Research within the School of Physics
For a list of recent research publication highlights within UCD School of Physics, click here.
The Thomas Preston Centre brings together researchers working on fundamental physics across the broad spectrum of physics.
The CPHM aims to create a multi-disciplinary environment of researchers to lead the translation of fundamental physics understanding and emerging state-of-the-art technologies into health and clinical applications.
UCD has a distinguished tradition in astrophysics, starting from pioneering work in the 1960’s on the development of ground-based high-energy gamma-ray astronomy. Astrophysics continues to be a vibrant area in UCD, with approximately 20 staff, researchers and students.
Innovative research includes developing, characterising and modelling extreme UV sources for applications in UV lithography for next generation semiconductor manufacturing, imaging nano/molecular structures, studying molecular dynamics by ultrafast laser imaging techniques, and studying double photoionisation with synchrotron radiation. Cutting-edge collaboration continues with Intel Ireland, Intel Components Research, USA and the group continues to create innovation from research by invention, collaboration, and company spin-out activity. For more information, contact Prof Padraig Dunne and Prof Emma Sokell.
Our research interests cover electronic, magnetic, photonic and plasmonic properties of materials and nanoscale structures, as well as soft matter modelling. The condensed matter physics group at UCD works on wide ranging topics at the forefront of modern physics research, including nanoelectronics, nanomaterials, advanced functional materials, and soft matter. Our theory groups use quantum many-body techniques, renormalization group methods, atomistic and coarse-grained molecular simulations, to understand the effect of interactions in quantum and soft matter. We also use methods of statistical physics to study self-organisation in complex biological systems and variety of non-equilibrium phenomena including collective behaviour. For more information, contact Dr Andrew Mitchell.
We perform fundamental physical research in the field of biological materials. The group has a world-class expertise in a variety of experimental and theoretical techniques. Novel methods are being developed to study complex biological macromolecules and proteins to further understand biological issues from photosynthesis to Alzheimers disease and CJD, and toxicity of nanomaterials. Research includes atomic force microscopy, surface plasmon polariton excitation, Raman spectroscopy, measuring intercellular forces, laser-optical imaging for unravelling live cell signalling and molecular modelling and simulation. For more information, contact Prof Dominic Zerulla.
Access to large-scale experiments at CERN is provided. Research includes top-quark and Higgs-boson physics with CMS at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, building the LHCb detector and measuring Z and W cross-sections at 7 TeV to 1%, and testing the Standard Model to 1% from the ratio of Z/W cross-sections. For more information, please contact Prof Ronan McNulty or Prof Martin Grunewald.
The radiation laboratory specialises in measuring minute traces of artificial and natural radionuclides in the environment and is equipped with state-of-the-art high-resolution alpha gamma and x-ray spectrometry, and low-level beta spectrometry. Research activities also include Radioecology and Medical Physics, neutron spectroscopy and dosimetry in medical accelerators, accelerator mass spectrometry and nuclear microprobes, and environmental physics studies. For more information, contact Prof Luis Leon Vintro.
Research in theoretical physics at UCD spans many subject areas, including condensed matter, quantum theory, nano-bio, and nanoelectronics. Computational physics, whether calculations or simulations, forms a key part of modern research. Indeed, experiment and theory advance complimentary aspects of our understanding of the complexity of the natural world. Computational studies make the link between new theoretical concepts, and experimental observations of new phenomena. For more information, contact Prof Vladimir Lobaskin.
