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 industry including our spin-off companies. The £6 million Nanoscale Science Facility houses a suite of powerful new tools to probe the physics and applications of nanoscale architectures created in the Lab. Research ranges from single atom manipulation through atomic clusters and molecular self-organisation to new catalysts for solar energy and biochips for cancer diagnosis.

The Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory is a world leading player in several areas of nanoscience research, notably (a) nanoclusters, (b) atomic manipulation and (c) nanofabrication. The field is now at a very exciting stage, where we can probe the fundamental physics of finely controlled systems while at the same time making the link to applications in energy, engineering, materials and the life sciences, developing a new generation of devices based on nanoscale structures. 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 include:

(I) Atomic clusters (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, for example, to immobilise individual protein molecules, as relevant to biochips for early cancer detection, as model catalysts for selective chemistry and solar energy and to create novel nanostructured optical materials.

(II) Atomic manipulation and nanofabrication (Richard Palmer)

Atomic manipulation is the ultimate limit of nanotechnology. Novel methods are developed for single molecule manipulation with the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope, which couple nanoscale charge transport to non-adiabatic molecular dynamics, e.g., electron injection from the STM tip into molecular resonance states, directly or via lateral transport of hot electrons in semiconductors. 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 EUV nanolithography centre on novel molecular resists with high resolution and high sensitivity exposed via low energy secondary electrons. Work like this underpins our high tech spin-out companies.

(III) Self-assembled nanostructures (Quanmin Guo)

Self-assembly is an important process for the fabrication of nanoscale materials and structures. Self-assembly relies on the "intelligence" of the building blocks, eg atoms and molecules or nanoclusters, which recognize each other and form a coherently organized system. This project addresses the fundamental issues of self-assembly on nanostructured surfaces. Systems under current investigation include magic number hybrid-systems composed of gold clusters coupled to C60 molecules, each with a set number of atoms. Here self-organisation is augmented by atomic manipulation with the STM tip.

(IV) 3D atomic-scale structure (Ziyou Li)

Nanoclusters and 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. Their properties can also be tuned through cluster-surface interactions or by varying the chemical composition via nanoalloying. This project exploits our group's unique experience in creating advanced nanomaterials coupled with advanced electron microscopy-based techniques to investigate structure and composition at the atomic-scale, with particular emphasis on quantitative imaging with the aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope (AC-STEM).

(V) 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 the 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 excited on a nanostructured surface. The high gain in such structures opens the way to detect weak optical signals.

(VI) Surface science at the nanoscale (Wolfgang Theis)

Instrumentation is being developed to grow thin films, interfaces, and embedded clusters on the nanoscale sized (10-100nm) apexes of specially prepared tungsten tips, to provide superior samples for atomic scale tomography in the transmission electron microscope (TEM) in collaboration with Berkeley. This effort is coupled to 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