DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics
About the course
The department researches the interaction of light and matter over an enormous range of conditions, from high-energy plasmas created by the most powerful lasers in the world, to the coherent manipulation of single quantum particles for implementing quantum information processing, to the creation of exotic states of quantum matter such as Bose-Einstein condensation.
Research in atomic and laser physics (ALP) involves some of the most rapidly developing areas of physical science and ranges from the fundamental physics of quantum systems to interdisciplinary application of lasers. The themes include the following, using both experiment and theory:
- quantum computation
- quantum cryptography
- quantum chaos
- quantum memories
- optical manipulation of cold atoms and molecules
- ultra-cold matter
- Bose-Einstein condensations
- optical lattices and quantum simulations
- ions traps and entanglement
- non-linear optics
- cavity quantum electrodynamics
- quantum optics
- high-intensity laser interactions
- ultra-fast X-ray science
- laser-plasma science
- attosecond optics
- optical metrology and precision spectroscopy
- fundamental tests of QED
- femtosecond combs
- EPR and NMR for QIP
- laboratory astrophysics.
At graduate level, the department primarily offers the DPhil research degree (equivalent to a PhD). In very exceptional cases, it may be possible to do an MSc by Research in Atomic and Laser Physics. There is no graduate taught master’s course in ALP.
The DPhil is a research degree and you normally start working on your main research project as soon as you arrive. A list of current projects is available on the ALP website.
In parallel with your project, you will be expected to attend a taught course one day a week in atomic and laser physics in the first year, comprising lectures, seminars and discussion classes at graduate level. Depending on your level of knowledge, the department may also require you to attend lectures in the final year (master’s-level) undergraduate course at Oxford.
The ALP sub-department provides a detailed timetable and syllabus list for the graduate class. Topics covered include:
- basic light-matter interaction
- photonics and quantum optics
- laser-plasma interactions
- quantum information processing and communication
- trapped particles and quantum gases
- high energy density science.
Some subjects, such as laser-plasma interactions and high energy density science, are taught across a number of sub-departments.
In addition, the sub-department's journal club focuses on recent research highlights in atomic and laser physics, quantum technologies, and laser-plasma interactions. Active participation is compulsory for first year graduate students. Many other opportunities exist to attend training courses outside the sub-department.
For this course, the allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Physics and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances, a supervisor may be found outside the Department of Physics.
Students should expect to interact with supervisors regularly, eg weekly or, in some cases, monthly.
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of four terms you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require a written report. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that your work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission for full-time students.
Full-time students will be expected to submit a thesis within 12 terms of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce)
A large number of former ALP graduate students now pursue careers in either academia or industry, predominantly focusing on research and development.
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Department of Physics
Other courses suggested by the Department of Physics
Computer Science DPhil
Engineering Science DPhil
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in physics, mathematics or related fields. The equivalent of a UK four-year integrated MPhys or MSci is typically required. Bachelor's degrees with a minimum four years' standard duration may also satisfy the entry requirements.
Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent. In exceptional cases, the requirement for a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours can be alternatively demonstrated by a graduate master’s degree or substantial directly-related professional or research experience.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the typical minimum GPA sought is 3.3 out of 4.0. However, selection of candidates also depends on other factors in your application and most successful applicants have achieved higher GPA scores.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
It is helpful to include details of any of the following applicable attributes, which may strengthen your application:
- Details of any publications. Many candidates with no peer-reviewed publications receive offers each year.
- Research or professional experience in areas aligned with the proposed supervisors' research interests.
- Depending on the project, evidence of training in scientific computer programming or related numerical techniques.
- Previous experience in a scientific or technical research environment.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's standard level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's standard level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.0||6.5|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.
After the deadline the applications are looked at by potential supervisors (either those named by the applicant or another supervisor may show interest in the candidate). The Graduate Admissions Committee meet to discuss all the applications which ends with an interview list. Candidates and potential supervisors are canvassed for dates/times when the interview can take place. Where possible these are face to face; however, video link interviews will be held for overseas candidates.
