DPhil in Atomic and Laser Physics | University of Oxford
Physics research
Research in a physics laboratory
(Image Credit: Vinesh Rajpaul / Graduate Photography Competition)

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 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. Continuation beyond the first year is dependent on successful participation in the graduate course and on original research documented by a written report. Examination of the research element is by viva at the end of the first year.

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.

Graduate destinations

A large number of former ALP graduate students now pursue careers in either academia or industry, predominantly focusing on research and development.

Other courses in this area

Changes to the course

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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2019-20

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in a relevant subject (normally physics or mathematics).

Normally, as a minimum, your undergraduate degree should be an Honours degree at the level of a UK MPhys degree (four years of undergraduate study in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, five years in Scotland) or the equivalent for non-UK applicants.

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. 

Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

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 SKYPE 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 you will 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).

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.


Publications in project-relevant areas would be an advantage.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Research or working experience in project relevant areas may be an advantage.
  • Preference may be given to those who have previously studied in a project relevant area.
  • Evidence of training in project-relevant areas may be an advantage.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the standard level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Department of Physics to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • 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.

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 sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.


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.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

For students applying to programmes within the MPLS Division at Oxford, Research Council and other funding opportunities available, subject to eligibility. These opportunities are included in the Fees, funding and scholarship search.

You may also be interested in departmental funding opportunities. Further details can be found on the department's website.


Annual fees for entry in 2019-20

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,665

The fees shown above are the annual course fees for this course, for entry in the stated academic year.

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. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

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 likely increases to fees and charges.

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.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

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.

Living costs

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 2019-20 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,058 and £1,643 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 2019-20, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

How to apply

You may contact academic members of staff after reading the description of research projects to clarify specific aspects of prospective projects before submitting your application. A number of topics in physics also overlap the six sub-departments.

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. If you are in any doubt about which sub-department to apply for then you are advised to contact the sub-departments concerned before applying.

From time to time the sub-department may advertise additional specific project studentships. Please check the website for current opportunities and give the appropriate project code in your application.

If you wish to be considered for an EPSRC DTA award, you should apply no later than the March deadline.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

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.

Research proposal:
Around one to two pages

You do not need to provide a very detailed research proposal. You should only give a brief indication of the area in which you wish to carry out research, and explain what motivates you to do so. This may be quite specific, but need not be if you have not yet decided on your preferred supervisor or project. However, if you have a preference for specific projects or if you have previous experience in related areas then this should be clearly stated. The document must be written in English.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • the coherence of the proposal
  • the originality of the project
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

Your statement should focus on research and closely related personal achievements, interests and aspirations.

References/letters of recommendation:
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.

Applying to multiple Physics DPhil courses

If your application is related to more than one Physics DPhil course, there is no need to complete a separate application for each or pay more than one application fee. Please refer to the instructions for applying to related courses.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply

Was this page useful?*