Rediscovering the Fundamental Science of the Archetypal Antiferroelectric PbZrO3 at small scales
Applications are now CLOSED
Functional materials form the basis of modern day life and are integral to devices that exploit their unique functionalities. In this context, antiferroelectrics are considered prime candidates for high energy data storage, actuators, transducers and electrocaloric applications. The conventional theory of antiferroelectricity, developed by Kittel in 1950s, describes antiferroelectric materials through an antiparallel arrangement of dipoles in adjacent unit cells at ground state, which switch to parallel arrangement at high applied electric fields. Such behaviour has been historically associated with the perovskite structure PbZrO3, the archetypal antiferroelectric and has profound implications towards multitude of applications in devices based on them. However, recent work on PbZrO3 suggests a more complex picture, with a range of ferroelectric, ferrielectric and modulated polarization behaviour at the nanoscale and debate about the nature of anti-ferroelectricity in this material has intensified [1-4]. In this context, our team is uniquely poised to tackle the key challenges of correlated macroscopic and microscopic studies of polar and antipolar states in PbZrO3 thin films, within the range of observational parameters. This work will investigate the existence of a transitional state from classical antiferroelectric states to ferroelectric and paraelectric states in the archetypal antiferroelectric PbZrO3. The study will thus for the first time explore the effects of size reduction on such transitional states in dimension-, stress-, and orientation-controlled PbZrO3 thin films and nanostructures. The exploration of the limits of the classical Kittel theory of antiferroelectricity will be performed through multipronged theoretical and experimental approaches, pushing the limits of microscopy and will be informed by ab-initio and DFT based atomistic modelling. The insights gained from this project would have direct relevance to broader classes of antiferroelectric materials.
The overarching goal of this funded PhD project (3.5 years) is to advance the fundamental understanding of antiferroelectricity in PbZrO3 thin films and nanostructures, through multipronged theoretical and experimental studies of nanoscale polarization. Specifically, this work will correlate microscopic structural changes with macroscopic properties in this archetypal antiferroelectric, exploring the stability of classical antiferroelectric (AFE), ferrielectric (FiE), and ferroelectric (FE) behaviour in PbZrO3 thin films and nanostructures as a function of thickness reduction, size confinement in a range of surface-to-volume ratios with reduced lateral constraint, and crystallographic orientation of the films (where a large inherent anisotropy in the material might result in different stabilization criteria for transitions between AFE, FiE and FE behaviours). In parallel, theoretical efforts will evaluate material behaviour at increasing size from the nanoscale, offering insights into transition(s) from the nanoscale-stable ferroelectric phase, to an (intermediate) ferrielectric phase, to the macroscale and bulk-stable and archetypal antiferroelectric one. The PhD project is central to a large collaborative US-Ireland effort between two US-based institutions (Georgia Tech and University of South Florida) and two European counterparts (QUB) in Northern Ireland and TCD in the Republic of Ireland, which attempts to better understand material functionalities across wide (millimeter to nanometer) length scales and will address the nanoscale organization of dielectric dipoles in oxides that can collectively lead to presence or absence of switchable polarization at larger length scales. When successful, this research could enable the next-generation micro- and nano-scale high force and high displacement actuators and transducers, ultra-high energy storage devices, miniaturized voltage regulators, solid-state cooling, electro-optic and electronic devices. The proposed research in this PhD project will be primarily experimental in nature conducted via well-established techniques such as scanning probe microscopy, focused ion-beam milling and high resolution transmission electron microscopy (QUB team has a strong international reputation in the use of such techniques towards novel research in ferroic oxides). The broader ferroelectrics activity at CNM is internationally renowned and the research features in high-impact journals and at international conferences. The student will work with Dr Amit Kumar (as the primary supervisor) and with a vibrant and enthusiastic team of established PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. Dr. Raymond McQuaid (UKRI fellow and co-investigator) and Dr. Kristina Holsgrove (research fellow) will also be part of the supervising team. Applications should be made through the QUB system and informal discussions with Dr Amit Kumar (Email : email@example.com) are encouraged.