- Thomas Preston Centre for Fundamental Physics
- Centre for Physics in Health and Medicine
- Atomic, Molecular and Plasma
- Nano-bio Physics
- Particle Physics
- Radiation Physics
- Theoretical / Computational Physics
- School of Physics Seminars
- PhD Scholarships in Research and Teaching (SIRAT)
- 2019 Undergraduate Summer Research Studentships
- Vacancies and research opportunities
- International Students
PhD Research Projects & Opportunities
PhD positions in UCD School of Physics
Open SIRAT Scholarship positions - Closing Date - Friday the 28th of February 2020 at 2 pm GMT - apply here
Open Now - Thomas Preston Scholarship positions - Closing Date - Friday the 28th of February 2020 at 14.00 GMT - apply here
PhD projects offered by PIs in UCD School of Physics:
- Multi-messenger Blazars - VERITAS (John Quinn)
- Computational project on bio-imaging and drug delivery (Pietro Ballone)
- PhD projects in UCD Centre for Physics in Health and Medicine (Biophysical Laboratory)
- Particle Acceleration in Transient Relativistic Outflows (Peter Duffy)
- Development of the Ground Segment Software for EIRSAT-1 (Lorraine Hanlon)
- PhD projects in The Nanoscale Function Group
- PRECISION TESTS OF THE STANDARD MODEL AT LHCB (Ronan McNulty)
- CENTRAL EXCLUSIVE PHYSICS AT LHCB (Ronan McNulty)
- Modelling of the emission spectra from Laser Produced Plasmas with interdisciplinary relevance (Emma Sokell)
- Efficacy of Undergraduate Laboratory Teaching in Physics (Emma Sokell)
- Quantitative Modelling of Bio-Nano Interfaces - two positions (Vladimir Lobaskin)
- Observational Astrophysics (Morgan Fraser)
- Star Formation (Deirdre Coffey)
- Single Quantum Dot imaging (James Rice)
- Novel optical near-field imaging methodology (James Rice)
- Transferable coarse-grained potentials for studies of proteins, nucleic acids and their interactions (Vio Buchete)
- Methods for multiscale biomolecular simulations (Vio Buchete)
- Molecular studies of amyloid fibrils and aggregation (Vio Buchete)
- Very High Energy Gamma-Ray Astronomy of Galactic and Extragalactic Gamma-Sources (John Quinn)
- Ultrafast Plasmonics (Dominic Zerulla)
- Spin-Plasmonics (Dominic Zerulla)
- Novel Solar Cell Concepts (Dominic Zerulla)
- Social Physics: Modelling collective behaviour (Vladimir Lobaskin)
- Multiscale modelling of biointerfaces (Vladimir Lobaskin)
- Advanced optical imaging and biophysical applications (Brian Vohnsen)
Supervisors: Associate Prof. John Quinn
A fully-funded UCD ADVANCE four-year Ph.D. position, starting in September 2019, is available in the High-Energy Astrophysics Group in the UCD School of Physics. A stipend of €15,000 per annum + full fees + research expenses including travel is offered. For further details about the project and the application procedure see:
The project is devoted to the investigation of optical and magnetic properties of selected organic molecules. More precisely, computations will be carried out using state of art approaches to determine:
(i) the absorption and luminescence of molecules consisting of aromatic rings and a variety of other
side groups; and
Absorption and luminescence of marker molecules are routinely used to image biological structures. Moreover, both optical and magnetic properties are exploited to deliver drugs or heat to specific locations of cells and biological tissues. Absorption of microwaves by localised spins, for instance, may be used to burn cells, provided the spin-carrying molecules selectively bind to cancer tissue.
The project is supplemented by experimental activity carried out at UCD, and developed in collaboration with scientists at the Drug Discovery Department of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, Italy.
The Biophysical Laboratory of the Centre for Physics in Health and Medicine at UCD Physics invites applications for PhD students supported through, e.g., Irish Research Council or UCD School of Physics SIRAT fellowships. The activity in the Laboratory includes experimental as well as computational approaches, and spans different subjects of interest for both basic research and applications. Topics include:
- Effects of Ionic liquids on biomolecules and cells (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.
- Development of neutron scattering approaches for dynamics in biosystems (https://www.nature.com/
- Confined water at the bio-water interfaces (https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/
For more information please contact Dr Antonio Benedetto
Supervisor: Prof. Peter Duffy
Many astrophysical sources, across a wide range of scales, contain variable relativistic outflows that are sites of non-thermal particle acceleration and emission. Examples include Blazars, which are compact active galaxies that emit knots of radio emitting plasma, and microquasars, which are similar to Blazars in many respects but are on stellar scales with a compact object and a companion star. These sources are powered by a central engine (either a black hole or a neutron star) that produces a relativistic jet whose energy is dissipated through its interaction with the external medium. There is a well developed theory of particle acceleration at these relativistic shock fronts, albeit in the steady state. What is less well understood is the transport and acceleration of non-thermal particles in the highly variable, relativistic outflow emitted by the central engine. The aim of this research project is to study the effect of variable, relativistic plasma flows on particle acceleration. Plasma waves imbedded in the flow scatter non-thermal particles between different comoving inertial frames. This will result in a form of Fermi acceleration, but not one that has previously been studied, for particles on a converging and evolving relativistic flow. The objective and central research question is to model this effect and to compare it to the observations of variability in a range of transient relativistic sources.
