Find a programme
Run by Faculty of Science
Awards available PhD , MSc by research
Programme length PhD: Three years full-time
MSc by research: One year full-time
Location of programme Clifton campus
Part-time study available Yes
Open to international students Yes
Start date Not fixed but the usual start date is in September

Programme overview

Physics, with its concern for understanding the universe at a fundamental level, lies at the heart of scientific discovery. The School of Physics at Bristol has made major contributions to the field including the discovery of the pi meson (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1950) and fundamental advances in quantum mechanics. Researchers within the school explore physics at all scales, from the cosmological to the sub-nuclear, including strong activities in nanoscience and condensed matter physics. The graduate school is an integral part of the School of Physics and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of graduate training, both in academic skills and more generic transferable skills.

Prospective PhD and MSc by Research students are encouraged to contact potential supervisors before making an application, although this is not compulsory. Applications that identify the research group of greatest interest from those listed below will also be accepted.

Fees for 2017/18

Full-time fees


Fees quoted are provisional, per annum and subject to annual increase.

Alumni scholarship

University of Bristol students and graduates can benefit from a ten per cent reduction in tuition fees for postgraduate study. Check your eligibility for an alumni scholarship.

Funding for 2017/18

The school provides financial support for PhD students from a number of sources, including research councils, industry and scholarships. For further details, see the School of Physics website.

Further information on funding for prospective UK, EU and international postgraduate students.

Entry requirements

A first degree in physics or a related subject, normally at a level equivalent to at least UK honours 2:1 level, or a relevant postgraduate Master's qualification.

See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.

Application method Online application form
English language requirements Profile F
Further information about English language requirements
Admissions statement Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.

Research groups

The school has about 90 teaching and research staff. It is housed in the H H Wills Physics Laboratory that has recently undergone a major investment programme designed to create a new state-of-the-art research environment for both students and staff. The latest facility to be added is a new semiconductor processing laboratory (clean room) to support research in quantum photonics and electronic devices. The school is well positioned to carry out cutting-edge research in most major fields of physics.

The School of Physics is one of the leading physics institutes in the United Kingdom, with a strong international reputation in a wide range of research fields. Our research groups are organised as follows:

  • Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices
    • Correlated Electron Systems
    • Interface Analysis Centre
    • Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication
  • Fundamental Physics
    • Astrophysics
    • Particle Physics
  • Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface
    • Biological, Soft and Complex Matter
    • Nanophotonics and Nanophysics
    • Theoretical Physics
  • Quantum Foundations and Technologies
    • Centre for Quantum Photonics
    • Quantum Information and Foundations (Theory)

Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices

Correlated Electron Systems

Electrons in a material can order in a huge number of different ways, giving rise to phenomena as diverse as superconductivity, magnetism and the fractional quantum Hall effect. These properties emerge from the complex interactions between the large numbers of electrons and ions present in condensed matter systems. A central challenge of contemporary condensed matter research is to achieve a full understanding of these electronic states of matter. If we can explain why these new states appear, and how we can potentially control them, we hold the keys to unlocking future technologies. These goals are analogous to the development of modern electronics, which followed our understanding of semiconductor physics in the mid-20th century. In the Correlated Electron Systems group we study the fundamental properties of these exotic materials, with particular emphasis on high temperature superconductivity, novel forms of magnetism and other strongly correlated electron systems, particularly those tuned to a quantum critical point. We investigate their electronic structure and excitations to see how new states of matter emerge, compete and interact. Research is carried out in high magnetic fields, at low temperatures and high pressures. We use a diverse range of experimental probes, including neutrons, x-rays and positrons, as well as electrical/thermal transport, specific heat and magnetisation measurements. These experiments are carried out both in Bristol and at international facilities in the Netherlands, France, Japan and the USA.

Interface Analysis Centre

The world is in the middle of a materials revolution. Materials science and engineering has transformed every aspect of modern living. Advances in engineered materials are crucial to the continued vitality of countless industries. Research at the Interface Analysis Centre plays a key part in this revolution. For more than 25 years we have been actively involved in research on materials and material surfaces, including strong activities in nanoscience and nuclear materials.

