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Unscrambling light for next generation imaging systems, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences – PhD (Funded)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Imagine looking through a frosted glass window: the scene on the other side is distorted and the detail cannot be discerned. Now hold up a second piece of frosted glass in front of the first - suddenly you can see clearly through both as if they were transparent. This second piece of frosted glass doesn’t currently exist. The aim of this project is to design and build it.

Unscrambling light in this way enables more than simply looking through frosted glass: it heralds a range of powerful new applications to the fields of in vivo imaging, microscopy and blind 3D ranging (e.g. looking around corners), promising systems capable of imaging in situations previously considered intractable. For example, infra-red light can penetrate biological tissue, but the scattering scrambles spatial information it carries making direct imaging impossible. Understanding how to design and build devices that unscramble this light will allow us to take the first steps towards high-resolution imaging inside the body, with harmless non-ionizing radiation. In addition, development of these new light-shaping systems simultaneously offer a wealth of new applications in, for example, optical computing, optical communications, and quantum optics.

This challenging project builds upon a number of recent computational and experimental breakthroughs, such as new beam shaping techniques in which the supervisory team lots of experience [1, 2, 3]. Therefore, realizing the first of these systems is now within our reach. This is a primarily experimental project, although it will also involve some computational simulations, and programming for data analysis. There is a range of directions that the research can take, and during the latter stages of the project you will be encouraged to develop and follow your own ideas in this exciting new field.

In summary: This is an experimental project to develop new light beam shaping technologies and explore their applications to next generation imaging systems and beyond. You will be based in the University of Exeter physics department, and conduct your research in brand new dedicated laser lab facilities. During the project you will develop significant expertise in programming, optical system design and, more generally, the fields of photonics and imaging. Throughout the project, there will also be opportunity to develop your communication skills through publication of peer-reviewed papers and attendance at international conferences. This research project would ideally suit a candidate with a background in one of the following disciplines: Physics, Electronic Engineering, Bioengineering, Computer Science, Natural Sciences, although we are open to any enthusiastic applicant with a science related background – you will learn the skills you need on the job.

This award covers UK/EU/international tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay UK/EU/international tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,777 per year tax-free stipend. The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years full-time study commencing in September 2019 or earlier.

This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under to European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 804626).


[1] D.B Phillips et al. "Adaptive foveated single-pixel imaging with dynamic supersampling." Science advances 3.4 (2017): e1601782.

[2] S. Turtaev et al. "Comparison of nematic liquid-crystal and DMD based spatial light modulation in complex photonics." Optics express 25.24 (2017): 29874-29884.

[3] Horsley, S. A. R., M. Artoni, and G. C. La Rocca. "Spatial Kramers–Kronig relations and the reflection of waves." Nature Photonics 9.7 (2015): 436.

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