Postgraduate research opportunities Ultra-intense laser-plasma interactions: High field physics and ion acceleration in the radiation-dominated regime


Key facts

  • Opens: Friday 1 December 2023
  • Number of places: 1
  • Funding: Home fee, Stipend


A fully-funded PhD studentship is available in high power laser-plasma physics, working within a vibrant team of experimentalists and theoreticians, to investigate the onset of a new regime of high-field relativistic plasmas.
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Qualifications: BSc (Hons) 2:1 or equivalent degree in physics.

THE Awards 2019: UK University of the Year Winner
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Project Details

Rapid developments in high power laser technology have enabled new regimes in laser intensity to be reached, which has opened up new frontiers in science via the production of extreme pressures, temperatures and intense electric and magnetic fields. With the advent of multi-petawatt-class lasers on the horizon, e.g. via the European extreme light infrastructure (ELI) project, unprecedented intensities will soon be achievable, giving rise to a new high-field physics phenomena in which large fractions of the laser energy is absorbed into gamma-rays and subsequently electron-positron pair creation. The gamma-rays are produced by synchrotron-like radiation of electrons accelerated by the laser and the resulting radiation force can dominate the motion at ultra-high intensities, making this potentially the most intense gamma-ray source in the laboratory.

In this ultra-intense regime, the radiation pressure of the laser pulse also leads to the acceleration of ions, resulting in ion beams with unique characteristics that are unattainable using existing conventional radio frequency ion accelerators. The ion source is essentially 'point-like' in both space (micron scale) and time (picoseconds), and the resulting ion pulse is several orders of magnitude brighter than can be achieved with conventional technology. These unique ion sources have many potential applications in science, medicine and industry.

The studentship is available in theory/ simulations, although applications are also considered for related experimental positions. Theory students will be based in the Physics Department at Strathclyde and will have access to several large high performance computers to perform numerically intensive simulations. Applications are welcome from highly motivated candidates with a strong theoretical or numerical background and experience in programming with Fortran, C/C++, Matlab, Maple or IDL. Students focused on experiment will be based in the Physics Department at Strathclyde and will travel to perform the research at world-leading, large national and international laser facilities, at the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and at several international laboratories. They will also contribute to the planning and preparation of related experiments using the new SCAPA laser facility under development at Strathclyde.


Recent example publications related to the project:

  • Annular Fast Electron Transport in Silicon Arising from Low-Temperature Resistivity, D. A. MacLellan et al., Physical Review Letters, 111, 095001 (2013)
  • Effect of Lattice Structure on Energetic Electron Transport in Solids Irradiated by Ultraintense Laser Pulses, P. McKenna et al., Physical Review Letters 106, 185004 (2011)
  • Exotic Dense-Matter States Pumped by a Relativistic Laser Plasma in the Radiation-Dominated Regime, J. Colgan et al. Physical Review Letters, 110, 125001 (2013)
  • Ion Acceleration in Multispecies Targets Driven by Intense Laser Radiation Pressure, S. Kar et al., Physical Review Letters, 109, 185006 (2012)
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Funding details

Scholarships (fees and stipend) available on a competitive basis for UK/EU students, please contact supervisor for details.

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Professor McKenna

Professor Paul McKenna

Deputy Associate Principal

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Number of places: 1

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Programme: Physics

Start date: Oct 2024 - Sep 2025

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Contact us

For further information, please contact Professor Paul McKenna (