Why choose this programme
The Department of Physics is home to PhD students from around the world, supported by 34 full-time, research-active academic staff. Our PhD 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 we 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 gives you an edge with employers.
Our research ranges from fundamental topics in nuclear theory and astrophysics, to applied research in semiconductor devices and medical physics. 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.
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 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 you’ll be entitled to apply for full membership after three years of postgraduate study.
Your final assessment will be based on the presentation of your research in a written thesis, which will be discussed in a viva examination with at least two examiners. You have the option of preparing your thesis as a monograph (one large volume in chapter form) or in publication format (including chapters written for publication), subject to the approval of your supervisors.
The professional development of postgraduate researchers is supported by the Doctoral College, which provides training in essential skills through its Researcher Development Programme of workshops, mentoring and coaching. A dedicated postgraduate Careers and Employability team will help you prepare for a successful career after the completion of your PhD.
- Multi-scale numerical simulations
- Stellar clusters
- Galaxy formation
- Supermassive black holes
- The hunt for dark matter
- Nuclear and Radiation Physics.
- Gamma ray spectroscopy
- Distribution of radioactivity due to natural and man-made processes.
- Optimised sensor placement for radiological research
- Detection of radioactive concealed structures
Experimental nuclear physics
- Physics of exotic nuclei studied with gamma ray spectroscopy, charged particle spectroscopy and radioactive beams.
- Trace elements in the body
- Realistic phantoms for medical imaging
- Applications of X-ray tomography
- Radiation transport
- Radiobiology (biological effectiveness and modelling)
- Dosimetry and micro-dosimetry
- Advanced radiotherapy
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
- How quantum coherence is maintained in biological energy harvesting
- The impact of biological noise in quantum coherence
- Fundamental detector physics
- New materials and technologies for detectors
- Novel algorithms and data handling for radiation detectors
- Integration of nanoscale materials into functional devices
- Non-equilibrium processes in polymer colloids
- Soft polymers and nanocomposites in adhesives
- Computational soft matter, water dynamics in porous media and biological physics
- Fluid dynamics and porous media: magnetic resonance imaging and computational simulation
- Living microbes in hybrid functional materials
- Responsive emulsions and microcapsules
- Adhesives from natural, renewable sources
Theoretical nuclear physics
- Ab initio nuclear structure
- Reactions for stellar nucleosynthesis
- Few body methods for nuclear structure and reactions
- Nuclear matter and neutron stars
- Superheavy nuclei and the creation of new elements
- Resonances and vibrational modes of nuclei
Our academic staff
PhD students in Surrey’s Department of Physics enjoy a stimulating research environment with access to cutting-edge facilities supported by dedicated teams of technical and IT support staff. Some of the larger facilities are listed below, 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 focused 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. This often requires travel for meetings with other researchers and to access specialised facilities.
Medical physics research will benefit from access to clinical radiation facilities available at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and the National Physical Laboratory.
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).
International entry requirements by country
English language requirements
IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.
View the other English language qualifications that we accept.
If you do not currently meet the level required for your programme, we offer intensive pre-sessional English language courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.
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.
Start date: October 2021
Start date: January 2022
Start date: April 2022
Start date: July 2022
For fees payable in 2020/21, these will increase by 4 per cent, rounded up to the nearest £100 for subsequent years of study. Any start date other than October will attract a pro-rata fee for that year of entry (75 per cent for January, 50 per cent for April and 25 per cent for July).
Overseas students applying for 2021 entry should note that annual fees will rise by 4% rounded up to the nearest £100.
There are additional costs that you can expect to incur when studying at Surrey. Find out more.
A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course.
How to apply
If you are applying for a studentship to work on a particular project, you should enter the details of the specific project that you wish to apply for rather than your own research proposal.
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).
Terms and conditions
When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and regulations, and our terms and conditions. These terms and conditions are provided in two stages: first when we make an offer and second when students who have accepted their offers register to study at the University. View our offer terms and conditions and our generic registration terms and conditions (PDF) as a guide as to what to expect.
Please note: our offer terms and conditions will be available in the September of the calendar year prior to the year in which you begin your studies. Our registration terms and conditions will vary to take into account specifics of your course.
This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the academic year to which it applies. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read more.