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Thermo-Optical Characterisation of Infrared Optical Thin-Films for Astronomy

Supervisor: Dr Gary Hawkins

Co-supervisor: Dr John Bowen

Application Deadline: Applications accepted all year round

Funding Availability: Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Duration: 36 months


The aims of this research are to investigate and characterise the optical and physical properties of vacuum deposited thin-film materials with temperature. Understanding the temperature-dependent optical semiconductor and mechanical properties of infrared thin-films is crucial to the future design and fabrication of interference multilayers to filter incoming radiation in astronomical telescopes. As increasing demands to progressively improve astronomical telescope construction and performance move into the next generation of instruments, infrared filtering technology faces many challenges to simulate and improve performance of optical thin-film materials. A theoretical and experimental research study into the stress properties of optical thin films is a further growing need. The mechanical effects that result from bending deformation induced by interference coatings, together with effects induced by differing structural morphology in composite multilayers are known to deform and defocus optical imaging, which is an area of growing fundamental theoretical and applied materials research. Characterising and deriving methods to compensate for these stress properties would be the primary target of this research, leading to, and aiding construction of robust optical performance and multilayer designs for future generations of infrared instruments. Experimental characterisation of the optical and semiconductor properties of deposited thin-films is performed by spectroscopic analysis of the infrared spectrum, which is modelled to obtain thermo-optical properties. Mechanical and physical performance of deposited thin-film materials will be assessed by environmental testing procedures, according to recognised coated optics specifications, these will include thermal-cycling, humidity and microscopy to determine thin-film structural morphology.

The Infrared Multilayer Laboratory is a world renowned facility for the design and manufacture of high-performance infrared optical interference filters and coatings for spaceborne and ground-based telescope imaging and spectroscopy instruments. Specialist unique filters and coatings manufactured by the laboratory are deployed on many international space and astronomy research instruments, together with satellites used for planetary remote-sensing and atmospheric weather research since the 1960's.

University of Reading

The University of Reading is one of the UK’s 20 most research-intensive universities and among the top 200 universities in the world. Achievements include the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement (1989) and the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education (1998, 2006 and 2009).


Applicants should have a bachelors (at least 2.1 or equivalent) or Masters degree in Physics, Optics, Materials Science or a strongly related discipline. Strong data analysis and experimental skills are preferable. Experience in Matlab and Labview are desirable.

How to apply

Please submit an application for a PhD in Cybernetics to the University using the link below.

In the online application system, there is a section for "Research proposal" and a box that says "If you have already been in contact with a potential supervisor, please tell us who" - in this box, please enter "Dr Gary Hawkins".

Funding notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.

Students from Brazil: we welcome and support applications for the Science Without Borders Scholarship (Ciência sem Fronteiras).

Further enquiries

For further information about this PhD opportunity, please contact:

Dr Gary Hawkins, tel: +44 (0)118 378 8224, email: