PhD Studentships
29 Sep 2020





Call for applications starting in fall 2023 will start at the end of this year.


Every year, we offer opportunities for graduat​es to study for a research degree (PhD/D.Phil) in particle physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). Financial support is normally through an UKRI-STFC Postgraduate Studentship award. The eligibility rules are changing for studentships starting in 2021/2022 and can be found in this statement. Non-UK students can find guidance on their fee status in the UKCISA page. International students are eligible, however, the PhD grants will not cover international fees set by Universities, and applications can only be considered if the international tuition fees can be obtained from other sources, for example if you have access to your own funding, either from your home country or your own finances or if the University accepted to only charge the home fee for a given studentship. The general terms and conditions for UKRI STFC Postgraduate Studentships apply. Students will be based in the Particle Physics Department (PPD) at RAL, supervised by PPD staff and registered for a full-time PhD/D.Phil degree at the collaborating University. During the first year they will be required to attend appropriate lectures at RAL and at the collaborating University.

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) facilities and expertise support the work of more than 10,000 scientists and engineers from around the world, both in universities and in industry.

The RAL is part of Harwell Campus and lies about 15 miles south of Oxford, at Chilton in Oxfordshire. The Laboratory was founded in 1957 and has since become one of Europe's largest multidisciplinary research laboratories. The research programme includes astronomy, biology, chemistry, computing, work on new energy sources, engineering, environmental research, materials science, particle physics, astro-physics, radio communications and space science. Facilities include ISIS, the world's most powerful pulsed spallation neutron source, world-leading high power lasers, high performance computing and a micro-technology centre.

Particle Physics Department at RAL

The Particle Physics Department (PPD) is one of the largest such departments in the UK and has an active research program. Physicists and support staff from RAL, together with collaborators from university groups, work on a variety of experiments abroad and in the UK. It is also responsible for co-ordinating the UK experimental programme and for providing support to groups at UK universities. The department has excellent computing and library facilities. It also arranges frequent lectures and seminars in particle physics which all staff and students are encouraged to attend.

At present the department has approximately 60 staff (40 holding PhDs) including research physicists, physicist programmers, technical and computing support staff as well as administrators and secretaries. Several of the research physicists hold joint appointments at UK universities. See the PPD Home Page for further details about the department and the summary below.​

Every year we take on around 6 new PhD students and currently we supervise around around 20 PhD students. As the students are dividing their time between PPD, their University and possibly the experimental sites, around half of the students are based in the moment with us in PPD.

Studentship opportunities starting Sep/Oct 2023

Working in a national laboratory will allow students to get a broad overview of the field and be involved in both the physics and hardware activities as well as providing exposure to other areas of science undertaken at RAL. Students will be registered at a partner University for their PhD, and will be co-supervised by RAL and University academics. Frequent travel to the experimental sites will be expected. ​

To give an idea what kind of projects we will be offering, in 2022 PhD studentships were available available on:

​How to apply

Applicants must:

  • Hold a master's degree (MPhys / MSci / MPhil) or the equivalent in physics (1st or 2.1), or must be finishing soon
  • Be able to work independently and in a structured manner, and demonstrate good collaborative skills
  • Be proficient in both written and oral English
  • Be eligible for home fee status or if you have access to your own funding to pay full fees at international level.
Your application must include:

  • A brief account of your research interests and motivation for applying for the position 
  • Your CV 
  • Copies of your academic transcript
  • A list of any works of a scientific nature published by yourself
  • The names and contact information of the two referees you have asked to send us a reference letter. One of these should be your academic tutor or final year project advisor
Applicants should send their application with the information requested above to They should also state in which projects they are interested in. in case you qualify as international student, please specify how the difference between the home and international University fees would be funded. In addition, they should arrange for two reference letters to be sent to the same address. ​The application deadline will be announced in time. Late applications will be considered until all positions are filled. An open day will be held in February 2023. Due to Covid it is not yet clear if the open day will be help in person or if this will be a virtual event only. More information can be found in "Details of Studentships".​​

Projects and activities within the department

Much of our current understanding of elementary particle physics is embodied in the so-called 'Standard Model', which describes the phenomena of particle physics in terms of `matter' and `force' particles. The matter particles are the quarks and leptons which come in three 'generations' with very different masses. The force particles include the 'gauge bosons' which mediate the three forces that determine elementary particle interactions; 'gluons' for the strong force, the 'W and Z bosons' for the weak force and 'photons' for the electromagnetic force.

Whilst this standard model describes much of particle physics, it is far from complete relying on a relatively large number of input parameters. It also raises a great number of questions. Why are there just three generations of quarks and leptons? What is the mechanism by which mass is generated and is it connected with the hitherto undetected particle - the 'Higgs Boson'. Our experiments now show that neutrinos have masses - so how are neutrino masses related to the quark and lepton masses?

The aim of the experiments carried out in the particle physics department, in collaboration with colleagues from UK universities, is to answer some of these and related questions. The experiments are located at different research institutes around the world:

  • CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics (located in Geneva, Switzerland)
  • Fermilab Fermi National Accelerator laboratory (located near Chicago)
  • SURF Sanford Underground Research Facility (South Dakota, USA)
  • J-PARC Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (Tokai, Japan)
  • ILL Institut Laue Langevin (located in Grenoble, France)

In addition experiments are carried out underground at the SOUDAN mine in Minnesota, USA and at the Boulby mine in Yorkshire, UK. Some further information about the facilities and the individual experiments is given below, together with references to relevant papers and web addresses. Research students will work in one of these groups, under the supervision of a senior research physicist. The project will be chosen in discussion with the student and the supervisors. More detailed information is given later in the section "Details of Studentships".​


The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is currently the highest energy accelerator and the world's largest scientific instrumentat CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Up to the end of 2018 protons were collided head-on, each proton in each bunch in each of the two colliding beams having an energy of 6500 GeV. In 2012 proton collisions with beam energies of 3500 GeV and 4000 GeV allowed us to discover the Higgs boson, which was the last missing piece of our underlying theory, the Standard Model (SM). Currently we are searching for new phenomena beyond the SM and carry our high precision SM measurements and also already prepare the experiments for future running periods. At RAL we are involved with the two general purpose detectors (ATLAS and CMS) as well as with LHCb.