Supervisor: Prof Brian Rodriguez
The Nanoscale Function Group at UCD invites applications for PhD students supported through, e.g., Irish Research Council or UCD School of Physics SIRAT fellowships.
- Development and characterisation of organic-based energy harvesting devices
- Development of scanning probe microscopy-based assays of molecular binding
- Machine learning for atomic force microscope bias and force spectroscopy data
- Nanoscale electrical and electrochemical characterisation applied to fuel cell technology
For more information please contact Prof Brian Rodriguez.
Supervisor: Prof. Ronan McNulty
Discoveries in physics come through testing theories to breaking point. The Standard Model has given us an excellent description of the electroweak force, and investigating this theory in depth led to the discovery of the Higgs Boson. To see what new physics lies beyond the Standard Model, we must test it with the highest precision possible. At the LHC, the most precise tests of the Standard Model occur at the LHCb experiment where the W and Z boson cross-sections have been measured to sub-1% precision at 7 and 8 TeV. In 2015, the LHC increased its energy to 13 TeV and asks if the Standard Model still holds at the highest energies yet achieved, or whether new physics (like supersymmetry) subtly changes the observed results.
In this Ph.D. project the student will go to CERN, collect data on the LHCb experiment and isolate samples of events in which the W and Z boson decay to leptons. The efficiency and purity of this sample will be determined from the data and the differential cross-section for W and Z bosons determined as a function of transverse momentum and rapidity. The results will be compared to theory and any deviations investigated in terms of the modelling of the quarks and gluons in the proton, or in terms of new physics.
Supervisor: Prof. Ronan McNulty
The strong force is mediated by coloured gluons so interactions at the LHC usually produce hundreds of hadrons. However, colourless propagators (e.g. Pomerons) also exist in QCD and interactions via two Pomerons result in a very unusual experimental signature at the LHC of just a very few particles (Central Exclusive Production). Studying these tells us about the fundamental nature of QCD, allows a determination of the gluon content of the proton, and is a mechanism to discover exotic particles like tetraquarks and glueballs.
In this Ph.D. project the student will go to CERN, collect data on the LHCb experiment and analyse it to obtain a sample of Central Exclusive Events. Signals for known resonances (Jpsi, rho, f2) will be found and their cross-sections determined. Then searches will be made for unknown resonances whose observation would be evidence for new tetraquark states, glueballs, or new physics.
Supervisor: Dr. Emma Sokell
Accurate modelling of laser produced plasmas (LPPSs) is important for applications such as source development (eg light sources for EUV Lithography and water-window microscopy), has relevance for those working on the world’s largest fusion experiment (ITER) and may also be useful to astrophysicists. The plasmas in question are created when a high-power laser pulse impacts on a solid target, the energy in the laser pulse creates a plasma, containing free-electrons, neutral atoms and ions with a range of energies. Each plasma is made up of a range of different ion stages and the charge states produced depend on the energy of the laser pulse, how short in time and space that the energy is focussed and the element in question. Some of the energy conveyed from the laser pulse to the plasma, is radiated and spectra of LPPs provide detailed information about the charge states present and the conditions in the emitting area of the LPP. Among the things that need to be considered if plasma spectra are to be accurately simulated, are atomic structure, level population and charge state distributions. There are many models for plasmas and each has associated strengths and weaknesses.
The present project will involve utilising FLYCHK, a plasma-modelling code developed at NIST, to provide a capability to generate atomic level populations and charge state distributions for a range of elements, including the lathanides (rare-earth elements), molybdenum, tungsten, platinum, gold and lead, under near local thermodynamic equilibrium conditions, to model LPPs that have been experimentally studied. The project will test the range of validity of FLYCHK to lab-created LPPs that are generally considered to be in a different equilibrium regime. The quality of the models will be tested by comparison with experimental data obtained in the lab at UCD. The final-stage of the project will involve developing approaches to extend the capabilities of models of LPPs. .