 Yao et al., Advanced Materials 35, 2206541 (2023).
 Relevant news article : https://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofMathematicsandPhysics/News/Internationalresearchprojecttounveiltheexistenceoftransitionalstates.html Taganstev at al., Nature communications 4, 2229 (2013)
 Aramberri et al., NPJ Computational Materials 7, 196 (2021).
Start date: 1st July 2023
Closing date: 28th February 2023
Please see the link below for eligibility criteria: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/department-economy-studentships
Dr Amit Kumar
Full-time: 3.5 years
The scientific research within the School of Mathematics and Physics was highly rated in the 2021 REF peer-review exercise, with 90% of research being judged as internationally excellent or world-leading. Physics at Queen's is currently joint 6th in the UK for Research Intensity and has been voted 13th in the UK in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.
Physics research activity in the School is focused into three specific Research Centres; all members of academic staff belong to one of these Research Centres, listed below.
Astrophysics Research Centre (PhD/MPhil)
Find out more below, or email Professor Mihalis Mathioudakis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Centre for Light-Matter Interaction (PhD/MPhil)
Find out more below, or email Professor Marco Borghesi (email@example.com)
Centre for Quantum Materials and Technology (PhD/MPhil)
Find out more below, or email Dr Amit Kumar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Registration is on a full-time or part-time basis, under the direction of a supervisory team appointed by the University. You will be expected to submit your thesis at the end of three years of full-time registration for PhD, or two years for MPhil (or part-time equivalent).
- Queen's graduates from Physics have secured employment through a number of companies such as Allstate, AquaQ Analytics, Citigroup, Deloitte, First Derivatives, PwC, Randox, Seagate, Teach First and UCAS. In addition, Belfast has been ranked as the world’s most business friendly small-medium sized city (Financial Times’ fDi Intelligence, 2018)
World Class Facilities
- Since 2014, the School has invested over £12 million in new world-class student and staff facilities. Maths and Physics students have their own teaching centre that opened in 2016, housing brand experimental physics laboratories, two large computer rooms plus a student interaction area with a new lecture theatre and study rooms. In addition to this, Belfast has one of the lowest student cost of living in the UK (Which? University, 2018).
Internationally Renowned Experts
- Queen's is joint 6th in the UK for Research Intensity for Physics and Astronomy (Complete University Guide 2021). The School has a continually growing international community of both undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff. Our research is conducted and recognised as excellent across the world. Staff are involved in cutting-edge research projects that span a multitude of fields.
- Students will have access to our facilities, resources and our dedicated staff. The School of Maths & Physics is one of the largest Schools in the University. Staff are involved in cutting-edge research that spans a multitude of fields.
PhDs are invariably a marathon, so if you have the passion and drive to do a PhD, I would certainly recommend studying at the Astrophysics Research Centre at QUB. While studying my PhD at Queen’s, I am fortunate to have had a very supportive supervisor. By providing guidance at each step of the process, he has enabled me to succeed and, further, I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect with my wider field in the UK, Europe and the USA through travel and collaboration, which has certainly been the highlight of my experience thus far.
Ryan Campbell, PhD Physics student, 2020
You’ll be involved in the search for distant supernovae and where they came from; study the asteroid and comet population in the Solar system; look for planets orbiting other stars in our Galaxy; study flares and other dynamic processes in the atmosphere of the Sun. You’ll have the opportunity to spend extensive periods at world-leading research centres such as the European Southern Observatory and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
At Queen’s we lead major European consortia and are supported by a multi-million pounds portfolio of research grants from a range of sources, including the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Royal Society, and European Union.
Centre for Quantum Materials and Technologies (PhD/MPhil)
Human history is defined by the materials we use to underpin our technology: stone, bronze, iron, silicon. As we enter the emerging Quantum era, this impetus on materials and their link to technologies becomes even stronger. As a PhD student in Centre for Quantum Materials Technologies, you will be playing a part in the development of materials systems which will, in some way, define our technology for the future. How can this not be exciting? You will seek to reveal the physics of material behaviour at the boundary of current global knowledge and quantum limits, at the same time, become proficient in techniques for Quantum computation, materials growth, patterning, characterisation and theoretical modelling.
