The University of Southampton

Nanophotonics & Metamaterials

Our Nanophotonics and metamaterials group are world-leaders in these burgeoning research fields. Having received the most prestigious UK funding awards, including two £5-6M Programme grants on photonic metamaterials, a Portfolio grant on nanophotonics, and a Basic Technology grant on optical super-resolution.

The fields of nanophotonics and metamaterials are concerned with achieving efficient control over light on the nanoscale, where a remarkable range of new phenomena are found with wide-ranging potential applications in low-power, high-speed, ultra-small devices.

We anticipate that the next photonic revolution will be fuelled by a dependence upon photonic metamaterials and nanophotonic devices, leading to dramatic new science and applications on a global scale.

We target the development of functional nanostructured photonic media to provide ground-breaking solutions for telecoms, energy and light generation, imaging, lithography, data storage, sensing, and security and defence applications. These goals will be achieved by advancing the physics of the control, guiding and amplification of light in nanostructures and by developing new nanofabrication techniques, hybridization processes, and procedures for the integration of novel nanostructures.

We are seeking bright and highly motivated postgraduate research students of outstanding calibre (with backgrounds in physics, materials science and related subjects) to work in several areas at the intersection of spectroscopy, nonlinear optics, and nanophotonics:

Group website

PhD Projects:

Magneto-optical phenomena in dielectric metamaterials (UK/EU applicants)

Supervisors: Kevin MacDonald, Nikolay Zheludev

Advanced materials can offer dramatically enhanced and completely new modes of interaction between light, matter, and electric or magnetic signals in ultrathin films, opening the door to an era of ‘flat optics’ and a step-change in the miniaturization of optical devices. This PhD project is sponsored by the British multinational advanced technology company QinetiQ ( under the Dstl Materials for Strategic Advantage (MSA) programme. It will investigate magneto-optic effects in planar metamaterials, looking at ways in which new materials and nanostructures can provide novel and/or enhanced functionalities, such as components transmitting light only in one direction and optical switches controlled by magnetic field. (Applicants for this project must be a UK or EU nationals; dual nationals may be considered.)

Detecting weak magnetic fields through Nano-mechanical motion (UK/EU applicants)

Supervisors: Eric Plum, Nikolay Zheludev

One of the central themes of our research programme is the development of metamaterials comprising nanoscale building blocks that can be moved by external forces [e.g. due to electrical/magnetic signals or light illumination; see: Nature Nanotechnology 11, 16 (2016)]. Nanoscale motion of this kind can radically change the optical properties of matter and will enable the development of a new generation of optical devices such as re-focusable flat lenses, dynamic holographic displays, optical components with programmable properties, and micro-sensors of electromagnetic fields and forces. This PhD project will look at the intriguing physics of the interplay between electromagnetic and mechanical forces at the nanoscale and will aim to develop practical nano-mechanical metamaterial-enabled photonic sensor devices.

Seeing the unseen with standing light waves

Supervisors: Eric Plum, Nikolay Zheludev

The interaction of optical standing waves with nanostructured thin films - so-called ‘metasurfaces’ - has enabled many of our recent breakthroughs in signal processing, image recognition, and quantum optics [ACS Photonics (2017) doi: 10.1021/acsphotonics.7b00921]. Standing wave light fields present an unexplored opportunity to characterize thin-film materials in ways that are not possible using existing techniques. This PhD project will explore the physics of photonic metasurface interactions with standing waves and on this basis will develop new imaging and spectroscopic techniques for materials characterization and the exploration of new optical phenomena.

Merging metamaterial and optical fibre technologies

Supervisors: Nikolay Zheludev, Eric Plum

The integration of new functional materials and metamaterial-enabled devices with optical fibre telecommunications technology is the core mission of our photonic metamaterials research programme. This PhD project will investigate and demonstrate ways in which metamaterials can help to guide and control light signals in optical fibres, by engaging a variety of phenomena such as structural phase transitions in nanostructured and confined solids, nano-mechanical motion, or nonlinear and coherent light-matter interactions.

The optics of exotic materials and metamaterials

Supervisors: Kevin MacDonald, Behrad Gholipour, Nikolay Zheludev

The University of Southampton is home to a unique ‘materials discovery’ facility enabling synthesis of thin films composed of almost any combination of elements to achieve designer optical materials with unique characteristics: For example, extremely high- or low-refractive index media; materials with properties that can be switched by light, electric or magnetic signals; and ‘topological insulators’ with intriguing electromagnetic surface states. This PhD project will investigate how these advanced materials can be used to create new functionalities for photonic applications and to enhance the performance of metamaterial devices.

Nonlinear metamaterials for resilient photonic devices

Supervisors: Nikitas Papasimakis, Nikolay Zheludev

Real-word applications of photonic metamaterial devices are often limited by stringent fabrication requirements, and the possibility that minor damage or changes in the physical environment can change the optical properties of the metamaterial to such an extent that devices no longer function within prescribed parameters. This PhD project will build on recent developments in the field of nonlinear metamaterials to develop novel design paradigms for devices that are resilient to disorder, damage and fabrication imperfections.

