Physics Masters by Research opportunities at Kent

At the University of Kent our dynamic Physics and Astronomy research community produces innovative fundamental and applied research.

Our Physics and Astronomy research is delivered across three broad research areas affiliated to the Division of Natural Sciences. Below is a list of self funded MSc research projects.

Applications are invited from students holding or expecting to obtain at least a second class degree in Physics or a relevant subject. Before writing an application, potential candidates are strongly advised to contact a Kent academic working in one of the three research areas outlined below. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to talk about an area not listed or have any questions about postgraduate study in Physics at Kent.

Applied Optics Group

The Applied Optics Group (AOG) develops advanced optical systems for imaging and sensing, with applications in medicine, science and industry. One of our core strengths is in optical coherence tomography for medical imaging, alongside research interests in adaptive optics, microscopy, endoscopy, photoacoustics and spectroscopy. The group also has expertise in high-speed microwave photonics and acousto-, electro- and magneto-optics. Several projects can be co-supervised with clinicians from London and local National Health Service Trusts. We offer a range of projects in the areas of applied and biomedical optics suitable for an MSc by Research in Physics, with a number of funded projects currently available. Experimental optics projects are available in areas including biomedical imaging systems and laser source development.

Contact: Prof. Adrian Podoleanu

Optical Machine Learning Classification for Spectroscopy

MSc Project supervised by Dr Michael Hughes

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

Machine learning/AI is currently seeing explosive growth in its range of applications. Spectroscopy and hyperspectral imaging are a particularly good example of where machine learning is essential to make sense of huge datasets, allowing samples to be classified based on their spectral signature. A downside is that all the spectral data first has to be acquired and digitised, which in many applications is the bottleneck which limits speed and throughput. In this masters project you will investigate an all-optical implementation of machine learning for binary classification in spectroscopy, using a digital micromirror device (DMD). Rather than having to digitise entire spectra or hyperspectral images, an optical processor will perform the classification, leaving only the processor’s ‘decision’ to be digitised.

The project will involve a mix of practical work in the optics lab and computational work in Matlab or Python. It would therefore suit graduates with a background in engineering, physics, computing or a related subject. There is no deadline for the project – applicants will be assessed on a rolling basis – although please note any separate deadlines for scholarships or funding. The candidates must be in place in September 2022.

Bridging the Gap Between Optical Coherence Tomography and Histology in Imaging Skin

Professor Adrian Podoleanu

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a non invasive, non touch imaging technology used to determine the structure of translucent objects with high resolution. It combines a high axial resolution with good tissue penetration. Whilst well established for retinal imaging, the equipment currently used in ophthalmology clinics does not provide reliable skin images, as needed in the investigation of periocular tumors and other skin diseases, where cellular resolution is needed. All progress in OCT has been directed towards improving the axial resolution, while the transversal resolution is still determined by the focusing power of the scanning lens. When trying to improve the lateral resolution, this comes against the OCT principle that collects all depths under a fixed focus.

Recently, the AOG has demonstrated a new OCT technology that can collect any number of en face images from as many depths required, in real time. The method is ideally suited to be used repetitively for different focus adjustments. Conventional OCT technology can also perform repetitive acquisitions under different focus positions, but the technology is time consuming, as conventional OCT delivers all volume, all depths for each acquisition, i.e. even the data from outside the focus, which is blurred. Our proprietary direct en face OCT method delivers en face images from the depths of interest only, which under tight focus may mean a single en face slice. No time is wasted on delivering information from outside the focus, as in conventional OCT, where after the acquisition, data from outside the focus is discarded. Each acquisition requires seconds, depending on the spectrometer speed. With our method, repetition of acquisition is sub-second, as no time is needed for selection and removal of data, only the necessary data is produced, that of the en face image for the focus position selected.

This immediately revolutionizes the OCT technology in terms of transversal resolution, as it is known that only the en face images from the focus present good transversal resolution. This opens the possibility to work under highly tight focus, as only confocal microscopy could do. Tight focus has not been used so far with conventional OCT for the reasons detailed above. Tight focus means that lateral resolutions as used in histopathology analysis becomes in this way available. We have proven in a recent publication [1] last year that when the number of repetitions exceeds 4, the time required by our direct en face OCT becomes less than the time required by the conventional OCT technology. This procedure is called Gabor. The project will combine for the first time the Gabor procedure with the Direct en face OCT method we have recently developed and patented[2], to acquire high resolution images of skin. Usually OCT images from the retina and commercial OCT instruments exhibit lateral resolutions of 15 microns x 15 microns. With Gabor and the Direct en face OCT we aim for lateral resolutions of at least 1 micron x 1 micron. The project also aims to improve the axial resolution beyond conventional values, to truly compete with histology. In depth the resolution is determined by the broadband optical source used. The larger the spectrum , the better the axial resolution. This is usually 5-10 microns.

To improve the axial resolution, we will take advantage of the recent work we performed with NKT Denmark, partner in a Marie Curie European Industrial Doctorate (EID) training site, 2014-2018. NKT is the world leader in supercontinuum, providing the broadest spectrum possible for OCT sources. Using supercontinuum to drive the OCT system, 1 micron becomes accessible in depth. With micron resolution both in the lateral and axial direction, exciting avenues are opened in transforming the OCT technology into a real time imaging procedure that can compete with histology in terms of resolutions.

We aim to achieve some proof of concept, perfectly achievable. The student will perform optics assembly work and dedicated work on correlating data between high resolution OCT for histology and wider images collected in vivo. For the moment, all OCT groups recognise the limitations of the OCT in BCC diagnosis. We believe that by enhancing the resolution, OCT can compete with histology and provide better delineation of BCC, as well as open other diagnosis avenues, of skin diseases.

There is no deadline for the project – applicants will be assessed on a rolling basis – although please note any separate deadlines for scholarships or funding. The candidates must be in place in September 2022

Parallel Processing of Optical Coherence Tomography Signals using Graphic Cards

Professor Adrian Podoleanu, Dr Konstantin Kapinchev, Dr Adrian Bradu

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

The essence of the proposed project is to explore and develop the use of high-performance computing, in particular Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), applied to signal processing and visualization in Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT).

OCT is a technique that is able to produce a 3D visualizations of typically biological samples, based on reflection and absorption of laser light (typically infra-red) at different depths within the sample. As such, it can be used to generate images of sub-surface features, such as inner layers of skin, or into and behind the retina of a human eye. Crucially, OCT is non-invasive, using relatively low-power lasers, important in these applications to avoid any damage to the sample. Ophthalmology is one area of medicine where OCT is used extensively in diagnosis and treatment of a range of diseases.

The Applied Optics group at Kent, led by Prof. Podoleanu, have developed state of the art techniques that enables the capture of data representing in excess of 1 million “voxels” (pixels in a 3-dimensional grid) in under 0.5s, fast enough for real-time imaging of the human retina . The structure of the data generated by the OCT imaging hardware (that connects to a standard PC via a plug-in board) requires significant amounts of processing in order to produce a meaningful visualization, mostly Fourier transforms or other techniques for cross-correlation. Whilst OCT techniques and optics have advanced in recent years, the speed and capabilities of a typical PC processor have not, and this has presented a challenge for researchers in this area.

Many groups are now investigating the use of commodity Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) as the work-horse for OCT data processing, in addition to hardware based (FPGA or ASIC) solutions. This includes Kent, where GPUs have been used to process and visualize the data received in real-time, as it is generated by the OCT hardware . GPUs, whose development over the past decade has been driven by (primarily) the computer gaming market, are essentially regular grids of high-performance calculation engines, that operate in concert, performing the same calculations but on different pieces of data. For computer gaming, these calculations transform virtual models into real pixels on the player’s screen, with increasingly high speeds, resolutions and complexity. For OCT, the calculations transform the data captured by imaging hardware similarly, though these calculations are significantly more complex and time-consuming than the average modern computer game, and implementing them efficiently is a challenge – particularly considering the sheer quantity of data involved (hundreds of megabytes per “frame”, with gigabytes of reference data to reconstruct a 3D model).

As GPUs become more powerful and more readily available, the application scope of real-time data processing for OCT widens. “Functional imaging”, for example, involves the analysis of data over a number of captured data frames in order to reveal features such as blood flowing through vessels in the eye. OCT angiography (OCTA) is considered a revolution in ophthalmology as it allows visualization of vessels with no dye, ie no need of an injection, no fluorescence and totally non-invasive. This is an area of active research and has the potential for significant real-world impact. Building on existing work done at Kent involving GPUs in OCT, the proposed project will investigate and explore:

  • Efficient methods for handling ever larger amounts of data from OCT imaging hardware, being able to deliver this to single or multiple GPU devices for processing.
  • Algorithms for functional imaging in real-time, using data captured over time, and how to implement these algorithms effectively given the available hardware (combinations of GPUs and CPUs).
  • Signal processing techniques for eliminating noise (that arises from various sources) to produce sharper and more detailed visualizations.
  • Using increasingly powerful GPUs to provide enhanced 3D visualization techniques, such as being able to identify/highlight, peel-away or manipulate the geometry of layers or features.

The main discipline of the work is digital signal processing, parallel processing and algorithms, extending out into Physics (optics) and Mathematics/Electronics (signal processing).

A likely research student would be from a CS background, with excellent programming skills, strong mathematics and the desire and motivation to work in this interdisciplinary setting.

In terms of immediate medical applications, there is interest in real time visualization of surgical processes. A novel method patented by Podoleanu’s group is highly parallel and can only be progressed by securing parallel signal processing. There is interest from colleagues at the UCL-Institute of ophthalmology in London and from eye surgeons at the Est Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust. Both institutions fund and co-supervise research in Podoleanu’s group. Equipment Several OCT systems in Podoleanu’s group are equipped with state of the art graphic cards..

There is no deadline for the project – applicants will be assessed on a rolling basis – although please note any separate deadlines for scholarships or funding. The candidates must be in place in September 2022.

GPU-Based Parallel Optimisations in Image Processing

Dr Adrian Bradu and co-supervisor Dr Konstantin Kapinchev

This project is eligible for EPSRC funding. 

Machine learning is a new branch in computer science with significant impact in areas including speech recognition, computer vision, self-driving vehicles, medical diagnosis and many others. There is a very high demand for machine learning experts, both in academia and the industry. This project will provide students with the opportunity to develop their skills and prepare them for future employment. The project is focused on the development of machine learning solutions in image processing. These solutions will be applied for pattern recognition, image segmentation, registration, noise reduction and not only.

The programs will process data delivered in real-time by imaging instruments developed within the Applied Optics Group such as Optical Coherence Tomography or/and Photo-acoustics Tomography devices. Their performance is essential for the overall real-time operation of the instruments. Therefore, the solutions will be implemented by using high-performance GPU-based parallel environments, such as NVIDIA CUDA C++ and OpenCL. Throughout the project, the student will have the opportunity to: – gain knowledge and skills in using programming environments and languages, such as C/C++, NVIDIA CUDA and OpenCL – understand how signal processing algorithms are applied in science and engineering – work with state-of-the-art equipment – integrate own software solutions into working imaging systems – improve the ability to solve real-life problems – publish their results in world-leading journals and conferences.

The project will manly involve computational work in C/C++ (CUDA) and extensive interaction with researchers in the Applied Optics Group. It would therefore suit graduates with a background in computing. However, graduates in engineering, physics, or a related subject are also encouraged to apply if they have strong computational skills.

There is no deadline for the project – applicants will be assessed on a rolling basis – although please note any separate deadlines for scholarships or funding. The candidates must be in place in September 2022.

Portable Optical Coherence Tomography for Angiography of the Eye with no Injection

Professor Adrian Podoleanu, Dr Adrian Bradu and Dr Manuel Marques

This project is eligible for EPSRC funding. 

The expansion of treatable eye diseases such as age related macula degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, retinal vein occlusion and uveitis has led to continuous use of non-invasive devices such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) in clinical domains to provide diagnosis and treatment paradigms. OCT is a high resolution, non invasive, optical imaging technology that recently has been evolved towards non-invasive imaging of the retinal vasculature without injection, ie of angiography (A) with no dye. Usually, vasculature is imaged by injecting the patient with a dye, indocyanine green (ICG) or Fluorescein. OCTA allows seeing the vessels with no dye. The current eye imaging systems are bulky, high cost, and require large surface area within clinical regions, meaning less space to see and treat patients. The OCT is a high-growth business, the number of OCT systems sold is soaring and demand is high, however, not every practice could afford to have one.
There is no deadline for the project – applicants will be assessed on a rolling basis – although please note any separate deadlines for scholarships or funding. The candidates must be in place in September 2022.

Physics of Quantum Materials (PQM)

The Physics of Quantum Materials Research Group (PQM) carry out theoretical and experimental research in Condensed Matter Physics with a strong focus on Quantum Materials. We aim specifically to discover and understand novel properties that could find application in future quantum computing technologies through close collaboration between theory and experiment. The group is supported by c. £1m of current external funding and can offer research research projects in both Theory and Experiment. Theory expertise within the group ranges from quantum field theory and phenomenology via fundamental quantum physics to computational approaches and is supported by access to advanced in-house and off-site computational facilities. PQM members have an established track-record of successful experiment-theory collaborations and research projects at the interface between these modes of work are also available. Our group provides a supportive environment for all its members, from under-graduate researchers all the way to faculty. We provide an environment where education, training and career development opportunities abound and help is always at hand.

More information: https://research.kent.ac.uk/pqm/2021/12/22/5151/
Contact: Dr. Jorge Quintanilla

LATP glass-ceramic electrolytes to advance battery technology for a low carbon future

Dr. Gavin Mountjoy

This project is eligible for EPSRC funding. 

Batteries are essential for consistent supply of electricity from renewable sources, and for electric vehicles. Using solid electrolytes in batteries improves safety and sustainability by removing organics. Introducing glass in the solid electrolyte lowers the working temperature which reduces energy expenditure and enables more applications. This project will focus on lithium alumino-titano-phosphate (LATP) glass-ceramics with promising Li ion conductivity. The literature on lithium-air batteries, solid electrolytes, and LATP will be reviewed. LATP will be synthesized, and Li ion conductivity will be measured. Molecular dynamics (MD) modelling will be used to simulate the Li ion conductivity in LATP.

Materials for Challenges in Energy and Environment

The Materials for Energy and Electronics (MEE) group is active in materials physics research aimed at finding solutions for future energy needs, such as in battery, fuel cell, and nuclear power plant technology. They have strong expertise in techniques for probing the atomic and electronic structure of materials, such as x-ray absorption spectroscopy and molecular dynamics modelling.

More information: https://www.kent.ac.uk/physics-astronomy/people/363/mountjoy-gavin

Contact: Dr. Gavin Mountjoy

Further information can be found on our scholarship page and on the EPSRC page here.

Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science

The Centre for Astronomy and Planetary Science currently consists of 9 academics, 2 postdocs and ~20 PhD and MSc students. The group’s research interests cover a large and diverse range of themes including Solar System and Space Science, the Interstellar Medium, Star Formation, Galactic Structure and Planetary Nebulae. The activities include infrared and radio astronomy, astrobiology, astrochemistry, astrofluids and numerical astrophysics.

Non-Targeted Screening for Laboratory Planetary Chemistry and Astrochemistry

Professor Nigel Mason

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

A new facility, KEEPS (Kent Early Earth and Planetary System), is being built that provides the ability to control, measure and analyse, representative conditions experienced in early Earth, planetary, exoplanetary and ISM conditions to produce emergent complex molecule mixtures. The purpose of this research project is to develop orthogonal chromatographic methods with subsequent mass spectrometric data analysis to enable non-targeted analysis of the products of simulations of such conditions. In particular we wish to develop HPLC methods coupled to HRMS (High Resolution Mass Spec) to detect with high sensitivity the products of irradiated astrochemical ices and reactions on mineral surfaces.

Design and Development of a Control System for an Electron Cyclotron Resonance Ion System (ECRIS) for Laboratory Planetary and Astrochemistry

Professor Nigel Mason

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

To mimic the conditions of early earth and the interstellar medium laboratory based studies involve the irradiation of ice/grain/minerals/molecules with energetic sources, such as ion beams, electrons and photons with the resultant chemistry monitored using in-situ Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, quadrupole mass spectrometry) and ex-situ chromatographic techniques. We are commissioning a facility to perform these studies at Kent. The facility will be known as KEEPS (Kent Early Earth and Planetary System). This project will focus on the design, build and commissioning of a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system to control the ECRIS (Electron Cyclotron Resonance Ion System) within KEEPS.

Let there be light! Designing the next generation of Novel Light Sources

Professor Nigel Mason

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

This project supports an ongoing European programme aimed at providing the breakthrough theoretical and experimental advances in the design and practical realisation of novel gamma-ray Light Sources (LS) operating at photon energies from ~100 keV up to GeV range. Such sources can be constructed through the exposure of oriented crystals (linear, bent and periodically bent) to beams of ultrarelativistic charged particles. In this project computational modelling will be used to design crystals with the necessary properties for charge transport and model the processes accompanying the crystal exposure to irradiation by the beams that will be analysed on a atomistic level.

Irradiation driven nanofabrication: computational modelling versus experiment

Professor Nigel Mason

This project is available for students starting in September 2022 and is suitable for a 1-year MSc  in Physics.  The project does not currently have funding attached, students must be able to fund the fees and their living costs either through their own funds or a scholarship. Current information on fees is available here.

The exposure of a system to radiation results in changes in the system’s morphology, electronic, mechanical and catalytic properties. Irradiation of nanosystems especially during their growing or fabrication phase and controlling them with the nanoscale resolution is a considerable challenge but once achieved opens enormous opportunities leading to the creation of novel and efficient technologies. This project aims at obtaining a deeper understanding of the underlying molecular interactions and the key dynamical phenomena in irradiated nanosystems that will help to improve these nanofabrication technologies by modelling the fabrication process on a atomistic level and comparing simulation results directly with experiment.

 

EPSRC Scholarships

These scholarships include a doctoral stipend (equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend, £15,609 2020/21 rate (2022/23 rate to be announced), tuition fees at the home rate and access to further research funding.

Deadline

Apply for a place at Kent by Sunday 13 March 2022, 23:59 GMT

Criteria

Open to Home and Overseas (including EU) students. To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the RCUK residency criteria, see appendix B.
If you are applying as an overseas student (this includes EU nationals), Kent will waive the difference between the Home and Oversea fees.
Successful candidates will demonstrate academic excellence and outstanding research potential.
Applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class honours degree in a relevant subject, and ideally a Master’s degree or equivalent.

These scholarships include a doctoral stipend (equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend, £15,609 2020/21 rate (2022/23 rate to be announced), tuition fees at the home rate and access to further research funding.

Criteria

Open to Home and Overseas (including EU) students. To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the RCUK residency criteria, see appendix B.
If you are applying as an overseas student (this includes EU nationals), Kent will waive the difference between the Home and Oversea fees.
Successful candidates will demonstrate academic excellence and outstanding research potential.
Applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class honours degree in a relevant subject, and ideally a Master’s degree or equivalent.

How to apply

When applying, students should contact a researcher in their area of interest and then follow the University of Kent’s online application process. As part of the process, students should include the following:
· explain reasons for study/outline research proposal
· provide details/evidence of qualifications
· provide two academic references
· provide other personal information and supporting documentation.

Further information and how to apply online for Postgraduate Research degrees can be found by visiting the Postgraduate Courses Page for the University of Kent.

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