The school has about 90 teaching and research staff. It is housed in the H H Wills Physics Laboratory that has recently undergone a major investment programme designed to create a new state-of-the-art research environment for both students and staff. The latest facility to be added is a new semiconductor processing laboratory (clean room) to support research in quantum photonics and electronic devices. The school is well positioned to carry out cutting-edge research in most major fields of physics.
The School of Physics is one of the leading physics institutes in the United Kingdom, with a strong international reputation in a wide range of research fields. Our research groups are organised as follows:
- Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices
- Correlated Electron Systems
- Interface Analysis Centre
- Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication
- Fundamental Physics
- Particle Physics
- Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface
- Biological, Soft and Complex Matter
- Nanophotonics and Nanophysics
- Theoretical Physics
Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices
Correlated Electron Systems
- Quantum Foundations and Technologies
- Centre for Quantum Photonics
- Quantum Information and Foundations (Theory)
Electrons in a material can order in a huge number of different ways, giving rise to phenomena as diverse as superconductivity, magnetism and the fractional quantum Hall effect. These properties emerge from the complex interactions between the large numbers of electrons and ions present in condensed matter systems. A central challenge of contemporary condensed matter research is to achieve a full understanding of these electronic states of matter. If we can explain why these new states appear, and how we can potentially control them, we hold the keys to unlocking future technologies. These goals are analogous to the development of modern electronics, which followed our understanding of semiconductor physics in the mid-20th century.
In the Correlated Electron Systems group we study the fundamental properties of these exotic materials, with particular emphasis on high temperature superconductivity, novel forms of magnetism and other strongly correlated electron systems, particularly those tuned to a quantum critical point. We investigate their electronic structure and excitations to see how new states of matter emerge, compete and interact. Research is carried out in high magnetic fields, at low temperatures and high pressures. We use a diverse range of experimental probes, including neutrons, x-rays and positrons, as well as electrical/thermal transport, specific heat and magnetisation measurements. These experiments are carried out both in Bristol and at international facilities in the Netherlands, France, Japan and the USA.
Interface Analysis Centre
The world is in the middle of a materials revolution. Materials science and engineering has transformed every aspect of modern living. Advances in engineered materials are crucial to the continued vitality of countless industries. Research at the Interface Analysis Centre plays a key part in this revolution. For more than 25 years we have been actively involved in research on materials and material surfaces, including strong activities in nanoscience and nuclear materials.
The centre provides a vibrant and stimulating environment for postgraduate study. We apply the basic principles of chemistry and physics to understand the structure and properties of materials. As a postgraduate in the centre, you will learn to bridge the gap between science and engineering, becoming an expert not only in your area of study but in materials analysis in general. At the same time you will experience a multidisciplinary research environment and gain valuable exposure to industry. Indeed, since the centre has attracted much additional funding from leading UK companies, there is often the opportunity for PhD studentships to be supplemented with industrial placements and bespoke education and training.
Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication
Research in our group covers many different topics, but all are driven by innovation and technological relevance. The main thrust of the Centre for Device Thermography and Reliability is advancing and understanding the reliability and thermal performance of semiconductor devices (such as GaN and other power electronic devices used in satellites, switches and radars) and developing new materials. The Surface Physics Group researches a wide variety of materials and phenomena, including magnetic nanoparticles, catalysis, ice nucleation, spin transport in organic molecules and electrodeposited ultrathin films. The Diamond and New Energy Group focuses on the synthesis and characterisation of nanostructured, wide-band gap materials for applications in energy harvesting, radiation detectors and electron sources. All the members of the Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication Group have extensive international research links.
The Astrophysics Group studies a range of important phenomena in the Universe, including extrasolar planets, black holes, galaxies, relativistic jets, clusters of galaxies, plasma processes, and cosmology. Observations are made with the world's best ground and space-based telescopes across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves up to gamma rays. Theoretical work is closely tied to the interpretation of observational results, and numerical or computational studies make use of the University of Bristol's powerful supercomputing facilities. Students present their work to the wider scientific community at high-profile international conferences and may be involved in one of the major international projects in which the group participates. The group provides a friendly and dynamic research environment. Graduate-level courses and training in observational, data reduction and numerical techniques are offered. A series of research seminars run throughout the year for graduate students and staff, and subgroups have regular informal meetings to discuss their work and the latest research advances.
