Physics and Astronomy PhD

Physics and Astronomy PhD:

Push the boundaries of knowledge at the frontiers of science in one of the largest Physics departments in the country.

Combining a high profile for research both in the UK and internationally, by studying a PhD at Birmingham you will work with talented researchers at the very leading-edge of their fields to unlock pioneering discoveries and join a dynmaic research group. The quality and impact of our research is proven with 90% of the research outputs in the School were rated as world-leading or internationally excellent in the latest Research Exercise Framework (REF).

The School of Physics and Astronomy has a rich history of distinguished research and has delivered breakthrough discoveries which continue to transform our understanding of the universe, its laws and fundamental characteristics in a number of themes: Astrophysics and Space Research; Condensed Matter Physics; Metamaterials;  Molecular Physics; Nanoscale Physics; Nuclear Physics; Particle Physics; Positron Imaging; Solar and Stellar Physics; Theoretical Physics; and Ultra Cold Atoms.

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Maggie Lieu

Maggie Lieu

PhD Physics and Astronomy

“I chose Birmingham for my PhD because it is a top-class university for Physics and Astronomy. Birmingham offered me a flexible research topic and lots of networking opportunities within collaborations all over the world.”

Studying a PhD at the University of Birmingham offers you a wealth of opportunities to expand and transform your thinking through independent inquiry. From working alongside world leaders in physics and astronomy, you’ll have the stimulation, support and challenges you need to succeed.

We have a long tradition of advancing discovery through distinguished research originating from the time of John Henry Poynting, the first Professor of Physics at Birmingham, whose work included the theory of the transfer of electromagnetic energy. Today, however, the School offers research projects across the breadth of the discipline: from nuclear and particle physics experiments at the large hadron collider at the smallest scales, to the role of dark matter at cosmological scales. In between, we cover areas of quantum matter in both experiment and theory which includes ultracold atomic gases, metamaterials, nanoscale physics and condensed matter. Our astronomers are renowned for work in astroseimology, gravitational waves and for extragalactic astronomy.

Research groups hold regular seminars with many distinguished external speakers and the vast majority of our research activity involves national or international collaboration, often with industrial partners. The School also hosts conferences and meetings on various research topics, bringing in leading scientists from around the world.

Our students work in research groups, typically of ten to 40 people with a high level of technical and academic support. Annual research income is over £7 million and 250 research publications are produced each year. 

Specialist research areas available in the School of Physics and Astronomy:

Why study this course

Be part of the latest discoveries: from probing what happened an instant after the Big Bang, developing new quantum materials to leading the quest to find gravitational waves and leading experiments to ‘see’ inside the sun and other stars. By studying a PhD with us, you will be applying knowledge to science and engineering to make a positive difference to society, industry and our environment.

Birmingham is home to a vibrant and supportive physics research community. From our strong connections, you will have a range of opportunities to meet other researchers, discuss your work and learn about the cutting-edge projects being carried out by academics within the University and at other institutions.

As well as benefitting from regular colloquia, you’ll have access to an unparalleled support network. All doctoral researchers have a mentor as well as a supervisor and by working in research groups, you will have access to support across the group, including the head of section.


As a doctoral researcher at Birmingham, you’ll have easy access to the materials and facilities you need to conduct world-class research.

Our doctoral researchers have access to excellent facilities. For example, we operate the most flexible research cyclotron in the UK. As part of the ongoing development of our research laboratories we have also recently commissioned a new suite of hot rooms to support in vitro cell radiobiology studies.

We collaborate closely with the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which provides extensive irradiation and radiation calibration facilities. We are also home to the Positron Imaging Centre, where positron-emitting radioactive tracers are used in interdisciplinary research involving a number of University groups and industrial sponsors.

Our Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory - the first centre for nanoscience in the UK - is a world-leading player in nanoscience research with many links to experimental and theoretical groups in Europe and beyond, as well as to high-tech companies. The Nanoscale Science Facility and Centre for Advanced Materials house a suite of powerful new tools to probe the physics and applications of nanoscale structures created in the Lab. Research ranges from atomic manipulation through atomic clusters to new catalysts and biochips. The Laboratory is a key partner in the University's new bio-imaging centre.

In Condensed Matter Physics our facilities can observe macroscopic quantum effects in objects cooled close to absolute zero. Of current interest are nanoscale mechanical resonators interacting with superconducting microwave circuits. Meanwhile, our Cold Atom research facilities are part of an £11 million investment to form the Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre and the Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School with the universities of Nottingham and Warwick.