Supervisor: Dr. Emma Sokell
The aim of this project is to research the efficacy of non-traditional approaches to undergraduate (primarily laboratory) physics courses. The project will measure and explore the outcomes of innovations in curricula design, often by comparison with more traditional approaches. The work will build on a study conducted in the 1st year laboratory at UCD where students were presented with the problem of measuring the speed of light, as oppose to being instructed how to do the experiment. The work will be in collaborations with colleagues in the UCD Schools of Physics, Maths and Education.
Supervisor: Dr. Vladimir Lobaskin
Two fully-funded 4-year PhD positions starting from September 1, 2018. "Quantitative Modelling of Bio-Nano Interfaces"
Supervisor: Dr. Morgan Fraser
Applications are invited for PhD positions in observational astrophysics, working on supernovae and massive stars. Projects will entail using observational data from world-class observatories to understand the final stages in the life of a massive star. Stars above about 8 solar masses will end their lives with a spectacular explosion, as a core-collapse supernovae. These supernovae inject heavy elements and energy into galaxies, trigger star formation, and provide the building blocks of future stars and planets. However, many aspects of supernovae remain uncertain - including what type of stars explode, whether some collapse to form a black hole without a bright optical transient . Students will use data from a range of telescope facilities obtained through the PESSTO and NUTS collaborations to understand these fascinating events. Funding opportunities are available through IRC and other grants. For further details, please contact Dr. Morgan Fraser (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Supervisor: Dr. Deirdre Coffey
Applications are invited for PhD and postdoctoral positions in the area of Star Formation. Young stars are born via the gravitational collapse of a cloud of dust and gas into a stellar core where fusion begins. Any initial rotation of the cloud causes a circumstellar disk to form which becomes the building site for planets. Meanwhile, bizarrely, astronomers also observe high velocity bipolar jets being ejected from these young stars. The complex mechanisms involved in star and planet formation remain a mystery. Applications are invited to work on the interpretation of observations from world-class telescopes of young stellar objects, their disks and jets/outflows. PhD and postdoctoral opportunities are available continuously through self-funding IRC grants.
Supervisor: Dr. James Rice
Optical microscopy is an important and widely used method for studying (soft) condensed matter. The resolution of optical microscopy is however limited by diffraction to imaging in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum to length scales >100 nm. As a consequence, present optical microscopy technology cannot image the many structures and (quantum) processes that occur on the nanoscale, which requires an image resolution of one hundred nanometres or less. Metamaterial-based optics enables imaging without a theoretically unlimited resolution in the far-field. Metamaterial optics restore evanescent waves and project sub-diffraction-limited images in wide-field. The application of this metamaterial-based technology to demonstrate optical imaging is a current research goal.
Supervisor: Dr. James Rice
Scanning near-field microscopy provides an optical resolution beyond the diffraction limit of conventional microscopy. Scanning near-field optical absorption imaging is based on the collection of scattered electromagnetic radiation via the near-field positioned aperture. Due to the elastic light scattering mechanism and the complex dielectric value of the sample recovery of precise absorption information is challenging. Combining atomic force microscopy and optical mythology is an alternative method to performing sub-wavelength absorption imaging. To date this approach has enabled a resolution of lambda/150. Developing and applying such mythology will enable detailed information of nanoscale optical processes and structure to be performed.
Transferable coarse-grained potentials for studies of proteins, nucleic acids and their interactions
Supervisor: Dr. Vio Buchete
The development of coarse-grained interaction potentials is an active area of research in computational molecular biology and structural bioinformatics. Accurate coarse-grained modeling methods will likely lead to simulations that can go beyond the studies of fast and local events, enabling the study of slow, non-local conformational rearrangements in biomolecules. Such approaches will enable large-scale, genomic-wide studies of biomolecular structure, dynamics and interactions. Coarse-grained modeling efforts of proteins and protein-protein interactions have included system-specific information(e.g., native state information in a Go-like manner). Physics-based, transferable models have recently been developed, yet they are relatively complex and their efficiency is still under testing. Alternatively, statistical analysis methods were used to derive parameters for new distance and orientation-dependent potentials from protein structural databases, a major advance over earlier approaches that included only inter-residue distances. This project will systematically advance the development of coarse-grained potentials by comparing and combining the complementary information offered by these two approaches.