The Particle Physics Group is at the forefront of the data analysis and upgrade of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and LHCb experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. Within CMS we are focusing on SUSY and other exotic particle searches and studying properties of the top quark. Within LHCb we are pioneering new methods to measure CP violation, the asymmetry between matter and antimatter, and are studying quantum chromodynamics. Furthermore, the group is involved in developing novel detector technologies and systems, including applications outside particle physics, such as homeland security and medical imaging. Bristol PhD students will usually join one of the experiments and undertake physics analysis as their main activity, and will also be involved in some aspect of the detector operation. There are opportunities for you to focus more on the detector upgrade programme, including hardware research and development and software simulation studies. If you'd like to join us in October 2018 and be involved in looking at fresh data from CERN's Large Hadron Collider, we have opportunities. You could also work on new particle detector techniques using CVD diamond, novel integrated detectors, or new experiments in the area of quark flavour physics.
Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface
Biological, Soft and Complex Matter
The Biological, Soft and Complex Matter Group has research interests spanning hard and soft materials, biological systems and clinical applications. The common goal of the group lies in characterising and understanding micro- and nano-scale materials using complementary techniques to understand fundamental physical and biological processes. This emphasis means that the group engages in a wide range of interdisciplinary collaborations, from the biophysics of cells, membranes and molecules to structural studies of liquid crystals, surfaces and semiconducting glasses. A particular strength of the group is its development and use of scientifically enabling instrumentation for x-ray and neutron scattering, including acoustic levitation for containerless scattering experiments. The group uses state-of-the-art super-resolution microscopy to study jamming and glass formation in colloidal systems and positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy to investigate transport and mobility in polymers and composites. Computer modelling, from molecular to mesoscopic, is also a vital part of the research.
Nanophotonics and Nanophysics
The Nanophotonics and Nanophysics group focuses on the development, application and exploitation of novel imaging and characterisation techniques for biology and medicine. We are internationally renowned for strengths in scanning probe microscopy, nanophotonics and optical forces at the nanoscale, and have state-of-the-art custom-built equipment to pursue experiments in this field of research underpinned by computer simulations.
This unique experimental platform, based on technologies pioneered in Bristol, puts the group in a strong position to collaborate with colleagues from life sciences, biochemistry, medical science, chemistry and engineering, as well as with industrial partners. This lead to a broad spectrum of ongoing multidisciplinary projects that are driven by biological and medical problems. To address these we adapt and further develop our technologies to answer key challenges in areas such as healthy ageing, food security and antibiotic resistance. The group offers unique postgraduate opportunities to develop and apply cutting-edge instrumentation (eg ultrahigh-speed AFM, lateral force microscopy and interferometric cross-polarized microscopy).
Theory is an essential complement to experimental physics, guiding and interpreting real-world results. In the Theory Group in Bristol, we we investigate a range of diverse physical problems, particularly in optical physics and electronic structure of matter, united by common mathematical techniques, especially geometry and topology, special functions and non-linear methods. Our main subject of interest is structured light, as well as the electronic signatures of topology and symmetry breaking in condensed matter systems. We also have a broad interest in applied topology and are currently home to a major project in physical applications of knot theory. This includes investigating topology in wave chaos, topological models of nucleons and biophysical molecules. The theory of condensed matter research in the group is concerned with the description of unconventional and novel phases in the spin, charge, and superconducting order of complex materials. In particular, we focus on material-dependent predictions of experimental observables, such as thermodynamic and transport properties induced by symmetry-breaking transitions. Furthermore, there is significant interest in the group in statistical and soft matter physics. All research directions complement the experimental work of local and international collaborators.
Quantum Foundations and Technologies
Centre for Quantum Photonics
The goal of the Centre for Quantum Photonics is to explore fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics and work towards future photonic quantum technologies by generating, manipulating and measuring single photons, as well as investigating the quantum systems that emit these photons. Students who join the group typically work in one of three key areas of research:
- Quantum computing technologies
- Quantum communications
- Quantum metrology, measurement and control.
In principle, quantum technologies can perform certain tasks that are forever beyond the capabilities of classical machines, such as factoring large numbers or simulating the dynamics of quantum systems. In the multiphoton quantum applications section, we are interested in how ensembles of single photons, controlled with integrated optical circuits, can realise prototypes of these devices. Students can explore a mix of theory and experimentation to devise and demonstrate new protocols for quantum information processing, including quantum simulations, quantum computing and quantum key distribution.
Quantum Information and Foundations (Theory)
Our research focuses on fundamental aspects, such as paradoxes and nonlocality, as well as understanding why quantum mechanics – which is seemingly counterintuitive – is how it is. This work has led to some of the central concepts of the area of quantum information and computation. We are also interested in the foundations of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics.
A PhD in Physics is an essential qualification for a career as a research physicist, whether in industry, academia or elsewhere. It is valued by employers looking for initiative, numeracy and an ability to plan strategically. Our graduates have the potential to work in a variety of fields, from finance to high-technology start-ups. Please see the School of Physics website for examples.