Our nuclear group is a leading player in experiments that are performed at some of the world’s premier research laboratories such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and in-house facilities for the development of new detectors and their associated electronics.

Our particle physics group is making central contributions to the exploration of the new landscape of fundamental physics as revealed at CERN, where we played a major role in the recent discovery of the Higgs boson and for which a Birmingham physicist is the current spokesperson.

Our activities in astrophysics and space research make use of a variety of observatories on the ground and in space, as well as powerful computing facilities, to explore a wide range of topics, including the physics of the Sun, stars (including exoplanets) and galaxies, cosmology, and the study of gravity and gravitational waves. We have a long heritage in the design and manufacture of space instrumentation, and have clean rooms, a state-of-the-art facility for the assembly and testing of space-qualified electronics and an environmental test facility.

Metamaterials are opening up exciting gateways in optical science and technology, making it possible to build ‘invisibility cloaks’, which can shroud objects and render them unobservable; make lenses which can exceed the resolution diffraction limit; and develop materials which nullify and even reverse the tendency of the parts of ultra-small machines to stick together (the so-called ‘Casimir force’).

Molecular Physics has established a unique suite of instrumentation used for the study of electron attachment and ion-molecule processes. This experimental resource is not available anywhere else, and represents a cutting-edge multidisciplinary facility for innovative and distinctive applied and basic research.

Fees and funding

Tuition Fees 2018/19 academic year:

  • £4,270 UK/EU students, full-time
  • £2,135 UK/EU students, part-time
  • £20,280 International students, full-time

Learn more about fees and funding.

Scholarships and studentships
Sources of funding may include the EPSRC, the BBSRC, the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), the European Union and industrial funding for UK and EU students.International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.
For further information contact the School directly or email

We have a number of studentships supported by the UK research councils EPSRC and STFC available each year, including some CASE awards. These studentships cover the costs of tuition fees and provide a subsistence allowance for 3.5 years. They are available to UK nationals with at least an upper second-class Honours degree from a UK university, or equivalent. Preference is usually given to those holding four-year MPhys or MSci degrees.

We offer about half a dozen postgraduate teaching assistantships each year as top-ups to EPSRC and STFC studentships. There are also substantial opportunities for postgraduate demonstrators. EU nationals may be eligible for fees-only awards, which are occasionally supplemented by the School. Scholarships may be available, for more information contact the School directly or email

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

Typically a first or 2:1 undergraduate degree. Learn more about entry requirements

How to apply

Enquiries for additional details on research should be addressed directly to the heads of the research groups, with copies to the Head of School at

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

We have over 100 academic and research staff and over 100 graduate students, with around 45 technical and clerical support staff. Our students work in research groups, typically of ten to 50 people, with a high level of academic and technical support. Staff profiles and research interests can be viewed here.

Specialist research areas available in the School of Physics and Astronomy:

Each doctoral researcher is based in a group and plays a full part, together with academic, research and technical staff, in the activities of the group. All research groups hold regular seminars with many distinguished external speakers. Almost all our research activity involves national or international collaboration, often with industrial partners. The School also hosts conferences and meetings on various research topics, bringing in leading scientists from around the world.

Find a PhD


University Careers Network

Dr Zoe Chater talks about her time at Birmingham

Preparation for your career should be one of the first things you think about as you start university. Whether you have a clear idea of where your future aspirations lie or want to consider the broad range of opportunities available once you have a Birmingham degree, our Careers Network can help you achieve your goal.

Our unique careers guidance service is tailored to your academic subject area, offering a specialised team (in each of the five academic colleges) who can give you expert advice. Our team source exclusive work experience opportunities to help you stand out amongst the competition, with mentoring, global internships and placements available to you. Once you have a career in your sights, one-to-one support with CVs and job applications will help give you the edge.

If you make the most of the wide range of services you will be able to develop your career from the moment you arrive.

In the current economic climate where there are many applicants per job, a PhD puts you ahead of the crowd, as it is a clear statement of being hard working and applying oneself to something difficult and original.’
Dan Reed, Doctoral Researcher in Physics and Astronomy, now Investment Analyst at Mercer Investment Consulting

Hear from our PhD students

PhD students from the Gravitational Wave Group talk about their PhD and why they chose the University of Birmingham:

Video guide:
0:06 - Why did you choose the University of Birmingham?
0:46 - What's the best thing about studying at Birmingham?
1:10 - The Gravitational Wave Research Group
1:42 - What's your highlight at Birmingham?
2:18 - What advice would you give to prospective PhD students?