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Fundamental physics with atomic vapours.

Project Description

The Durham Quantum, Light and Matter group is internationally leading on experiments in the field of absolute spectroscopy of atomic vapours. Over more than a decade we have developed a quantitative understanding of the electric susceptibility of an atomic vapour, culminating in the publication of an open-source electric susceptibility code ElecSus [1]. There is a proud tradition of using Atomic Physics to test fundamental physics; spectroscopy of atomic systems was crucial in the development of quantum theory and Quantum Electro Dynamics.

The objective of this project is to analyse the spectrum of Rb vapour in large magnetic fields (we have our own 1.5 Tesla permanent magnet, access to an electromagnet that can achieve up to 8 Tesla, and visits to international facilities to use fields up to 35 Tesla). Precision spectroscopy of atoms in such large fields has yet to be done. Based on recent experimental investigations [2,3, 4] we have identified a way of performing measurements that can give the value of Boltzmann’s constant.
The goals of the project are: (i) a complete characterization of the magneto-optical spectroscopy of Rb vapour in large magnetic fields; (ii) incorporation of precise optical rotation measurement techniques to realise the greatest sensitivity; (iii) performing a range of experiments to understand the statistical and systematic errors for this novel technique. The culmination of this study could be a new definition of the Boltzmann constant, which would have dramatic worldwide impact, as it is the standard which defines temperature in the SI system.

The successful applicant will join a team within the Quantum, Light and Matter group at Durham ( During the Ph. D. the student will receive training in general skills through the QLM graduate course ( as well as project-specific skills E.g. use of frequency-stabilised lasers, data acquisition and analysis, computer control of equipment in the laboratory.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) at least an upper second class integrated masters or a first class bachelor’s degree in Physics or a related subject.

Essential Background: A strong background in physics including experience of: quantum mechanics, atomic structure and optics.

Informal inquiries can be made to Prof. Ifan Hughes ([email protected]). General enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Admissions Team ()

Please submit applications electronically via the Durham University website:

Funding Notes

This project is funded by EPSRC. Full fees and stipend for home students only.


[1] “ElecSus: A program to calculate the electric susceptibility of an atomic ensemble” M. Zentile et al. Computer Physics Communications 189 162-174 (2015).
[2] “Quantitative optical spectroscopy of 87Rb vapour in the Voigt geometry in DC magnetic fields up to 0.4 T” J. Keaveney et al. Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics 52 (5), 055003 (2019).
[3] “Single-photon interference due to motion in an atomic collective excitation”
D. Whiting et al. Physical Review Letters 118 (25), 253601 (2017).
[4] “ElecSus: Extension to arbitrary geometry magneto-optics” J Keaveney et al.
Computer Physics Communications 224, 311-324 (2018).

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