Physics PhD

Why choose this course?

The Department of Physics is home to PhD students from around the world, supported by 34 full-time, research-active academic staff. Our PhD research programmes provide opportunities for experimental, theoretical and computational research in both fundamental and applied physics, in subjects such as nuclear and radiation physics, astrophysics, photonics, soft matter, quantum technologies and medical physics. We’re a friendly and engaging academic community, and can offer a wide variety of support, training and social activities. 

You’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with scientists around the world, and take advantage of our strategic partnerships with organisations such as the National Physical Laboratory and the Royal Surrey County Hospital. We’re part of the South-East Physics network of nine leading university physics departments (SEPnet), and you’ll become part of its graduate network (GRADnet), the largest postgraduate research school in England. 

We have an excellent graduate employability record, and the collaborative, interdisciplinary and industry-relevant nature of our research means you’ll make contacts, gain skills and get practical experience that will give you an edge with employers. 

Our research ranges from fundamental nuclear theory to applied research in semiconductor devices. Our nuclear physics group is the largest combined experimental and theoretical group in its field in the UK. Our research in astrophysics is dynamic and rapidly growing, and our latest research in quantum technology has resulted in publications in top international journals. Our research often has strong practical applications, such as the strained layer laser that is today ubiquitous in information technology. 

The most recent (2014) Research Excellence Framework (REF) rated 84 per cent of our research output as world-leading or internationally excellent, and our undergraduate programmes were ranked 8th nationally by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016, and 10th by the Complete University Guide 2017.

What you will study

It normally takes between three and four years of full-time study to complete our PhD in Physics. 

You’ll be assigned two supervisors, both based at the University of Surrey. Your principal supervisor will be an expert in your area of research, and will guide you through your PhD. Together, your supervisors will help you define the objectives and scope of your research, and help you learn the experimental, theoretical and computing skills that you need to complete your research. Normally, you’ll meet with your supervisors every week or every other week. 

As a doctoral student in the Department of Physics, you’ll be assigned to a research group with a team of academics, postdoctoral researchers, guest scientists and fellows. Each group has its own seminar programme, giving you the opportunity to learn from colleagues and from guest scientists. 

You’ll have regular opportunities to meet other PhD students, academics and other staff at our informal postgraduate research forum meetings, and to get involved in organising social or other events. 

You’ll complete a confirmation report after 12 months that’s assessed by independent examiners. Your PhD will be assessed overall by a written thesis after studying for at least three years. 

In addition to the award of a PhD, as a doctoral student you’ll be able to join the Institute of Physics as an Associate Member, and entitled to apply for full membership after three years of postgraduate study.

Course facts

Qualification Study mode Course length Start date
PhD Full-time 48 months July
PhD Full-time 48 months October
PhD Full-time 48 months January
PhD Full-time 48 months April
PhD Part-time 96 months January
PhD Part-time 96 months April
PhD Part-time 96 months July
PhD Part-time 96 months October
Stag Hill

Additional costs

There are additional costs that you can expect to incur when studying at Surrey. Find out more.

Code of practice for research degrees

Surrey’s postgraduate research code of practice sets out the University's policy and procedural framework relating to research degrees.

The code defines a set of standard procedures and specific responsibilities covering the academic supervision, administration and assessment of research degrees for all faculties within the University.

Download the code of practice for research degrees (PDF).

Our students

  • Katie Ley, PhD Medical Physics

    “The research I’m conducting could assist and improve procedures for many patients; it’s a good feeling to be researching something that could make a difference!”

    Read more

  • Elaine Zhu, MSc Radiation and Environmental Protection

    “For me, Surrey was the best choice based on quality of education, reputation, environment and location.”

    Read more

  • Hamed Alshammari, MSc Radiation and Environmental Protection

    “I’ve found that the academic staff in the Department of Physics are friendly, enthusiastic, and always encourage you to do your best.”

