Summer Student Projects 2020

This summer, two of our PGRs- second year Conor Price and third year Iago Rodriguez Diez– were awarded summer student bursaries, covering a small stipend and project fees to allow them to host an undergraduate student for 10 weeks to complete a summer research project.

In a competitive process, the PGRs had to put forward project proposals, which were then reviewed by members of our Management Board and awards were granted. Once the call out had been made to undergraduates, the PGRs reviewed applications and decided who to call to interview before selecting the successful applicant.

These are the successful PGRs and undergraduate students, reflecting on their projects and what they learnt from the experience:

Is The Future 2D?: Investigating Next Generation Thermoelectric Energy Harvesting Using First Principles Methods

This project was designed by third year PGR Shane Davies. Conor Price supervised the project, working with undergraduate student Matt Evans, who has just finished his third year in BSc Physics.

The aim of this project was to investigate the suitability of various two-dimensional (2D) structures as next generation thermoelectrics from analysing their phononic band structures and lattice thermal conductivities.

Matt Evans discusses what he gained from this project:

Matt Evans

The project gave me an invaluable insight into what it would be like working as a full-time scientist part of an active research group. Various challenges were presented and as the project developed, these often became more complex. This required me to think outside-the-box and I developed new, independent researching skills that enabled me to probe these problems; in addition, I was encouraged to discuss the more challenging obstacles with the other members within the PhD group.

I also had the opportunity to explore various research papers and present summaries of these to the others within the group for further discussion gaining a fuller understanding of the underlying physics behind the project. And, I had the chance to use a Linux operating system with the BASH command language – which I was unfamiliar with before I started the project – to perform scientific computations.

These newly acquired research and programming skills that I gained from the project will be most useful when pursuing a scientific career, in the future.

Conor reflects on the challenges of leading a project:

Conor Price

Running the summer project was a completely different experience to anything I’ve done before: instead of being able to go to a supervisor or a textbook for guidance when encountering a problem in academic research, I was the one that was meant to have the solution. I had to be able to provide a concise but thorough description or explanation, quickly to ensure the project didn’t get held up, to someone that didn’t necessarily think about things the same way as me. We found that regular communication was key as it allowed us to iron out any problems as quickly as we could. I was very pleased with the work we were able to do in such a short space of time, especially considering the sharp learning curve at the start!

This experience will undoubtedly be useful in the future for any leadership and/or teaching role I may have in the future.

Photonic Crystals

This project was supervised by Iago Rodriguez Diez, working with undergraduate student Harrison Nicholls, who has just finished his second year studying MPhys Physics.

The aim of the project was to optimise the outcoupling efficiency η and quality factor Q of a H1 photonic crystal nanocavity by modifying the parameters of the nearest-neighbour holes around the defect. This was done using proprietary FDTD simulation software, which efficiently solves Maxwell’s equations.

Harrison Nicholls

Harrison reflects on what he has learnt during the process:

I have learned to work efficiently with people to outline a goal and work towards it, identifying steps that need to be taken along the way. Writing scripts in an unfamiliar programming language to set up the simulations as appropriate and subsequently analysing them gave me opportunities to work unguided. The remote nature of my work meant that I had to consciously organise my time and correspondence.

My final result fulfils what I set out to do, which is very satisfying for me, and useful to the project.


Iago discusses the science behind the project and the personal skills he has gained:

Photonic microcavities based on 2D Photonic crystal defects have proved to be excellent structures for

Iago Rodrigues Diez

applications such as microlasers, biosensing and quantum electrodynamics. However, the light coupling efficiency towards the out-of-plane direction remains very low, thus limiting the range of applications. The goal of this project was to design a photonic crystal defect-cavity that emits light into the direction perpendicular to the crystal. The system was optimized so that the cavity kept a high quality factor and low mode volume while achieving a high outcoupling efficiency into a low numerical aperture lens. The project involved theoretical understanding of photonic crystal cavities and how to solve numerically Maxwell’s equations with a Finite Difference Time Domain solver.

This was definitely a valuable experience of how to manage a short term research project from start to end. It allowed to me develop very useful and varied skills like how to write a project proposal, participate in an interview and a selection process, make a plan for the initial direction of the project, achieve the goals within the limited time and mentor a student during their first steps in the world of research. I absolutely recommend to other PGRs and undergrads to be involved in future CDT summer student project opportunities.

Congratulations to all students involved for rising to the challenges of collaborating on remote project work.

Below are some diagrams relating to Harrison and Iago’s findings:

3D perspective view of the cavity. The blue region is the crystal with cylindrical holes etched into it. The yellow squares indicate different monitors for recording data.

Fourier transform of the electric field profile from real space to k-space. These were useful for determining how the cavity emitted radiation.

Electric field profile of dipole mode around the defect in the crystal. The circles indicate holes through the material that makes up the crystal.


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