The centre continues to provide a vibrant and stimulating environment for postgraduate study. We apply the basic principles of chemistry and physics to understand the structure and properties of materials. As a postgraduate in the centre, you will learn to bridge the gap between science and engineering, becoming an expert not only in your area of study but in materials analysis in general. At the same time you will experience a multidisciplinary research environment and gain valuable exposure to industry. Indeed, since the centre has attracted much additional funding from leading UK companies, there is often the opportunity for PhD studentships to be supplemented with industrial placements and bespoke education and training.

Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication

Research in our group covers many different topics, but all are driven by innovation and technological relevance. The main thrust of the Centre for Device Thermography and Reliability is advancing and understanding the reliability and thermal performance of semiconductor devices (such as GaN and other power electronic devices used in satellites, switches and radars) and developing new materials. The Surface Physics Group researches a wide variety of materials and phenomena, including magnetic nanoparticles, catalysis, ice nucleation, spin transport in organic molecules and electrodeposited ultrathin films. The Electron Microscopy Group has an outstanding reputation in transmission electron microscopy, and has a special focus on nanomaterials for solar cells and light emitting devices. The Diamond and New Energy Group focuses on the synthesis and characterisation of nanostructured, wide band gap materials for applications in energy harvesting, radiation detectors and electron sources. All the members of the Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication Group have extensive international research links.

Fundamental Physics


The Astrophysics Group studies a variety of interesting phenomena in the universe, including extrasolar planets, black holes, galaxies, relativistic jets, clusters of galaxies, plasma physics and cosmology. Observations of these systems are made with the world's best ground and space-based telescopes across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves up to gamma rays. PhD students often have the opportunity to visit a major observatory in Australia, Chile, Hawaii or the Canary Islands. Theoretical work is closely tied to the interpretation of this data, and numerical or computational studies make use of the University of Bristol's powerful supercomputing facilities. Students present their work to the wider scientific community at high-profile international conferences. The group provides a friendly and dynamic research environment. Graduate-level courses and training in observational, data reduction and numerical techniques are offered. A series of research seminars run throughout the year for graduate students and staff, and many subgroups have regular informal meetings to discuss their work and the latest research advances.

Particle Physics

The Particle Physics Group is at the forefront of the data analysis and upgrade of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and LHCb experiments at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. Within CMS we are focusing on SUSY and other exotic particle searches and studying properties of the top quark.

Within LHCb we are pioneering new methods to measure CP violation, the asymmetry between matter and antimatter, and are studying quantum chromodynamics. Furthermore, the group is involved in developing novel detector technologies and systems, including applications outside particle physics such as homeland security and medical imaging. Bristol PhD students will usually join one of the experiments and undertake physics analysis as their main activity, and will also be involved in some aspect of the detector operation. There are opportunities for you to focus more on the detector upgrade programme, including hardware research and development and software simulation studies. If you'd like to join us in October 2017 and be involved in looking at fresh data from CERN's Large Hadron Collider, we have opportunities. You could also work on new particle detector techniques using CVD diamond, novel integrated detectors, or new experiments in the area of quark flavour physics.

Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface

Biological, Soft and Complex Matter

The Biological, Soft and Complex Matter Group has research interests spanning hard and soft materials, biological systems and clinical applications. The common goal of the group lies in characterising and understanding micro- and nano-scale materials using complementary techniques to understand fundamental physical and biological processes. This emphasis means that the group engages in a wide range of interdisciplinary collaborations, from the biophysics of cells, membranes and molecules to structural studies of liquid crystals, surfaces and semiconducting glasses. A particular strength of the group is its development and use of scientifically enabling instrumentation for x-ray and neutron scattering, including acoustic levitation for containerless scattering experiments. The group uses state-of-the-art super-resolution microscopy to study jamming and glass formation in colloidal systems and positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy to investigate transport and mobility in polymers and composites. Computer modelling, from molecular to mesoscopic, is also a vital part of the research.

