The Thomas Preston Scholarship Scheme 

The “Thomas Preston PhD Scholarship Scheme” has been introduced to provide PhD scholarships in fundamental research at the UCD School of Physics. The funding mainly comes from the support of our UCD Physics Alumni, together with some resources from activities run by the School.

The UCD School of Physics and its predecessors have been committed to excellence in research from Thomas Preston’s time to the present. To enhance this illustrious tradition, we want to offer two PhD Scholarships in fundamental physics research – an area that has been largely neglected by the funding bodies. This relies on the support of UCD Physics Alumni in recognition of the great Physics education they received at UCD.

The School is keen to support both students and supervisors to pursue excellent research in Physics for its own sake, and to provide students with opportunities that they would otherwise only find in other countries.

We hope that these scholarships will enable us to attract the best students, regardless of their means, to pursue research into topics in fundamental physics. These topics include Quantum Physics, Optics, Particle Physics, Astrophysics, Atomic and Molecular Physics and Physics at the Nanoscale.

Applications for a Thomas Preston Scholarship must be made in conjunction with a supervisor, based on the list of research topics provided here. Only applications made in conjunction with a supervisor will be considered by the assessment panel. The assessment panel is comprised of alumni of the School, who are current or former academic post holders, who are not active within the School.

Applications should be made on this form. Terms and conditions can be found here.

The second Preston Magnet    Splitting of spectral lines in a magnetic field

Why a Thomas Preston Scholarship?

Thomas Preston was a distinguished Professor of Natural Philosophy at UCD. His work established empirical rules for the analysis of spectral lines, furthering our understanding of heat, magnetism, and spectroscopy. Preston’s discovery of the Anomalous Zeeman Effect, which challenged classical theoretical explanation, resulted in him being awarded the second Boyle Medal by the Royal Dublin Society in 1899. His pioneering work foresaw the discovery of electron spin, and was at the very frontier of physics research at the close of the 19th century.

He was also a dedicated teacher and author; his books “The Theory of Heat” and “The Theory of Light” were popular in leading universities well after his early death in 1900.

It is clear that he understood the value of fundamental research and it is the opinion of many in the UCD School of Physics that his death denied him consideration for a share in the Nobel Prize awarded to Zeeman in 1902, as Preston had, in fact, the correct interpretation of the observed spectral features.

This scholarship scheme will help to maintain Preston’s legacy and rightful place in Physics in UCD.




The Scholarships will provide for Tuition fees (EU or non-EU) plus €18,000 per annum as a stipend to the scholar and €6,000 per annum towards the costs of the research project.

You will find a list of project titles, abstracts and supervisor details here.

To make an application, you first need to identify a project from the list and have the prospective supervisor agree that you apply for the scholarship with them as supervisor. Then you need to prepare the application with your prospective supervisor and send it by email to




Application Process

The email should contain a completed  application form in pdf and three academic references on this form. The deadline for applications is Friday March 16th at 5.00 pm (local time, Dublin). Terms and conditions can be found here.