Department of Physics

Funded PhD opportunities

All funded research projects are available now and cover fees plus stipend of $25,000 p.a. and are open to both New Zealand and international students, unless otherwise indicated. To discuss your interest in more detail, contact the supervisor directly on their email address provided. All successful applicants will have to meet the enrollment requirements of the University.

Find more information about postgraduate study in Physics at the University of Auckland.

Click on the staff name below to find out more about available research projects.

Gilles Bellon

Two funded projects available

Rainfall over tropical islands

Freshwater supply on tropical islands faces risks due to climate change, such as the salinization of the freshwater lens associated with the rise in sea level, or perturbations associated with a change in precipitation (insufficient recharge in case of droughts, pollution in case of extreme rainfall events). Understanding the precipitation over tropical islands is still a challenge. Tropical islands witness more precipitation than the surrounding oceans. Multiple factors explain this contrast, including the orography and effects of the diurnal cycle of insolation such as the land-sea breezes. The respective roles of the different factors are still to be quantified. Rainfall over islands is also modulated by the larger-scale variability of the tropical climate, on time scales of a few weeks to a few years. The project aims at better understanding the factors that control precipitation over tropical islands and its variability at diurnal to intraseasonal scales, using observations and both cloud-resolving and idealized models.

For more information contact


Neil Broderick

One fully funded PhD position on a MBIE grant looking at generating 100fs high power pulses from a fibre laser system and demonstrating the potential for using this for micro machining applications. This work will be done in collaboration with Prof. Simpson at the Photon Factory and Prof. Harvey in the Physics department.

For more details contact


Roger Davies

Project: Applications of MISR measurements to three-dimensional cloud properties and relationships between hydrology and radiative forcing by clouds.

For more information contact


Richard Easther

Project: Richard Easther is seeking to fill a PhD studentship in theoretical early universe cosmology. The project will investigate the dynamics of inflationary models based on multiple, interacting scalar fields. Problems under consideration include the sensitivity of these models to their initial conditions, astrophysical observables connected with these scenarios and corresponding observational constraints on these models, and possible attractor solutions found in the large-N limit of these models. Prospective students will have ideally taken courses in general relativity and quantum field theory.

For more information contact


Miro Erkintalo

Project: From ultrafast lasers to microresonator frequency combs

One fully funded PhD position is available for research on advanced laser sources. The project will use theoretical analyses and numerical simulations to explore the dynamics and characteristics of novel laser technologies based on ultrafast fibre lasers and/or microresonators. Specific research topics range from designing fibre lasers emitting white “supercontinuum” light to investigating the creation of frequency combs in quadratically nonlinear resonators driven with continuous-wave lasers. The project’s main focus is theoretical, but it will also involve experimental components (either directly or via collaborators).  The ideal candidate will have some programming experience (for example, Matlab or Python).

For more information contact (see also

Nicola Gaston

Project: From superatoms to nanostructured materials

Funding from the MacDiarmid Institute is available for a PhD student with a strong interest in electronic structure theory and nanomaterials. The project will require working with a variety of computational packages and electronic structure methods.  Some coding experience (for example, familiarity with Python) is highly desirable. 

Send me a current CV, the contact details of two referees and a description of your own research interests and experience.


Stuart Murdoch

Project: Widely tunable optical sources using optical microresonators

One fully funded PhD position, and two fully funded MSc positions, exist for research on widely tunable microresonator sources. The project involves the experimental demonstration of widely-tunable parametric oscillation in optical microresonators. Spectral regions to be targeted include the visible, the near-IR and the mid-IR. Specific research topics range from the design and fabrication of microresonators with optimised dispersion profiles, to new pump configurations, to using these widely tunable sources for applications in spectroscopy.

For more information contact

(see also


Craig Stevens

Project: Shelf Seas Oceanography with Focus on Ocean-Glider Data

The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge is funding a PhD scholarship in observational shelf seas oceanography. The Challenge project aims to develop scientific techniques in order to build a better understanding of the marine environment and its interactions with human activity. The PhD work would be part of a project to investigate how the footprints of human activity are affected by background oceanographic processes. New Zealand has a small fleet of ocean gliders working a pair of regular on-shore/off-shore transects. This project is looking at how these ocean glider observations can integrate into existing data streams to build an improved picture of New Zealand shelf seas. (Note that the position is primarily located in Wellington NZ.) Applications close 15 May.

More information



Frederique Vanholsbeeck

Project: Optical Biopsies using Optical Coherence Tomography

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a real time, non-invasive and non-contact imaging modality for translucent and transparent tissue capable of providing morphological images at the micron scale resolution at more than 1mm depth penetration. First developed in 1991 for measuring the human retina, OCT's fields of application have been extended to a wide variety of tissues and non-biological structures. Conventional OCT is based on measuring the back reflection of light induced by changes of refractive index in the sample. Although the information gain of purely structural images is high, poor contrast can make structures difficult to be identified. Therefore OCT was extended to exploit other light properties for better contrast and quantitative measurements. In this context, we develop optical biopsies using OCT and new contrast agents such as chromatic dispersion and displacement. The project will make use of the existing OCT systems based in Auckland and is funded by a Marsden grant.


Project: Bacterial enumeration

Bacteria are everywhere and are involved in many processes relevant to our everyday life, yet it is hard to monitor bacterial concentration accurately and in real time. Recently, the physics department, in collaboration with the microbiology department, has developed an all-fibre spectroscopic system called the optrode that is able to detect and quantify bacteria. It provides an alternative to the conventional plate count techniques with advantages of portability, sensitivity, near real-time measurements and ability to detect a highly dynamic range of bacterial concentrations in its natural environment. The next challenge is to be able to identify specific types of bacteria. One avenue is to immobilise the microorganism using functionalised fibres or microfluidic devices. This work is funded by a grant in collaboration with a company that is likely to commercialise the device. This research will be carried out in collaboration with microbiologists who will provide samples and knowledge of microorganisms and bacterial processes.

Project: Nonlinear Microscopy

Nonlinear microscopy is a growing field with an ever-increasing range of applications and uses. Traditionally the sources required have been bulky laser systems, which restricted its use. Most recently we have demonstrated that compact fibre base sources offer a compelling alternative, and this project aims to further develop fibre based instruments into practical compact sources and then use them to demonstrate improved imaging of biological materials. The student will begin by testing existing mode-locked fibre sources before designing and building an improved source optimised for imaging. Next they will look at including an all-fibre source into a traditional microscope before using their source for a range of imaging. Second harmonic generation, Raman generation and other nonlinear techniques will be used to create a multi-modal tool that provides structural information with greater precision than conventional techniques.

For more information contact


Geoff Willmott

Project: a PhD studentship in nanofluidics is available to commence in the second half of 2016. It will be funded by a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship and aligned with the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Nanofluidics is an emerging field, which aims to understand the physics and chemistry of soft nanomaterials and of fluidic transport in confined spaces. This area is becoming immensely important as scientists strive to understand the vast biological (and technological) importance of subcellular-sized particles. There is rich potential for applications in medicine, sensing, biotechnology and industry.

The project can focus in one of our developing areas of nanomechanics capability, such as tunable resistive pulse sensing, nanoaspiration, the slip boundary condition in nanofluidics, or theoretical modelling of nanofluidic transport. It is also possible for an applicant to define their own project in the field of nanofluidics. To apply, please send a CV with academic transcripts and suggested referees, and a brief statement of research experience to