The next Dark Matter experiment LZ, situated at SURF in South Dakota, USA, will be conducted deep underground to reduce backgrounds due to cosmic rays. SURF will also host the next-generation long-baseline neutrino experiment, DUNE, scheduled to start data-taking in the mid-2020s. The near detector and neutrino beamline are at Fermilab, USA, giving a baseline of 1300 km from the target to the far detector.


Tokai to Kamioka (T2K) is a neutrino oscillation experiment using the existing Super-Kamiokande experiment as the far detector. It is located in Kamioka on the west coast of Japan directly in the path of a muon-neutrino beam generated 295 km away at the J-PARC facility in Tokai. The construction of the next generation neturino oscillation experiment Hyper-Kamiokande is foreseen in 2020. Hyper-Kamiokande (Hyper-K) is a water Cherenkov detector centered on a huge underground tank containing 300,000 tonnes of water, with a sensitive volume about a factor of 10 larger than its predecessor Super-Kamiokande (Super-K). Like T2K, the experiment will be located in Kamioka and use a neutrino beam at the J-PARC facility in Tokai.

Other underground and non-accelerator experiments

Some testing for LZ, for example screening of some of the detector material for radioactivity, is carried out at Boulby, UK. Testing for The Neutron EDM experiment is making high sensitivity measurements on neutrons from the reactor at ILL, Grenoble, France. Work is also ongoing for research and development into a possible next generation neutron EDM experiment. All these experiments are looking for physics outside the standard model.

Details of studentships

RAL students in Particle Physics are registered as full time postgraduate students at the collaborating University. They are based in the Particle Physics Department at RAL but may also be required to visit other UK and/or overseas laboratories, e.g. CERN, Geneva; SURF, South Dakota etc. Applicants will normally be expected to have a UK first degree in physics or other appropriate subject, with first or upper second class honours, or to have an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard from a university or educational institution of university rank, or to have a recognised Master's degree. In most cases students will be required to register initially for an MPhil/MSc degree, with the expectation of transfer to the PhD/D.Phil programme after the successful completion of one year and with the approval of the Physics Department at the collaborating University and the Particle Physics Department at RAL.

A candidate whose qualifications, although otherwise acceptable, are inadequate in a particular field may be required to pass specified qualifying examinations in that field during the period of their MPhil/MSc registration and before presenting themselves for the degree. If qualifying requirements are specified for PhD/D.Phil registration, they must normally be satisfied before the period of registration can begin.

All students whose first language is not English must be able to provide recent evidence that their spoken and written command of the English language is adequate. This requirement is specified in order to ensure that the academic progress of students is not hindered by language difficulties and that students are able to benefit from their time at RAL. The required evidence may take the form of a minimum of 18 months' education or work experience conducted in English and undertaken no more than three years prior to the proposed date of enrolment. Alternatively, applicants must provide a recently obtained acceptable English language qualification or test result. The qualification or test result must have been awarded no more than three years prior to the proposed date of enrolment. A variety of qualifications are accepted. Applicants should send this evidence, or arrange for it to be sent, at the same time as their formal application is made. RAL reserves the right to require any student to withdraw from the degree programme if, in the opinion of the supervisor, the student's proficiency in English is inadequate.

Financial support covers the home fees charged at University and is available for UK students. Non-UK students can find out which fees they have to pay from the UKCISA page. In addition a maintenance allowance is paid over 3.5 years at the "outside London" rate. International students are eligible, and 30% of the studentships can be given to such students. However, the grants do not cover the international University fees. So if you have the correct qualifications and either the partner University offers a special deal to waive the international fees or you have access to your own funding, either from your home country or your own finances, your application will be considered. 

Students not covered by the above may still be accepted to study for a PhD/D.Phil, under appropriate circumstances, provided they meet all the relevant entry criteria. All students will be entitled to the normal rights, privileges and use of facilities at the collaborating University, particularly those of the graduate school, and will be subject to the same responsibilities, rules and regulations as other registered graduate students. Whilst not an "employee" of STFC, when working at RAL, students will be required to comply with a number of policies/procedures including those relating to health and safety, no-smoking, code of conduct for staff etc as well as conforming with normal staff requirements for medical and security clearance. They will have the same access to Welfare, Occupational Health and Nursery facilities as STFC employees.

The primary supervisor for RAL students will be a RAL Research Physicist (or appropriate RAL staff scientist). There will normally be a second supervisor from among the appropriate staff at the collaborating University. RAL students will normally be expected to see their University supervisors at least once per term. RAL students will be required to attend formal lecture courses as specified by RAL and the collaborating University.


  • Questions concerning the RAL studentships should be addressed to Dr​ Monika Wielers, tel: +44 1235 445966.

  • Further information about the Particle Physics Department and its experimental programme can be obtained from the Director, Particle Physics, Prof David Newbold, tel: +44 (0)1235 446760.

Contact: Wielers, Monika (STFC,RAL,PPD)