These skills are highly valued in high-tech companies and commercial research institutions, as well as in academic research settings. Our laboratories and computational facilities are extremely well-equipped for international-level research and our links to other research teams throughout the world in both academia and industry are strong and you should expect to travel, should you wish to, as part of your PhD experience.
Centre for Light Matter Interaction (PhD/MPhil)
Your research will involve identifying, and responding to, major open problems in laser- and electrically-produced plasmas, ultra-fast atomic and molecular physics, the interaction of ionising radiation and plasmas with matter (including biological systems), the physics of antimatter interactions with atoms and molecules, and the description of strong field laser interactions with atoms and molecules.
You will address fundamental and/or practical questions related to the description of electronic excitations, optical properties of matter, and the interaction between electric currents, heat and light. Your theoretical activity will imply the development and programming of novel simulation methodologies to model such processes. Experimentally, you will employ local, national and international facilities, including some of the most powerful laser systems worldwide ,while benefiting from transferring your research findings into the industrial and medical sectors.
Postgraduate research programmes within CQMT provide experience and training in state-of-the art academic research: many of our research strands are world-leading, as evidenced by performance in REF2021. In addition, most of our postgraduate researchers are exposed to functional materials and photonics in major multinational companies.
Prof Marty Gregg - School of Mathematics and Physics
Many of our PhD graduates have moved into academic and research roles in Higher Education while others have progressed into jobs such as Data Scientist, Software Engineer, Financial Software Developer, IT Graduate Associate, Technology Consultant, Research Physicist, Telescope Operator and R&D Engineer.
People teaching you
Dr Amit Kumar
Head of Research Centre - Centre for Quantum Materials and Technologies
School of Maths and Physics
Prof Marco Borghesi
Head of Research Centre - Centre for Light-Matter Interaction
School of Maths and Physics
Prof Mihalis Mathioudakis
Head of Research Centre - Astrophysics Research Centre
School of Maths and Physics
Course structureThere is no specific course content as such. A PhD programme runs for 3-4 years full-time or 6-8 years part-time. Students can register for a writing up year should it be required.
The PhD is open to both full and part time candidates and is often a useful preparation for a career within academia or consultancy.
Please review the eligibility criteria on the webpages. If you believe that you meet these criteria then follow the steps below:
Select ONE potential supervisor from our list of Academic Staff: https://www.qub.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate-research/find-a-phd-supervisor/ and send an email to that supervisor advising that you are interested in studying for a PhD, stating when you would start, and how you would plan to fund the research. It would be helpful to provide a a brief statement of the research question or interest, and how you think the question could be investigated. The potential supervisor may invite you to meet with them or they may invite you to apply formally.
Assessment processes for the Research Degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present drafts of their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.
This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.
The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.
Supervisors will offer feedback on draft work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.
Our world-class facilities support research and teaching across a diverse range of areas designed to fulfil specific activities. The School contains 4,700m2 of purpose-built laboratory space which includes the ANSIN materials research hub, the Ewald Microscopy Facility (EMF) and the Taranis laser facility. The Teaching Centre (opened in 2016) includes experimental physics laboratories, two large computer rooms and plenty of student study and interaction space. Our laboratories and equipment are looked after by a dedicated team of technicians and are used by our researchers, students and industry.
The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School of Mathematics and Physics.
For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.
English Language Requirements
Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.0, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required. *Taken within the last two years
International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.
For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see: www.qub.ac.uk/EnglishLanguageReqs.
If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.
|Northern Ireland (NI) 1||£4,596|
|Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2||£4,596|
|England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1||£4,596|
|EU Other 3||£23,850|
1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.
3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.
All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
More information on postgraduate tuition fees.
Depending on the area of research chosen there may be extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees.
Additional course costs
Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.
Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.
How do I fund my study?1.PhD Opportunities
Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes
We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.3.PhD loans
The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.4.International Scholarships
Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.
Funding and Scholarships
The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.
How to Apply
Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.
Find a supervisor
If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.
To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.
You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.