Find a programme
Run by Faculty of Science
Awards available PhD, MSc by research
Programme length PhD: Three years full-time or part-time equivalent;
MScR: One year full-time
Location of programme Clifton campus
Part-time study available Yes
Start date Not fixed, but the usual start date is September 2019

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. Applications that identify the research group of greatest interest from those listed below will also be accepted.

Fees for 2019/20

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2019/20 are as follows:

UK/EU: full-time
UK/EU: part-time
Overseas: full-time
Channel Islands/Isle of Man: full-time

Bench fees: For postgraduate research students who are not funded by UK Research Councils or (specific) UK charities, it is usual to charge a bench fee. A bench fee covers the costs of laboratory consumables, specialist equipment and other relevant costs (e.g. training) for the duration of the programme. The bench fee charged can vary considerably depending on the nature of the programme being undertaken. Details of specific bench fee charges can be provided on request and will made clear in the offer letter sent to applicants.

Fees are subject to an annual review. For programmes that last longer than one year, please budget for up to a five per cent increase in fees each year. Find out more about tuition fees.

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 2019/20

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 upper second-class honours, or a relevant postgraduate master's qualification.

See international equivalent qualifications on the International Office website.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you need to meet this profile level:
Profile F
Further information about English language requirements and profile levels.

Admissions statement

Read the programme admissions statement for important information on entry requirements, the application process and supporting documents required.

Admissions statement

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 has 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
    • QET Labs
    • 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, and advances in engineered materials are crucial to the continued vitality of countless industries. Studies at the Interface Analysis Centre play 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, nuclear materials and medicine.

The centre provides 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 Centre for Device Thermography and Reliability focuses on improving the thermal management, electrical performance and reliability of novel devices, circuits and packaging. Since 2001 the group has been developing and applying new techniques for temperature, thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity and traps analysis, especially for microwave and power electronic semiconductor devices, made of wide bandgap materials, such as GaN, SiC and diamond. 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 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 range of important phenomena in the Universe, including extrasolar planets, black holes, galaxies, relativistic jets, clusters of galaxies, plasma processes and cosmology. Observations are made with the world's best ground and space-based telescopes across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves up to gamma rays. Theoretical work is closely tied to the interpretation of observational results, 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 and may be involved in one of the major international projects in which the group participates. 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 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 Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiments at CERN's LHC. Within CMS we are focusing on the search for Supersymmetry and Dark Matter (DM), as well as studying properties of the top quark. Within LHCb we are pioneering new methods to measure CP violation, the asymmetry between matter and antimatter, and studying rare decays of beauty hadrons in order to discover new particles and forces. The group is also involved in future neutrino experiments such as DUNE, and direct DM detection experiments such as LZ. 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 2019 and be involved in any of the above experiments, we have opportunities. You could also work on new particle detector techniques using CVD diamond, novel integrated detectors, or other future experiments that the group is actively involved in.

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. We are internationally renowned for strengths in scanning probe microscopy, nanophotonics and optical forces at the nanoscale, and have 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 leads 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 investigate a range of diverse physical problems, particularly in soft matter physics, strongly correlated electron systems and electronic structure of condensed matter. The activities of the group are united by common mathematical techniques, for example geometry and topology, special functions, non-linear methods and general techniques of statistical physics, many-body theory and classical and quantum field theory.

In soft condensed matter we apply methods from algebraic and geometric topology to study solitons, topological defects and other structures in liquid crystals. Furthermore, we are interested in novel computational techniques applied to topological phase transitions and machine-learning methods applied to problems in statistical physics.

Our theory of condensed matter research is concerned with unconventional and novel phases in the spin, charge, and superconducting order of complex materials. In particular, we predict experimental observables, such as thermodynamic and transport properties induced by symmetry-breaking transitions, as well as the electronic signatures of topology in condensed matter systems. All our research directions complement the experimental work of local and international collaborators.

Quantum Foundations and Technologies

QET Labs

QET Labs brings together the broader quantum and related activity at Bristol to maximise opportunities for new science discoveries that underpin engineering and technology development. Bringing together the research aspects within the Quantum Engineering Centre for Doctoral Training, the skills and training development as part of the Quantum Technology Enterprise Centre and the research aspects within QET Labs, together we can transform science into real concept demonstrators and entrepreneurial innovation that will be the springboard for the commercial success of quantum technologies. Students who join the research group typically work in one of three key areas of research:

  • Quantum computing
  • Quantum communications
  • Quantum sensing and metrology

Our research goal is to explore fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics, as well as work towards future photonic quantum technologies, by generating, manipulating and measuring single photons and probing the quantum systems that emit these photons. 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 in 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 case studies from recent graduates.

Staff profiles

Condensed Matter, Materials and Devices: Correlated Electron Systems

Dr Chris Bell, (Senior Lecturer)

Professor Antony Carrington, (Professor)

Professor Stephen Dugdale, (Professor)

Dr Sven Friedemann, (Lecturer)

Professor Stephen Hayden, (Professor)

Dr Jude Laverock, (Graduate Teaching Fellow)

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 Tomas Martin, (Lecturer)

Professor Tom Scott, (Professor)

Dr Ross Springell, (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 Jim Brooke, (Lecturer)

Dr Henning Flächer, (Senior Lecturer)

Professor Joel Goldstein, (Professor)

Dr Helen Heath, (Reader)

Professor David Newbold, (Professor)

Dr Konstantinos Petridis, (Lecturer)

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)

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)

Dr Simon Hanna, (Reader)

Dr Ian Lindsay, (Teaching and Training Fellow in the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials)

Dr Terry McMaster, (Reader)

Professor Mervyn Miles, (Professor)

Light and Matter: Physics at the Interface: Theoretical Physics

Professor James Annett, (Professor)

Dr Martin Gradhand, (Lecturer)

Dr Thomas Machon, (Lecturer)

Materials and Devices for Energy and Communication

Dr Neil Fox, (Reader)

Professor Martin Kuball, (Professor)

Dong (Lilly) Liu, (Lecturer)

Dr Andrei Sarua, (Senior Lecturer)

Professor Walther Schwarzacher, (Professor)

Dr Natasa Vasiljevic, (Senior Lecturer)

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

Professor Sandu Popsecu, FRS, (Professor)

Dr Tony Short, (Research Fellow)

Quantum Foundations and Technologies: Quantum Photonics

Dr Chris Erven, (Lecturer)

Dr Anthony Laing, (Lecturer)

Dr Ruth Oulton, (Senior Lecturer)

Dr Dondu Sahin, (Lecturer in Quantum Engineering)

Dr Peter Turner, (Lecturer)

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, applying for a visa 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

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

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.

Open days and visits

Find out more about opportunities to visit Bristol.

Register to attend our postgraduate open day, 20 November 2019.

Get in touch

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

Briony Spraggon 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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