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PhD in Physics and Astronomy - Frontiers in the quantum theory of energy transfer

College of Science and Engineering

Thursday, December 31, 2020 Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Interatomic and intermolecular energy transfer underpins a broad range of biological processes (e.g. light-harvesting complexes in plants) as well as technological devices (e.g. solar cells). It has even been suggested that the high efficiency of energy transfer within plants relies on quantum effects, but this remains controversial. While the basic mechanism of energy transfer has been known and broadly understood for a number of decades, recently progress in (and synthesis between) theoretical, computational and experimental physics has led to an explosion in the range and complexity of energy transfer-like processes. These include the prediction and discovery of related phenomena (e.g. interatomic Coulombic decay), new methods of external control with strong fields, and a progression from few to many-body physics. All of these have advances have required the development of novel theoretical approaches. For example, quantum electrodynamical density functional theory (QEDFT) can bridge the gap between the quantum-optical picture of an atom (point-like dipole) and the quantum chemical picture of an atom (smeared out electron orbitals). Another developing theory is inverse design, where structures that mould the flow of energy from a donor to an acceptor are designed automatically by an algorithm that is given a specific design goal.

In this project you will use these techniques and others as appropriate to push the boundaries of the efficiency of energy transfer between atoms and molecules, with applications in solar cells, radiation biology and biomimetics. You will use a flexible mixture of pen-and-paper calculation and computational techniques, becoming familiar with (at least) Python and a newer language called Julia if appropriate. A successful applicant will likely have some undergraduate training in quantum theory and ideally quantum optics, though enthusiasm, creativity and commitment are more important than particular experience.

Project team and where the student will be based

Based in the School of Physics and Astronomy within the College of Science and Engineering, the candidates will reside in the Quantum Theory group headed by Prof. Stephen Barnett, working directly with Dr. Robert Bennett. The Quantum Theory Group has a broad range of interests, including quantum information, quantum thermodynamics and light-matter interactions. The topic also offers scope for interdisciplinary research with the School of Chemistry. While being based in Quantum Theory, the candidates will have the opportunity to initiate and develop collaborative work amongst these groups within Glasgow and elsewhere.

Applicants should demonstrate the following:

Academic Qualifications:

Applicants must have a first-class or strong upper second class degree or equivalent in Physics, ideally with a theory focus. Exceptional candidates from closely-related disciplines will also be considered.


Problem-solving skills and research creativity, able to connect different areas of physics
Self-motivation, initiative and independent thought/working
Excellent interpersonal skills including team working and a collegiate approach
Excellent communication skills (oral and written) in an appropriate range of contexts

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and the position will remain open until filled. Start dates in early 2021 would be ideal.

How to Apply: Please refer to the following website for details on how to apply:

Funding Notes

Funding is available to cover tuition fees for UK applicants 3.5 years, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate (estimated £15,285 for Session 2020-21).

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