Department of Physics

Postgraduate research topics

If you are looking for a topic for your Masters or PhD thesis, browse through the list of available topics below.

Students from New Zealand and across the world complete masters and doctoral degrees in Physics at the University of Auckland. For both programmes, you need to define a project as part of the application process. Our scientists' interests are listed below and we welcome enquiries from interested students.

Specific projects that are guaranteed funding from grants and other sources are listed on our funded PhD opportunities page.

Students can also apply for University scholarships or arrange support from sources outside the University.

Feel free to contact our academic staff directly to discuss your ideas. Find our staff profiles.

Information about postgraduate study in the Department of Physics can be found in the Future postgraduates section.

Supervisor Research topics Email for more details 
Geoff Austin The predictability of planetary atmospheres, non-linearity and chaos, fractal characterization of clouds. The physics of sustainable building technology and alternative energy.
Neil Broderick

Research involves understanding the propagation of light through nonlinear materials and in how this can be used and manipulated to create new devices and applications. With Prof. Coen and Dr Murdoch I am exploring cavity solitons while with Prof. Harvey and Prof. Simpson we have an active programme looking at the generation of ultra-short laser pulses for micro-machining applications. Nonlinear Propagation in fibre tapers is explored through a collaboration with the University of Adelaide and the Southampton University while I have recently obtained funding to work with Cornell University looking at the physics of Optical Rogue Waves ( in collaboration with Dr Erkintalo at the University of Auckland and Prof. Gaeta at Cornell University).

Funded project available
Gilles Bellon

Physics of the tropical atmosphere: clouds, winds, and their interaction. Tropical climate variability. Modelling and theory of climate.

Funded projects available
Howard Carmichael

The theory of open quantum systems with applications in quantum optics and quantum information. Dissipative quantum phase transitions for photons and applications of quantum stochastic processes (quantum trajectories) to cascaded open systems and systems with feedback.

Funded project available, co-supervised with Scott Parkins
Roger Davies Climate physics, satellite observations of the Earth's climate system, theoretical models of equilibrium climate.
Richard Easther

The physics of the very early universe, astrophysical observables and inflationary cosmology, dark matter and the growth of structure in the universe

Funded project available
JJ Eldridge The structure and evolution of single and binary stars and how they determine the populations of core-collapse supernovae, long/short gamma-ray bursts, merging neutron-star/black-hole binaries gravitational wave sources and the appearance and content of nearby and high-redshift galaxies.
Miro Erkintalo

Theoretical and experimental investigations across nonlinear optics and laser physics. Specific research topics include generation of frequency combs in microresonators, designing advanced ultrafast fibre lasers, exploring nonlinear dynamics in lasers and related systems, and leveraging photonic systems to study interdisciplinary wave phenomena. For more information, see

Funded projects available.
Nicola Gaston Condensed matter physics, electronic structure theory, density functional theory, clusters and nanostructured materials
Malcolm Grimson Conndensed matter physics using statistical mechanics to study phase transitions, ferroics, multiferroics, thin films and skyrmions
Shaun Hendy The physics of complex systems, including materials, fluids and surfaces at the nanoscale, and the links between innovation and economics. Computational materials science and nanotechnology
David Krofcheck High energy nuclear physics using the CMS detector at CERN, signatures of strongly interacting quark gluon plasma via heavy ion collisions,
Rainer Leonhardt THz spectroscopy, micro-structured low-loss THz waveguides, metamaterials, 1550nm waveguides in polymer films.
Stuart Murdoch Research topics include the generation of dispersive waves, cascaded four wave mixing, temporal cavity solitons, nonlinear Bragg scattering, widely tunable fiber parametric oscillators, the interplay of Kerr and Raman nonlinearities in fiber parametric amplifiers, incoherently pumped parametric amplifiers, nonlinear fiber sources for CARS.
Dion O'Neale

Complex systems, network science and econo-physics: generative models of network growth; analysis of scientific collaboration and innovation networks (e.g. network architecture arising from co-patenting, co-publication or geographic collocation networks); mathematical models of, e.g., knowledge flow; mathematical models for economic geography.