    Read more


Research themes

  • Astrophysics
    • Multi-scale numerical simulations
    • Stellar clusters
    • Galaxy formation
    • Supermassive black holes
    • The hunt for dark matter
  • Nuclear and Radiation Physics
    • Experimental nuclear physics
      • Physics of exotic nuclei studied with gamma ray spectroscopy, charged particle spectroscopy and radioactive beams
    • Theoretical nuclear physics
      • Few body models of nuclear structure and reactions
      • Reactions of halo nuclei
      • Structurally deformed nuclei
    • Radiation detectors
      • Fundamental detector physics
      • New materials and technologies for detectors
    • Medical physics
      • Trace elements in the body
      • Realistic phantoms for medical imaging
      • Applications of X-ray tomography
      • Radiation transport
    • Environmental radioactivity
      • Gamma ray spectroscopy
      • Distribution of radioactivity due to natural and man-made processes
  • Photonics and Quantum Sciences
    • unconventional semiconductors and nanostructures for new types of lasers and detectors
    • quantum technology based on silicon
    • femtosecond dynamics of electron spins
    • exciton photo-physics in nanostructures
    • quasi-random photonic crystals
    • control of qubits in circuit quantum electrodynamics
  • Soft Matter
    • Integration of nanoscale materials into functional devices
    • Non-equilibrium processes in polymer colloids
    • Protein nanopatterns
    • Soft polymers and nanocomposites in adhesives
    • Theoretical and computational soft matter
    • Fluid dynamics and porous media: magnetic resonance imaging and computational simulation

Research facilities

PhD students in the Department of Physics at Surrey enjoy a stimulating research environment with access to leading-edge facilities supported by dedicated teams of technical and IT support staff.  Some of the larger facilities are listed here, with further details available on the web pages of individual research groups. 

Research in condensed matter and semiconductor physics is supported by specialist facilities for low temperatures, high magnetic fields and high pressures, in addition to extensive resources for electrical and optical characterisation. An ultrafast (femtosecond) laser laboratory has been augmented with sources of terahertz radiation in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory. The Soft Matter laboratories comprise a comprehensive suite of facilities for microstructural and complete optical/electrical/thermal characterisation of novel materials from atomic force microscopes to ellipsometry. Nuclear magnetic resonance facilities allow study of water transport in important structural materials. 

The interdisciplinary Advanced Technology Institute provides access to facilities related to nanotechnology, including chemical synthesis laboratories, class 100 clean rooms for fabrication of electronic and photonic devices, electron microscopy and focussed ion beams, and extensive ion beam analysis through Surrey’s Ion Beam centre. 

Students also make use of leading international experimental facilities ranging from free-electron lasers for quantum technology research to a wide range of facilities for nuclear experimental physics. Theoretical research in all the department’s research areas is supported through high performance computational clusters. 

Lots of our postgraduate research is collaborative and often requires travel for meetings with other researchers, and to access specialised facilities.

Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a first or upper-second class degree in a relevant discipline (or equivalent overseas qualification), or a lower second plus a good Masters degree (distinction normally required).

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.

Selection process

Selection is based on applicants meeting the expected entry requirements, assessment of application, successful interview and suitable references where required.

Students are initially registered for a PhD with probationary status and, subject to satisfactory progress, subsequently confirmed as having PhD status.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time July £4,195 £20,000
Full-time October To be confirmed To be confirmed
Full-time January £4,195 £20,000
Full-time April £4,195 £20,000
Part-time January £2,100 £10,000
Part-time April £2,100 £10,000
Part-time July £2,100 £10,000
Part-time October To be confirmed To be confirmed

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2017/18 only. All fees are subject to annual review.

Overseas students applying for 2018 entry should note that annual fees will rise by 4% rounded up to the nearest £100.

A complete list of all fees for our research programmes

Funding and studentships

Doctoral College Studentship Award

Supervisor(s) To be confirmed
Funding Doctoral College, University of Surrey
Application deadline 13 November 2017

Mechanically induced phase transitions in Liquid Crystal Elastomers


Dr James Adams


Funding Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Application deadline Ongoing
Opportunities across all subjects

Contact us

General enquiries:

+44 (0)1483 681 681

  • Register for a Postgraduate Research Webinar