PhD Opportunities

If you are considering to apply for one of the PhD projects below, please first contact your potential supervisor for more information. Applying is relatively straightforward and can be done electronically. Some of the projects below have funding; for others, you will need to apply for funding from external sources. More information about available scholarships (for UK, EU and international students) can be found here.

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PhD Project: Mesoscale Modelling of Molecular Motors

Supervisor: Dr. Sarah Harris

Computational models employ our best quantitative physical understanding of biomolecules and their interactions and so are invaluable for providing insight into how these molecules perform their essential cellular functions. Now that biophysical techniques such as cryo-electron microscopy are revealing highly organised supermacromolecular architectures at the length-scale directly above that of single molecules, which was invisible until very recently, there is a need for new computational tools to interpret these mesoscale experiments. We particularly need simulations to predict biomolecular dynamics, which is often missing from biophysical experiments. This is especially important for molecular motors, which consume chemical energy to perform work within the cell. We are trying to use simulations to understand how molecular motors work, including how the motors dynein and myosin walk along their cellular tracks.

To address these questions, we have developed our own modelling software that provides a continuum mechanics description of proteins, and which uses experimental electron microscopy data as input to the calculations. The model uses the Finite Element algorithm that we have generalised to include thermal fluctuations, known as Fluctuating Finite Element Analysis (FFEA), we are using this program to model the action of molecular motors such as myosin and dynein, and are improving our physical description of biomolecules and their interactions by adding more accurate representations of the hydrodynamic environment Our approach is highly multidisciplinary, and we can adapt projects to suit researchers with backgrounds as diverse as physics, maths, chemistry, biology and computer science. Collaborative projects including experimental work are also available.

References:

Gravett et al, “Moving in the mesoscale: Understanding the mechanics of cytoskeletal molecular motors by combining mesoscale simulations with imaging”, https://doi.org/10.1002/wcms.1570.

Solernou et al, “Fluctuating Finite Element Analysis (FFEA): A continuum mechanics software tool for mesoscale simulation of biomolecules”, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005897.

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PhD Project: Quantum Many-Body Scars and Weak Ergodicity Breaking in Rydberg-Atom Quantum Simulators

Supervisor:  Dr. Zlatko Papic

A perennial mystery of nature is how order can exist amidst chaos. Familiar systems such as the clock pendulum exhibit regular periodic motion. This ordered behaviour, however, is fragile. For example, interactions between particles rapidly lead to chaos, forcing the system to thermalise and forget its initial state. This can be visualised as an ice cream that melts away and never finds its way back to the frozen state, see

https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-scarring-appears-to-defy-universes-push-for-disorder-20190320/
Quantum scars refer to the surprising behaviour that defies such common intuition: for special initial states, the ice cream periodically melts away and then freezes up again. Recent experiments on ultracold Rydberg atoms have found evidence of similar behaviour where the atoms were able to return to their initial state many times during the measurement. At this point, the origins of quantum many-body scars largely remain a mystery. Your project will develop computer simulations of quantum many-body scars in systems of ultra cold atoms in optical lattices, with the goal of predicting future experiments on these systems that may unlock a range of applications in the emerging quantum technologies. For an introduction to quantum many-body scars, see our recent review article: https://arxiv.org/abs/2011.09486

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PhD Project: Simulating black holes and quantum gravity with optical lattices

Supervisors: Prof. Jiannis Pachos

Unlike the fundamental forces of the Standard Model, such as electromagnetic, weak and strong forces, the quantum effects of gravity are still experimentally inaccessible. The weak coupling of gravity with matter makes it significant only for large masses where quantum effects are too subtle to be measured with current technology. Nevertheless, insight into quantum aspects of gravity is key to understanding unification theories, cosmology or the physics of black holes. The project aims to simulate quantum gravity with optical lattices which allows us to arbitrarily control coupling strengths. Possible realisations will be considered of (1+1) or (2+1)-dimensional Dirac fermions, with ultra-cold fermionic atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice, coupled to massive quantum gravity, simulated by bosonic atoms positioned at the links of the lattice. Configurations of black holes will be considered and studied within the quantum information framework.

Apply via https://phd.leeds.ac.uk/project/1088-simulating-black-holes-and-quantum-gravity-with-optical-lattices

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PhD Project: Chiral Gravitons in Topological Quantum Matter: From Solid-State Materials to Quantum Computers

Supervisor:  Dr. Zlatko Papic

A major open problem in modern physics is the table-top generation and detection of emergent particles analogous to gravitons – the elusive mediators of gravitational force in a quantum theory of gravity. In solid state materials, recent work by Haldane has pointed out that fractional quantum Hall (FQH) phases of matter host graviton-like excitations as they respond to the curvature of space they live in. Unfortunately, direct experimental observation of gravitons in FQH phases remains a challenge. This project will explore the possibility of recreating a similar kind of physics in the emerging quantum technology machines, e.g., ultracold atoms in optical lattices and quantum computers made of trapped ions. You will investigate how graviton-like particles and their dynamics could be controllably created and measured in such systems. To accomplish this task, your project will advance the understanding of geometrical degrees of freedom of fractional quantum Hall states, and then apply this knowledge to design quantum algorithms that can efficiently simulate graviton dynamics using the existing quantum hardware. For more information, see: https://arxiv.org/abs/2107.10267

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PhD Project: Topological quantum systems: synthesis and applications

Supervisor: Prof. Jiannis Pachos

Topological phases of matter (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2016) is one of the most exciting topics of modern physics. This area of research investigates the novel properties of materials that are robust against deformations of their parameters. This robustness makes topological material of interest to quantum technologies that request fault-tolerance in order to be useful.

The PhD project will aim to employ a variety of techniques and approaches from mathematics and theoretical physics (e.g. topology, quantum field theory, quantum gravity) in order to diagnose the exotic properties quantum matter can have. A final goal is the application of these investigations to proposing topological quantum computation schemes that are robust against errors.

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Our department is proud to create inclusive student, research, and working cultures that are supportive and welcoming to those from all backgrounds, genders, ages, disabilities, religions, and other protected groups. We are committed to providing a postgraduate program that not only equips you with the technical and professional skills you will need in your career, but which is also enjoyable, supportive, diverse, and inclusive. We welcome all applications, but especially those from the under-represented groups in physics. Everybody’s needs will be supported, but if you do have any concerns, you can contact us, in confidence, to discuss how we can support your particular needs during a research degree at the University of Leeds.

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