Nanophotonics and Nanophysics

The Nanophotonics and Nanophysics group focuses on the development, application and exploitation of novel imaging and characterisation techniques for biology and medicine. It is internationally renowned for strengths in scanning probe microscopy, nanophotonics and optical forces at the nanoscale, and has state-of-the-art custom-built equipment to pursue experiments in this field of research underpinned by computer simulations.

This unique experimental platform, based on technologies pioneered in Bristol, puts the group in a strong position to collaborate with colleagues from life sciences, biochemistry, medical science, chemistry and engineering, as well as with industrial partners. This lead to a broad spectrum of ongoing multidisciplinary projects that are driven by biological and medical problems. To address these we adapt and further develop our technologies to answer key challenges in areas such as healthy ageing, food security and antibiotic resistance. The group offers unique postgraduate opportunities to develop and apply cutting-edge instrumentation (eg ultrahigh-speed AFM, lateral force microscopy and interferometric cross-polarized microscopy).

Theoretical Physics

Theory is an essential complement to experimental physics, guiding and interpreting real-world results. In the Theory Group in Bristol, we we investigate a range of diverse physical problems, particularly in optical physics and electronic structure of matter, united by common mathematical techniques, especially geometry and topology, special functions and non-linear methods. Our main subject of interest is structured light, as well as the electronic signatures of topology and symmetry breaking in condensed matter systems. We also have a broad interest in applied topology and are currently home to a major project in physical applications of knot theory. This includes investigating topology in wave chaos, topological models of nucleons and biophysical molecules. The theory of condensed matter research in the group is concerned with the description of unconventional and novel phases in the spin, charge, and superconducting order of complex materials. In particular, we focus on material-dependent predictions of experimental observables, such as thermodynamic and transport properties induced by symmetry-breaking transitions. Furthermore, there is significant interest in the group in statistical and soft matter physics. All research directions complement the experimental work of local and international collaborators.

Quantum Foundations and Technologies

Centre for Quantum Photonics

The goal of the Centre for Quantum Photonics is to explore fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics and work towards future photonic quantum technologies by generating, manipulating and measuring single photons, as well as investigating the quantum systems that emit these photons. Students who join the group typically work in one of three key areas of research:

  • Quantum computing technologies
  • Quantum communications
  • Quantum metrology, measurement and control. 

In principle, quantum technologies can perform certain tasks that are forever beyond the capabilities of classical machines, such as factoring large numbers or simulating the dynamics of quantum systems. In the multiphoton quantum applications section, we are interested in how ensembles of single photons, controlled with integrated optical circuits, can realise prototypes of these devices. Students can explore a mix of theory and experimentation to devise and demonstrate new protocols for quantum information processing, including quantum simulations, quantum computing and quantum key distribution.

Quantum Information and Foundations (Theory)

Our research focuses on fundamental aspects, such as paradoxes and nonlocality, as well as understanding why quantum mechanics – which is seemingly counterintuitive – is how it is. This work has led to some of the central concepts of the area of quantum information and computation. We are also interested in the foundations of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics.


A PhD in Physics is an essential qualification for a career as a research physicist, whether in industry, academia or elsewhere. It is valued by employers looking for initiative, numeracy and an ability to plan strategically. Our graduates have the potential to work in a variety of fields, from finance to high-technology start-ups. Please see the School of Physics website for examples.

