Research Progams/PhD Research Projects for

Principal Investigators:    Professor RE Palmer
Dr Q Guo
Dr ZY Li
Dr A Kaplan
Dr W Theis
Dr APG Robinson

Our Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory – the first centre for nanoscience in the UK – is a world-leading player in nanoscience research, and has many links to experimental and theoretical groups in Europe and beyond, as well as high-tech companies. The £2.5 million Nanoscale Science Facility and £3 million Centre for Advanced Materials house a suite of powerful new tools to probe the physics and applications of nanoscale structures created in the Lab. The Laboratory is also a key partner in the University’s new bio-imaging centre.

Physics on the nanometre-scale is dominated by quantum mechanics. The Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory is a world leading player in several areas of nanoscience research, notably (a) nanoclusters, (b) atomic manipulation and (c) nanoscale surface science. The field is now at a very exciting stage, where we can test fundamental physics ideas in finely controlled systems while at the same time making the link to applications in engineering, materials and the life sciences, in particular molecular biology, developing a new generation of devices based on nanoscale architectures. Collaborations with high tech companies in the applied areas promote technology transfer and provide additional investment and sponsorship for research and students. The Lab’s research projects are led by five staff members:-.

Atomic clusters, nanostructured surfaces, nanoplasmonics (Richard Palmer)

Size-selected atomic clusters are prepared and mass filtered using novel cluster beam systems then deposited with controlled energy onto well-defined solid surfaces. Deposited clusters (of both metals and semiconductors) are imaged with STM or aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy, which yields a 3D cluster density map with atomic resolution. Excited states (e.g., plasmons, excitons) of the nanostructured surfaces created by cluster deposition are probed by spectroscopic methods. The clusters are exploited to immobilise individual protein molecules, as relevant to biochips for early cancer detection, as model catalysts for selective chemistry and as novel electronic and optical components, e.g., for plasmonics.

Atomic manipulation and nanofabrication (Richard Palmer)

Atomic manipulation is the ultimate limit of nanotechnology. Novel methods are developed for single molecule manipulation with the STM, e.g., via electron injection from the STM tip into molecular resonance states, directly or via lateral electronic transport through surface states (“remote control”). ) Up at the 1-10nm scale, the Scanning Probe Energy Loss Spectrometer is a novel tool which couples STM imaging with local electron spectroscopy for nanoscale analysis. Innovations in nanolithography centre on novel molecular resists with high resolution and high sensitivity exposed with EUV light via low energy secondary electrons. Work like this underpins our four high tech spin-out companies.

Self-assembled nanostructures (Quanmin Guo)

Self-assembly is a very important process for the fabrication of nanoscale materials and structures. Unlike the direct manipulation of individual atoms and molecules by the STM tip, self-assembly relies on the "intelligence" of the building blocks, e.g., atoms and molecules or nanoclusters, to recognize each other and form a coherently organized system. This project addresses the fundamental issues of self-assembly on nanostructured surfaces. An example of self-assembled systems that have been investigated for the last few years is the zero-gradient stepped surface (ZGSS), which was discovered in our lab and is exploited to study important surface processes such as step dynamics, anisotropic diffusion and directed growth.

3D atomic-scale structure (Ziyou Li)

Nanoclusters/nanoparticles are building blocks for novel materials. They are particularly interesting to physicists as one can explore new physics and exploit innovative applications through studying the size and shape dependence of their physical properties. The physical properties can also be tuned through the choice of different substrates while one can also vary the chemical composition via nanoalloying. These possibilities allow significant flexibility in property optimization. This project exploits our group's unique experience in creating advanced nanomaterials and electron microscopy-based techniques to investigate structure and composition-related properties of nanomaterials at the atomic-scale, with particular emphasis on quantitative imaging with the probe-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope.

Ultrafast dynamics (Andrey Kaplan)

Our research team uses ultra-short laser pulses to investigate ultrafast dynamics on surfaces and in nanoscale systems. In particular we are interested in the processes of excitation relaxation in such systems. The advantage of ultrashort laser pulses is that they provide a tool to measure directly the dynamics of the charge carriers and lattice following photoexcitation. Knowledge about these processes is very important in the development of modern electronic and optoelectronic devices intended to operate at ultrahigh speed. Our team is also developing a new approach to imaging surface plasmons, specifically the strength, direction and phase of the electrical field associated with the plasmons excited on a nanostructured surface. The high gain in such structures is needed to detect weak optical signals.

Surface science at the nanoscale (Wolfgang Theis)

Instrumentation is being developed to grow and anneal thin films, interfaces, and embedded clusters on the nanoscale sized (10-100nm) apexes of specially prepared tungsten tips. The process is conducted in an ultra-high vacuum (UHV) scanning electron microscope (SEM) system with the aim to provide superior samples for atomic scale tomography in the transmission electron microscope (TEM). Similar technology is being developed for thinning and post-processing of focused ion beam (FIB) lift-out pillars. This effort is underpinned by ongoing fundamental research in epitaxy and ultrathin film growth dynamics.

For general enquiries please contact:

Professor R E Palmer (
Head, Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory
School of Physics and Astronomy
The University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

For more details about specific projects, please contact the project supervisors:

Professor Richard Palmer
Dr Quanmin Guo
Dr Ziyou Li
Dr Andrey Kaplan
Dr Wolfgang Theis
Dr Alex Robinson

Web site:

Further Information PhD Application Form