Supervisor: Dr. Vio Buchete
Key to the success of a multiscale approach in molecular simulations is that information is exchanged accurately and efficiently between the layers of resolution. Preliminary results from large sets of molecular dynamics (MD) trajectories that sample exhaustively the conformational space of short peptides provided a quantitative measure of the limits imposed by the intrinsic information loss that occurs when switching from an atomistic to a coarse-grained representation. Even for a simple two-state mapping of the conformational space of a single residue in a peptide (e.g., helix-coil), various types of transition paths can occur. Therefore, even for short peptides, the dimensionality and complexity of the simplest nearest-neighbor kinetic model can be large, and the full, accurate structure of even a coarse-grained transition rate matrix can be very difficult to estimate. This project will advance the recently developed master equation-based methods for analysis of molecular simulations for finding the simplest yet accurate coarse-grained representation of a system, and the corresponding kinetic pathways. Methodologically, these studies are important because the knowledge of the accurate coarse-grained kinetic pathways can be used to drive atomic-level MD algorithms, leading to faster, larger scale simulations and to more accurate kinetic analysis methods.
Supervisor: Dr. Vio Buchete
Amyloid fibrils are of outstanding interest as they are associated with a wide variety of diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, prion diseases, and diabetes, and also with new types of nano-materials. The detailed structural characterization of these self-assembled structures is a central step toward the understanding of the mechanism leading to the formation and stability of ordered, fibrillar aggregates. This project will study the effect of the environment (e.g., hydrophobic/ hydrophilic interfaces or molecular crowding agents) on the kinetic and thermodynamic properties of peptide folding and aggregation. Based on atomically detailed, explicit solvent, MD simulation of Alzheimer's amyloid fibrils, we will perform coarse-grained simulations of fibrils that would permit the study of more realistic, larger fibril segments. The new residue-level models would incorporate structural details revealed by all-atom simulations and by experiments (e.g., solid state NMR). Applications range from the study of fibril nucleation/growth inhibitors (i.e., potential drugs) to the control of amyloid formation and to the design and development of new types of nanomaterials.
Supervisor: Dr. John Quinn
The High Energy Astrophysics group is involved in the study of the extreme universe; gamma-ray astronomy allows us to probe sites of particle acceleration in nature at energies well beyond those achievable in accelerators on the Earth. The group in a founder member of the VERITAS collaboration, which has constructed, and is now operating, an array of four 12m telescopes, located in the Arizona desert, for gamma-ray astronomy above 100 GeV. By combining the VERITAS data with data from satellites at X-ray and MeV-GeV gamma- ray energies,we can learn much about the acceleration and emission mechanisms in objects such as supernova remnants, binary systems, gamma-ray bursts, and the jets from active galactic nuclei. Upcoming PhD opportunities in the group include the observational study of both galactic and extragalactic objects with VERITAS, the analysis of multiwavelength data from other observatories/satellites, and the modelling and interpretation of the results. For more information see:
Supervisor: Dr. Dominic Zerulla
Since 2001, there has been an explosive growth of scientific interest in the role of plasmons in optical phenomena, including guided-wave propagation and imaging at the subwavelength scale, nonlinear spectroscopy and negative index metamaterials. Building on our extensive experience in the field of plasmonics, in this project we are extending our research to the direction of ultrafast plasmonics. Tailor designed RUNs (Resonant Ultrafast Structures) will be developed using a combination of PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) and FIB (Field Ion Beam) technologies, available in house. In this project, in combination with a state of the art ultrafast laser source (10 fs), measurement and imaging techniques such as, PEEM (Photo-Emission Electron Microscopy), FROG (Frequency Resolved Optical Gating), SPIDER (Spectral Phase Interferometry for Direct Electric-field Reconstruction), s-SNOM (scattering Scanning Near-Field Optical Microscopy), will be employed to investigate Surface Plasmon dynamics on the RUNs at femtosecond timescales and nanometer spatial resolutions. In addition to the experimental characterisation, computational analysis will be carried out using Greens functions and finite element methods.