A formal interview will be held, usually with three academics present (at least one representative from the Graduate Admissions Committee). The interview lasts 30 minutes which includes a 10 minute presentation on a subject of your choice, eg a practical scientific work project that you have carried out as part of your course or a vacation project, a part of your course work or a theoretical topic that you found interesting. You should be prepared to answer questions on your presentation. The committee will also ask you questions about your current undergraduate studies and what your plans are for the future. After the formal interview there is the opportunity to visit group heads in the areas of research in which you are most interested, to discuss the research project(s) on offer and be shown around the department (time permitting). There is the possibility for this to be conducted via Teams for any overseas candidates.
After the interview you will be asked to provide a list in order of preference of the supervisors and research projects for which you wish to be considered. You will be notified, in writing, of the outcome of your interview as soon as a decision has been made.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)
Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Student visa (under the Student Route). For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.
The extent of resources, laboratories and other experimental facilities depend very strongly on the particular research project.
The department provides a good level of IT support, online access to most relevant journals and access to the Radcliffe Science Library which is a five-minute walk away.
Access is provided to the student mechanical workshop after attending an initial training session. You will usually be located in a shared office.
There are also small common areas in each group where people can meet up, in addition to the department's common room (canteen). The academic year starts off with a welcome party where the new student intake can meet the academic staff, postdoctoral researchers and second year students.
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees (or, after fee liability ends, continuation charges) and living costs. However, please note that, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
If you wish to be considered for an EPSRC DTP award, you should apply no later than the March deadline.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Readmission for current Oxford graduate taught students
If you're currently studying for an Oxford graduate taught course and apply to this course with no break in your studies, you may be eligible to apply to this course as a readmission applicant. The application fee will be waived for an eligible application of this type. Check whether you're eligible to apply for readmission.
Applying to more than one physics DPhil course
You can indicate whether your application should be considered for other physics DPhil courses by following the instructions for stating the ‘Proposed field and title of research project'. If you decide to do this, you will only need to submit a single application and pay the application fee once.
Application fee waivers for eligible associated courses
If you apply to this course and up to two eligible associated courses from our predefined list during the same cycle, you can request an application fee waiver so that you only need to pay one application fee.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You are encouraged to communicate with the department in order refine your application, especially where studentships are involved, using the contact details provided on this page.
A description of potential research projects is published on the department's website. You may contact academic members of staff after reading these project descriptions to clarify specific aspects of prospective projects before submitting your application.
Research areas may overlap across the different physics DPhil courses. If you are in any doubt about which course(s) to apply to, you are advised to read each of the physics course pages carefully before starting an application. If you have any course-related questions, please refer to the 'Further information and enquiries' section on each page for the relevant contact details.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Proposed field and title of research project
You should use this field of the application form to indicate whether you would like your application to be considered for other physics DPhil courses. To do this, insert the relevant acronym from the list below for each additional course that you would like your application to be considered for:
- DPhil in Astrophysics: ASTRO
- DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics: ALP
- DPhil in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics: AOPP
- DPhil in Condensed Matter Physics: CMP
- DPhil in Particle Physics: PP
- DPhil in Theoretical Physics: TP
Your application will be considered for each additional course that you indicate - you should not apply for these courses separately or pay an additional application fee. Please ensure that your research proposal (which you will be asked to upload in a later section of the application form) meets the assessment criteria described on each relevant course page.
If would like your application to be considered for only this course, you do not need to enter an acronym from the list above.
If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.
Three overall, all of which must be academic
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work in a group. All references should be academic.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
A maximum of 500 words
A research proposal outlining your research interests and experience should be submitted.
The proposal should outline your reasons for wishing to study for a DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics, and the type of research project that you wish to undertake.
It is not necessary to be very specific about your choice of project, but if you do have a clear preference for a particular research area or supervisor please indicate and explain this.
You should describe previous research experience.
The proposal should be written in English and the overall page count should include any bibliography.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study, the ability to present a reasoned case in English, and commitment to the subject.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.