The University of Southampton

Nanophotonics & Metamaterials

We are seeking students with a background in physics, electronic engineering, chemistry or materials science to work with us on a variety of inter-related projects under major nanophotonics research programmes funded by the EPSRC (£5.6M) and the European Research Council (€2.6M).

You will join a strong international team of students, postdoctoral and academic staff working together on aspects of cutting-edge nanophotonics research – seeking to control light and light-matter interactions at the sub-wavelengths scale. A remarkable range of new phenomena is found in this regime, with wide-ranging potential applications in, for example, telecommunications, metrology, sensing, defence, super-resolution imaging, and data storage.

Our projects present opportunity to develop advanced skills in experimental photonics, computational electromagnetic modelling, electron and optical microscopy, high-throughput materials discovery, and nanofabrication.

Group website

PhD Projects:

Microscopy and Metrology with Molecular Resolution

Supervisors: Kevin MacDonald, Jun-Yu Ou, Nikolay Zheludev

Since the invention of the optical microscope in the 17th century and the first observations of microscopic life, improvements in resolving power have been revolutionising sciences across the board. However, after four centuries of research effort, our ability to image objects and their motion at the molecular and atomic scales remains limited. This project will leverage recent advances in topology,  the structuring of optical fields, metamaterials, optical and electron microscopy, and artificial intelligence, to develop methods that allow imaging of nanostructures and biological objects with unprecedented resolution approaching the atomic scale [Science 364, 771 (2019) doi: 10.1126/science.aaw7840; Adv. Sci. 2002886 (2020) doi: 10.1002/advs.202002886]. Such methods will become indispensable in a large range of disciplines and technological applications from the study of life at the nanoscale to nanodevice manufacturing.

New Optics Beyond Hertzian Waves: Anapoles and Flying Donuts  

Supervisors: Nikitas Papasimakis, Nikolay Zheludev

This project represents an exciting opportunity to advance optics and electromagnetism in the first radically new direction to emerge since Hertz, Marconi, Popov and Tesla originally developed technology for generating, detecting, and communicating with transverse electromagnetic waves. We will study the generation, detection, and interaction with matter of “Flying Toroids” - a new type of light pulse never experimentally studied before. The project will also explore their application to new forms of spectroscopy for previously unexplored excitations in matter.

Metamaterial Nano-machines 

Supervisors: Eric Plum, Jun-Yu Ou, Kevin MacDonald, Nikolay Zheludev

The balance among elastic, electromagnetic and quantum forces changes dramatically at the nanometre scale. This project will explore the remarkable range of new opportunities this presents for engineering functional materials that can be mechanically reconfigured at the sub-wavelength scale to control optical properties ‘on demand’ and to realize, for example, low-power nonlinear optical telecom devices,  sensors  and even lasers.

Topology, Topography and Light-Matter Interactions at the Nanoscale

Supervisors: Nikitas Papasimakis, Kevin MacDonald, Nikolay Zheludev

Since the award of the 2016 Nobel Prize for theoretical advances in the topological properties of matter – how mechanical, optical, electronic, magnetic, and biological properties derive from shape rather than intrinsic material properties - topological effects are becoming increasingly important in electronic and photonic media. However, it is not widely appreciated that light can have complex structure at deeply subwavelength scales and the role of topology in light-matter interactions remains largely unexplored, with many open questions. This project will study how structured light fields interact with nanostructured materials and how topology modifies optical forces exerted on matter. Such effects are expected to underpin the development of new applications in imaging, spectroscopy and opto-mechanical nanodevices.

Artificial Intelligence for Nanophotonic Applications

Supervisors: Nikitas Papasimakis, Eric Plum, Kevin MacDonald, Nikolay Zheludev

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the most important new methodologies for scientific research since introduction of quantum mechanics.  With their emergence, computers have become capable of intuition, of learning from experience, and of finding answers to problems that are not fully understood or that are too complex to solve directly. This project will explore some of the extensive and exciting range of application opportunities presented in photonics. Major challenges include information transfer with structured light, inverse design of optical materials with predefined properties, complex light field generation for microscopy with molecular resolution and devices for next-generation metrology, and the study of new forms of optical spectroscopy.

Nano-Electro-Mechanical Systems Hybridised with Liquid Crystals

Supervisors: Vassili Fedotov (ORC) & Malgosia Kaczmarek (Physics & Astronomy)

Nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) are integrated miniature devices, which combine mechanical and electrical components on the nanoscale. They have a potential to become one of the key technologies of the 21st century that can revolutionize both industrial and consumer products. This project aims to develop a new, hybrid class of NEMS, which will incorporate liquid crystals acting as a functional component in the resulting hybrids. We envisage the application of such NEMS for the development of smart, dynamically adaptable (and field-programmable) optical materials and novel sensors.


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