Supervisor: Dr. Dominic Zerulla
Currently, plasmonics is a cutting edge, enthusiastic and quickly growing field of research that offers seemingly endless research opportunities [e.g. Science, 189, 311, 2006, Phys. Rev. Lett. 98, 133901, 2007]. It has already presented important influences in varied fields of research, from bio-analysis and sensors to magneto-optics and nano-manipulation. At the very heart of this field is fundamental research on Surface Plasmon Polaritons (SPPs) - mixed states of photons and electron density waves which propagate along the surface of a conductor. This project introduces a new degree of freedom into the field of plasmonics: the electron spin. We will initiate a novel opto-electronic technology platform for information processing and data storage based on Plasmonic and Spintronic (Spin Electronic) concepts. This new hybrid field is referred to as Spin-Plasmonics. Techniques including, MPMS (Magnetic Property Measurement System), high magnetic field cryogenic temperature spectroscopy, MFM (Magnetic Force Microscopy), PEEM (Photo-Emission Electron Microscopy), will be employed to investigate the Surface Plasmon dynamics on Multilayer magneto-active structures.
Supervisor: Dr. Dominic Zerulla
Two PhD positions are available in the advanced photovoltaic fields of dye sensitised solar cells and II-VI nanorod solar cells. Excitonic solar cells - including organic, hybrid organic-inorganic and dye-sensitized cells (DSCs) - are promising devices for inexpensive, large-scale solar energy conversion [e.g. Nature Materials 4, 455 - 459 (2005)]. DSCs are currently the most efficient and stable excitonic photocells. Central to this device is a thick nanoparticle film that provides a large surface area for the adsorption of light-harvesting molecules. Nanorod solar cells generate new degrees of freedoms in the design of photovoltaic devices. By controlling nanorod parameters, the distance over which electrons are transported directly through the thin film device can be modified. Tuning the band gap by altering the nanorod radius enables optimization of the overlap between the absorption spectrum of the cell and the solar emission spectrum. The PhD students will have the responsibility of designing new cell types, and to optimise their efficiency using (e.g.) laser spectroscopy and a variety of imaging techniques (SEM, PEEM, AFM) in order to control the cell development progress. The candidate must be self-motivated, willing and capable to work both independently and as part of a team. The candidate must have received (or anticipate receiving) a 1st or upper 2nd class honours degree in Physics, Material Science or a suitable Engineering discipline.
Supervisor: Dr. Vladimir Lobaskin
Since two decades scientists have been successfully using physical models for describing collective behaviour of living organisms. Such was the theory of flocking by Tamas Vicsek that explored the analogy between alignment of magnetic dipoles and flying birds. The success of social physics is based on the fact that many macroscopic properties of large groups are independent of the microscopic, individual details of the active agents. This allows us to develop generic models of collective behaviour that imitate an enormous range of phenomena from collective cell migration to human opinion dynamics or car traffic. The degree of collectivity is then analysed by methods of none-equilibrium and equilibrium statistical physics. This PhD project is theoretical and will involve developing theory and computer simulations of social systems to study interactions, polarisation, and opinion dynamics.
Supervisor: Dr. Vladimir Lobaskin
Modern biotechnology and medicine have been developing fast and exploiting novel advanced materials. Personalised medicine involving lab-on-a-chip devices, medical imaging and diagnostics using nanoparticles, sensors, implants and food processing units involve sophisticated surface modification and depend on our understanding of the bionano interface – the nanoscale layer where engineered materials and biomolecules come in contact. Moreover, understanding of the bionano interface is required for assessment of toxicity of industrial nanomaterials like carbon nanotubes. In our lab, we develop computational methods for modelling bionano interface and prediction of interactions between biomolecules and foreign materials. We lead a European consortium SmartNanoTox working on nanomaterial toxicity assessment and collaborate with biologists, medics and chemists across Europe. The PhD researcher working on this project will join a team developing multiscale modelling techniques based on statistical physics, bioinformatics and biophysics to predict the safety of biomaterials.
Supervisor: Dr. Brian Vohnsen
The Advanced Optical Imaging group at UCD invites applications for PhD in optics and optical imaging down to the nanoscale. The opportunities will be available continuously through self-funding ircset grants. For more information please contact Dr Brian Vohnsen.