFiRM project. This will include the development of MATLAB/ python code and the high performance computer (HPC) to analyse large datasets, evaluation of analysis methods and interrogation of the results. The analysis pipeline consists of machine learning segmentation of T2 weighted images to generate total kidney, cortex, medulla and cyst volumes. Mapping algorithms are implemented to generate T1, T2 and T2* maps. Distortion correction and motion correction techniques are used.

There will also be the opportunity to observe MRI scan sessions of the 2nd year returning cohort of renal patients.


Project title: Fishing for Jellyfish Galaxies with Citizen Science

Project supervisor: Dr Callum Bellhouse

Project description: Jellyfish galaxies are extremely fast-moving galaxies which plunge through the centres of galaxy clusters. They are created when a galaxy falls into a cluster and experiences a drag force imparted by the cluster’s intergalactic medium. This friction can be strong enough to effectively remove the incoming galaxy's gas, in a process known as ram-pressure stripping. In extreme cases, this process can produce spectacular tails of material which trail behind the galaxy, giving them the name “Jellyfish” galaxies. This extreme process makes them fantastic laboratories for astronomers to study the interactions of gas and the formation of stars within galaxies.

We have been running a citizen science project “Fishing for Jellyfish Galaxies” on the Zooniverse platform, and have amassed a sample of just under 50,000 classified objects, of which we expect between 5-30% to be Jellyfish galaxies. This large, labelled dataset gives us the opportunity to test automated detection techniques. The student will compare the results of the citizen science project with the results of ready-made unsupervised machine learning packages such as Zoobot, to explore the possibility to use these packages to select larger samples of Jellyfish Galaxies in future surveys.


Project title:  Improvement of source localisation accuracy by developing anatomical brain MRI/OPM-MEG data co-registration methods.

Project supervisors: Dr Laura Bortolotti and Dr Ryan Hill (SPMIC)

Please note this project is part of Biomedical Vacation Scholarship and the application process is different. To apply to this project, please go to

 Project description: Non-invasive medical imaging has transformed neuroscientific discovery and clinical practice, providing a window into the human brain.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner are used to obtain images of the human body (including organs, bones, muscles and blood vessels) in a noninvasive way using powerful magnet and radio waves to stimulate hydrogen atoms contained in the water molecule of the body. Structural imaging techniques like generate ever more precise images of the brain, but in many cases, it’s the function within the brain neural networks that underlies disease. To fully understand the brain, we must accurately combine functional and structural data. Functional MRI technique provides one way to obtain functional information, but the long-time scale necessary to acquire data makes it clinical impractical for non-cooperative patients, such as children with epilepsy. 

Therefore, different techniques should be used, such as Electroencephalography (EEG) cap and Magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanner as the electrical currents in brain neural networks generate both electric and magnetic fields. The latter pass through the skull and can be measured above the scalp surface using MEG scanner. The new generation of MEG scanner uses sensors called Optically Pumped Magnetometers (OPMs). This offers unique insights into brain electrophysiology, with extremely high temporal resolution. However, OPM-MEG is a functional imaging technique meaning no structural images are acquired. If we want to discern where these magnetic fields originate in the brain (a process called source reconstruction), we must also acquire a structural image (e.g., MRI) and discern the sensor locations and orientations relative to the brain (co-registration). 

This project consists of the development of a new methodology on co-registering an anatomical MRI image of the brain with OPM-MEG sensor locations to improve the localisation of the brain signal. The typical accuracy of co-registration is ~5 millimetre and is hindered by user error– if successful, this technique will greatly reduce user input and bring the accuracy to ~1 mm. 

During the internship, (*) you’ll have the opportunity to work with cutting-edge medical imaging scanners located in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Canter (SPMIC), both MRI and OPM-MEG to acquire data; (*) you’ll will use data acquisition and data analysis software to improve the co-registration and to compare previous and new co-registration results (*) you will improve your experience in team working, programming, and problem solving, and boost your knowledge on various medical imaging techniques. Details of the project will be redefined with you at the beginning of the internship, based on your interest and expectations.

This project can be offered on a part-time basis. 


Project title: Fetal MRI in predicting the risk of still-birth

Project supervisor: Prof Penny Gowland

Project description: We have an ongoing project aiming to use MRI to find markers that predict the risk of stillbirth. We are largely focused on placental function but we also scan the fetus. This project will investigate whether additional information on the fetus can be combined with data on the placenta to provide a better predictor of outcome. This is a very fast moving project so the exact measures to be considered will be defined in the summer, but for instance we predict that MRI will be able to monitor fetal brain deoxygenation in compromised pregnancies. The student will be part of a large multidisciplinary team and will focus on data analysis or coding depending on their skill set.


Project title: Measuring the shielding efficiency of magnetic shields 

Project supervisors: Prof Richard Bowtell and Dr James Leggett

Project description: To measure the small magnetic fields produced by the human body it is usually necessary to use a passive shield to attenuate the much larger Earth’s field and fields from other nearby sources (cars, mains electricity etc). A passive shield usually takes the form of a thin, closed shell of high permeability material (such as mumetal) which draws in the local magnetic flux, diverting it from entering the inside of the shell. Spherical and cylindrical shields are often used for shielding small equipment set-ups, but for human measurements (e.g. in magnetoencephalography = MEG) it is usually necessary to use a magnetically shielded room (MSR). This takes the form of a cuboidal shell, often made of several layers of material. It is important to understand and improve the shielding behaviour of such cuboidal shells in order to optimise the shielding efficiency whilst using the minimum amount of expensive shielding materials. Making measurements in large MSRs is complex. We have therefore developed a measurement set-up for measuring the field inside small cuboidal shields exposed to controlled magnetic fields. The project would involve making and analysing measurements from a range of different shields when exposed to magnetic fields with different spatial and temporal characteristics.

Project title: Effects of head movement in ultra-high field MRI

Project supervisors: Supervisor: Prof Richard Bowtell and Dr Laura Bortolotti          

Project description: Use of ultra-high magnetic fields (> 7T) in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides stronger signals. This allows us to increase the spatial resolution of images used to investigate brain anatomy or function. Unfortunately, the resulting sub-mm resolution images become quite sensitive to small head movements. Methods of monitoring head movement inside the scanner and then using the information recorded to correct the images are therefore important. We have developed an approach that uses a ‘field camera’ to measure the small changes in magnetic field that are produced outside the head when the head moves in the strong magnetic field of the MRI scanner. These changes provide a ‘fingerprint’ of the changes in head position that have occurred, providing information that could be used to improve the quality of images acquired from people who move a little during the scanning. These measurements of extra-cranial field changes may also allow us to predict the small changes in the field inside the head that can also cause imaging problems when the head moves. The project will involve using simulations and measurements made using a field camera on our 7T scanner to evaluate the linkage between extra-cranial field changes and head movement. 







School of Physics and Astronomy

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RD

For all enquiries please visit: