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  5. Atomic, molecular and optical physics

Atomic, molecular and optical physics

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Optical bench used in laser cooling and atom trapping experiments

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (AMOP) is an exciting research theme at the interface of quantum physics, statistical physics and chemistry. Its applications are particularly diverse, including quantum computing, nanotechnology, atmospheric physics and medicine. The OU offers PhD and MPhil opportunities in experimental and theoretical aspects of AMOP centred in four research groups supported by EPSRC and EU funding. Experimental work focuses on cold Rydberg atoms (Silvia Bergamini), radiation-induced processes in molecular clusters (Sam Eden) while theoretical work explores electron interactions with molecules and clusters (Jimena Gorfinkiel), and using cold atoms as quantum simulators (Jim Hague). Common research goals include developing parallel experimental and theoretical methods to probe inelastic electron collisions with molecular clusters and fundamental tests of quantum mechanics. This research is linked to the research in astro-chemistry. OU AMOP also has strong collaborations in Plasma Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, and Maths and Computing.

Qualifications available:



For detailed information on current fees visit Fees and funding.

Entry requirements:

Minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) first degree in physics, chemistry, or a related discipline

Potential research projects

Towards the experimental realization of graph states with Rydberg atoms

Lead contact: Dr Silvia Bergamini

Proposed funding: University funding tbc

Project: This is an experimental project in cold Rydberg atoms to demonstrate the building blocks of a one-way quantum information scheme. It exploits van der Waals interaction to blockade a high density sample of atoms in a microscopic dipole trap and create a multiparticle entangled state that contains a single excitation. Arrays of qubits can be prepared with arbitrary topology. “Useful” multiqubit entanglement (GRAPH STATES) can be designed by exploiting isotropic interactions and playing with the spatial arrangement of the qubits in order to minimize the number of entangling steps and favour global addressing.

Entry qualification: physics.

Electron interactions with small molecular clusters

Lead contact: Dr Jimena Gorfinkiel

Other supervisors: Dr Sam Eden

Proposed funding: University funding tbc

Project: The aim of this project is to investigate environment effects on electron collisions with molecules. We will study the interaction of electrons  with molecules, particularly the dissociative electron attachment process, both in gas and aggregated (cluster) phase. The day-to-day work will involve using well-established software (the UKRmol suite of programs) as well as developing new techniques and software to to treat electron interaction with molecules and small molecular clusters.

The group of Dr Sam Eden will be performing experiments on electron attachment to molecular clusters; this computational project will provide the theoretical counterpart to these experiments. This is an exciting opportunity to contribute to extending the boundaries of theoretical studies of electron-molecule collisions. In addition, we hope to contribute to the understanding of how low energy electrons affect cells, especially DNA.  More information on the group's research can be found at: Dr Jimena Gorfinkel's website. 

Entry qualification: physics, chemistry or related degree. Good undergraduate-level knowledge of molecular physics or computational and physical chemistry is necessary. Some experience running scientific software under Linux is desirable.

Cold atom quantum simulators for high temperature superconductors and other materials

Lead contact: Dr Jim Hague

Proposed funding: University funding tbc

Project: At the cutting edge between nanotechnology, solid state and atomic physics, artificial lattices of cold atoms and quantum dots are manipulated to make quantum simulators. The trick of quantum simulation is to find systems that are quantum mechanically equivalent to the model to be studied, but where the properties are easier to measure in a controlled way. Current quantum simulators are able to treat very simple theoretical models of the solid state such as the Hubbard model, but in real materials interactions can be long ranged and electron-phonon interactions may be important. This theoretical project will examine how to develop the next generation of quantum simulators with realistic interactions. Advanced numerical and analytical techniques, such as quantum Monte Carlo and Feynman expansion will be used to investigate the suitability of systems such as cold Rydberg atoms as a way of achieving this goal.

Entry qualification: physics.

Electron interactions with molecular clusters in controlled neutral beams

Lead contact: Dr Sam Eden 

Other supervisors: Dr Jimena Gorfinkiel and Professor Nigel Mason

Funding: University funding under negotiation with sponsorship from Hiden Analytical

Project: Electron attachment (EA) plays a key role in radiation chemistry, notably in DNA damage and ozone depletion. Detailed understanding and quantification of EA processes in isolated molecules and condensed environments are therefore essential to model radiation effects on the nanoscale. However, relatively little is known about how intermolecular bonding modifies absolute cross sections, the key input data for simulations. While theoretical calculations by our collaborators Gorfinkiel (OU) and Fabrikant (Nebraska) show evidence for strongly enhanced EA in specific molecular clusters, comparable experimental data are extremely rare. This PhD studentship is centered on developing an original technique to produce neutral beams of specific clusters with known target density for EA experiments. The method involves the neutralization of mass-selected cluster anions by electron photo-detachment. The project will provide a breakthrough in quantifying the effects of the local chemical environment on electron attachment processes.

Entry qualification: physics, chemistry, or a related discipline. Furthermore, the student should have strong practical skills and enthusiasm for experimental work. A solid undergraduate-level knowledge of atomic and molecular physics (or physical chemistry) is also desirable. 

Please also see further opportunities.

Current / recent research projects

  • Electron collisions with biomolecules
  • Ultra-cold Rydberg atoms
  • Electron phonon interactions in graphene nanostructures
  • Electron scattering from biomolecular clusters

Potential supervisors

Further information

If you have an enquiry specific to this research area please contact:

Astrid Peterkin, Research Coordinator
+44 (0)1908 659845

For general enquiries please contact the Research Degrees Team via the link under ‘Your questions’ on the right of the page.