Funded project available
Scott Parkins

Theoretical quantum optics, cavity quantum electrodynamics (cavity QED), cavity optomechanics, many-body cavity QED and quantum phase transitions.

Funded project available, co-supervised with Howard Carmichael
Nicholas Rattenbury

The Department of Physics, in collaboration with the Intelligent Vision Systems Team in the Department of Computer Science, has funding available for an MSc thesis student to develop tools for the visualisation of multi-parameter data sets using virtual reality. The student will continue to develop existing prototype code to improve our capability to interrogate data sets using an Oculus Rift. Data from the fields of astronomy, cosmology and drone flights are available to test and improve the codes used. The student will also investigate the use of hand gesture control as part of an improved human control interface with the analysis codes. Some programming experience is required. The funding for this project comprises one year's MSc (domestic) fees. 

Also there is a lot of work to do in modelling microlensing events that are recorded by the networks of telescopes around the world, and in order to keep on top of it all we need to have clever algorithms to do as much of the modelling work as possible, without - or with minimal - human interaction. Getting a computer to perform the complex decisions normally based on human interpretation and experience is a challenge. A main goal of the research will be developing code to perform the necessary modelling of planetary microlensing events using graphical processing units (GPUs). A further goal of the research will be developing algorithms to, in real time, adapt their behaviour to optimise models autonomously.
Cather Simpson Fundamental research in the Photon Factory explores the fundamental interaction of ultrashort laser pulses with matter, both as a probe for unravelling the photochemistry and photophysics of light-activated molecules and the laser-induced patterning and ablation of solid materials in micromachining and microfabrication.
Craig Stevens

One project involves researching the ocean mixing in high Reynolds number flows. Cook Strait, New Zealand, sustains some of the largest Reynolds numbers (Re, a balance of inertia and viscosity) on the planet. Despite this highly turbulent large scale flow, ocean stratification clearly persists as the seawater flows through the strait. This project would explore the tidal drivers, background stratification and stratified boundary layer response, mainly through analysis of in situ observations.

A second project focuses on the Drygalski Ice Tongue, Antarctica, which is the largest floating glacier on the planet. It is responsible for allowing the Terra Nova Bay polynya to exist. What does the floating glacier do to ocean currents? What happens to the polynya if the glacier breaks free?The project would combine ocean modelling and observation.
Frederique Vanholsbeeck

The biophotonics group aims at developing new imaging techniques. Currently, we have a strong focus in optical coherence tomography (OCT), spectroscopic fluorescence and nonlinear microscopy. Our research is both fundamental and applied with strong opportunities to interact with the industries based in NZ. The research group is well funded and resourced with strong national and international collaboration.

Funded projects available.
Kasper van Wijk We have PhD projects in extracting information from scattered waves in heterogeneous media. Indoors, these waves are of ultrasonic frequencies, excited and detected with lasers. Outside, our waves are in the seismic frequency band. Applications are numerous, but include CO2 sequestration and geothermal exploration, as well as micro-seismicity for fluid reservoir characterization, rock physics, ice core tomography, and medical imaging.
Geoffrey Willmott

Research projects are available in nano- and microfluidics, especially "soft" nanomechanics and the motion of liquids (and particles within them) on very small scales. Example projects involve resistive pulse sensing, non-wetting systems, and Janus particles. These fields have rich potential for applications in medicine, sensing, biotechnology and industry. Also, the dynamic microfluidics laboratory has high-speed photography facilities, which we use to research drop impacts onto interesting (sometimes superhydrophobic) surfaces.

Funded project available

Peter Wills Origin of genetic coding: we are exploring the sequence of self-organising dynamic transitions from random protein production to a fully functional autocatalytic system of enzymes that operate a genetic code. Most of the work is computational: simulations, phylogenetic analysis and exploring the properties of dynamic networks.