Staff profiles

Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices: Correlated Electron Systems

Professor Ashraf Alam, (Professor)

Dr Chris Bell, (Senior Lecturer)

Professor Antony Carrington, (Professor)

Professor Stephen Dugdale, (Professor)

Dr Sven Friedemann, (Lecturer)

Professor Stephen Hayden, (Professor)

Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices: Interface Analysis Centre

Dr John Day, (Research Fellow)

Professor Peter Flewitt, (Visiting Professor in Interface Analysis Centre (URC))

Dr Keith Hallam

Dr Peter Heard, (Research Fellow)

Dr Tom Scott, (Reader)

Dr Ross Springell, (Lecturer)

Dr Charles Younes, (Research Fellow)

Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices: Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication

Professor David Cherns, (Professor)

Dr Neil Fox, (Reader)

Professor Martin Kuball, (Professor)

Dr Andrei Sarua, (Senior Research Fellow)

Professor Walther Schwarzacher, (Professor)

Dr Natasa Vasiljevic, (Lecturer)

Fundamental Physics: Astrophysics

Professor Mark Birkinshaw, (William P. Coldrick Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics)

Professor Malcolm Bremer, (Professor)

Dr Zoë Leinhardt, (Lecturer)

Dr Ben Maughan, (Senior Lecturer)

Professor Steven Phillipps, (Professor)

Professor Diana Worrall, (Professor)

Dr Andrew Young, (Senior Lecturer)

Fundamental Physics: Particle Physics

Dr Henning Flächer, (Senior Lecturer)

Professor Joel Goldstein, (Professor)

Dr Helen Heath, (Reader)

Professor David Newbold, (Professor)

Dr Jonas Rademacker, (Reader)

Dr Jaap Velthuis, (Reader)

Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface: Biological, Soft and Complex Matter

Professor Ashraf Alam, (Professor)

Dr Adrian Barnes, (Reader)

Dr Simon Hanna, (Reader)

Professor Robert Richardson, (Professor)

Dr Paddy Royall, (Reader)

Dr Annela Seddon, (Senior Lecturer and Director of the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials)

Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface: Nanophotonics and Nanophysics

Dr Massimo Antognozzi, (Senior Lecturer)

Dr Henkjan Gersen, (Senior Lecturer, Head of Group)

Dr Simon Hanna, (Reader)

Dr Terry McMaster, (Reader)

Professor Mervyn Miles, (Professor)

Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface: Theoretical Physics

Professor James Annett, (Professor, Head of School)

Professor Mark Dennis, (Professor)

Professor Robert Evans, (Emeritus Professor, Senior Research Fellow in Physics)

Dr Martin Gradhand, (Leverhulme Research Fellow)

Professor Sir Michael Berry, (Emeritus Professor of Physics, Senior Research Fellow in Physics)

Dr Paddy Royall, (Reader)

Quantum Foundations and Technologies: Quantum Information and Foundations (Theory)

Professor Sandu Popsecu, (Professor)

Dr Tony Short, (Research Fellow)

Quantum Foundations and Technologies: Quantum Photonics

Jonathan Matthews

Peter Turner, (Lecturer)

Chris Erven, (Lecturer)

Anthony Laing, (Lecturer)

Professor Jeremy O'Brien, (Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies, Director CQP)

Dr Ruth Oulton, (Senior Lecturer)

Dr Mark Thompson, (Professor)

How to apply
Application deadline:

We welcome applications at any time of year; early application is advised.

International students

Find out more about becoming a student at Bristol, and the support we offer to international students.

I chose Bristol because of its outstanding academic reputation. It's reassuring to be taught by people who truly love their subject - their passion becomes contagious.


REF 2014 results

  • 23% of research is world-leading (4 star)
  • 62% of research is internationally excellent (3 star)
  • 15% of research is recognised internationally (2 star)
  • 0% of research is recognised nationally (1 star)

Results are from the most recent UK-wide assessment of research quality, conducted by HEFCE. More about REF 2014 results.

Bristol Doctoral College

The Bristol Doctoral College facilitates and supports doctoral training and researcher development across the University.

Get in touch

Professor Walther Schwarzacher Director of the Graduate School Phone: +44 (0) 117 928 8735 Email:

Briony Maitland Postgraduate Student Administrator Phone: +44 (0) 117 928 8735 Email:

HH Wills Physics Laboratory
University of Bristol
Tyndall Avenue
Bristol BS8 1TL


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