New nanophotonic technology for unlabelled super-resolution bio-imaging

Supervisors: Nikolay Zheludev, Peter J. Smith (Director, IfLS), Ed Rogers

Our group has pioneered a new super-resolution imaging technology that allows microscopy with resolution far beyond the diffraction limit of conventional systems, which is now being deployed and tested at the university’s Institute for Life Sciences to study living cells. Our unique instrument harnesses the power of optical “super-oscillations” and the precise control of polarized light to enable the imaging of unlabelled living cells with super-resolution. This PhD project will explore applications of this ground-breaking technology to biological systems, and work on new physical developments and technologies to improve its usefulness and widen its impact.

Nano-motion imaging electron microscopy

Supervisors: Bruce Ou, Nikolay Zheludev

Electronic, photonic and mechanical devices grow ever smaller – some are now just a few tens of atoms in size, with single-atom devices in prospect. This trend generates a need for increasingly sophisticated measurement tools for device characterisation. While conventional electron microscopy is normally used to study static objects, recent progress in nanotechnology demands new techniques for characterization of fast nanoscale mechanical movements. Such movements – often at GHz frequencies and of only a few nanometres in magnitude - underpin the functionalities of MEMS and NEMS devices and sensors (found in any smart phone), reconfigurable micro-mechanical switches for telecommunication networks, and emerging smart materials and photonic metadevices. This PhD project will develop a new nanoscale imaging microscopy technique that is sensitive to movements at the nanoscale. It will provide direct information on the frequency spectrum of natural mechanical modes or induced oscillations in nanostructures and allow accurate spatial mapping (imaging) of such modes.

Optical computer on a fibre-tip

Supervisors: Vassili Savinov, Nikolay Zheludev

Light guided by optical fibres is the ultimate method of high-bandwidth information delivery. Low-loss, rugged and cheap to manufacture, fibres are used extensively in telecommunications, and thus underpin our 21st century internet society. However the processing and routing of optical signals is still carried out in planar optoelectronic circuits. This creates an integration problem. The aim of this project is to develop technologies for implementing nanoscale photonic circuits directly on optical fibres - “fibre-tip nanophotonics”. Potential applications for this technology extend far beyond telecommunications, to biomedical monitoring, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and quantum cryptography.

Ionic metasurfaces

Supervisors: Behrad Gholipour, Nikolay Zheludev

Future communications network architectures will require a new generation of adaptable highly-integrated devices that are capable of optical switching/modulation functions. The controlled, reversible movement of ions in certain semiconductors is a possible, but as yet unexplored mechanism for such modulation. Ionic movement can result in substantial changes of material properties (refractive index and conductivity) at the nanoscale, which are already being exploited in electronic memristors and solid-electrolyte batteries. Within this PhD project we will synthesize and characterize novel material platforms for the application of ion movement effects to active photonic metamaterial and plasmonic devices.

Free-electron nanophotonics

Supervisors: Kevin MacDonald, Nikolay Zheludev

When free-electrons fly past or impact on nanostructures, they generate light and such interactions can be used to create new types of tuneable nanoscale light sources. Moreover, the light generated can serve as a probe – providing detailed information about the nanostructure itself. This PhD project, involving close collaboration with partners at The Photonics Institute in Singapore, will engage a new type of electron source that generates ultrashort pulses. This presents us with a unique opportunity to develop novel nanoscale optical sources and to study nanostructures with an unprecedented combination of spatial and temporal resolution, and so to investigate how advanced material platforms and nanostructures can provide novel free-electron functionalities for photonics at the nanoscale.

Optical anapole physics and spectroscopy

Supervisors: Nikitas Papasimakis, Nikolay Zheludev

Toroidal dipole excitations and electromagnetic anapoles were first observed at the ORC and are now are subject of growing interest because of their unusual electromagnetic properties [see: Nature Mater. 15, 263 (2016)]. This PhD project will pursue proof-of principle demonstrations of a new type of optical spectroscopy sensitive to toroidal transitions and anapole modes in matter. We aim to develop a unique new tool for investigating the physics of interactions and energy/information transfer involving toroidal excitations at the molecular and macro-molecular level in artificially structured media and biologically important systems.

Hybrid Nano-Elecro-Mechanical Systems for Controlling Light and Sensing 

Supervisor: Vassili Fedotov

Co-supervisor: Malgosia Kaczmarek (Physics)

Nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) are integrated miniature devices, which normally combine mechanical and electrical components at the nanoscale. They have the potential to become one of the key technologies of the 21st century that can revolutionize both industrial and consumer products. In this project we aim to develop a new, hybrid class of NEMS for applications in smart optical materials (metamaterials) and sensors that will feature reliable, dynamically adaptable behaviour and field-programmable functions. Our approach is based on integrating NEMS with liquid crystals and exploiting the latter as a functional component of the resulting hybrids.

The successful candidate will work in an interdisciplinary environment in collaboration with colleagues from soft-matter and microsystems groups. The candidate will have access to the Southampton University’s state-of-the-art cleanroom complex and laboratories, with the opportunity to engage in a broad range of activities from nanofabrication and optical characterization to numerical modelling. The project offers an opportunity for scientific and hands-on training in the techniques relevant both to academia and R&D, providing the student with sufficient expertise to become a driver of the new technology.

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