PhD Studentship - Developing Fast Interconnection with Fibre lasers

Birmingham, West Midlands
07 Jun 2018
End of advertisement period
31 Jul 2018
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

This fully-funded 3 ½ year iCASE studentship is designed to provide an outstanding graduate to undertake research, leading to a PhD, within the context of a mutually beneficial research collaboration between the Aston University and Microsoft Research Cambridge.

You should normally have been awarded, or expect to achieve, a first or upper second class honours degree in Electronic Engineering or an MSc in a subject related to optical communications, or from applicants holding similar qualifications, or a combination of qualifications and/or equivalent experience.

The position is available to start in October 2018 or January 2019 (subject to negotiation).

The project

Digital technologies directly support over 1.4M jobs throughout the UK (4.4%), and directly impact the lives of the 74% of households with broadband connections and 82% of the population registered as unique mobile users. These technologies rely on data centres, where traffic growth rates are the highest of any network segment. The traditional hierarchical switch network architecture is no longer scalable and alternative network architectures that exploit the inherent parallelism of optics are required. In this project the successful applicant will develop a high capacity, port scalable optical interconnect based on fast tuning of a novel laser designed during the project. They will develop an appropriate laser design, refine underlying technologies, demonstrate fast wavelength tuning and finally will the opportunity to demonstrate the laser in a data centre environment. The activities will be divided into distinct phases, and will be jointly supervised by Prof Andrew Ellis, Prof Lin Zhang (both of Aston University), and Dr Benn Thomsen (Microsoft).

The environment

The Aston institute of Photonic Technologies (AiPT) is the oldest photonic communications research group in the UK. It was founded on the unique combination of advanced fibre grating based devices with state of the art optical communications research, and has recently been supplemented with fibre laser technologies, all of which are of direct relevance to this proposal. The PhD student will benefit from full scale experimental, computing, and office resources and facilities to their project a success including a fully equipped system research laboratory, including 400Gb/s test beds, high speed electronic test equipment including 70 GHz real time oscilloscopes. AiPT also has extensive fibre grating facilities, including Sabre Fred UV lasers, high and low repetition rate femtosecond inscription systems. Network simulations will initially be performed on a local 200 core computing cluster whilst large scale simulations will be performed on the ARCHER high performance computer. AiPT currently hosts around 22 PhD students, who are members of the Aston Graduate School, and organise local OSA and SPIE chapters. Chapter activities include annual seminars, outreach activities and sharing of best practice / technical news.

Microsoft Research employs more than 1,000 scientists and engineers world-wide working in all areas of computer science, making significant product contributions and collaborating on external projects that help solve global challenges. Microsoft Research’s Cambridge lab was established in 1997. Today, it employs over 150 researchers engaged in systems and computer science research. Given Microsoft’s cloud properties worldwide, improving the systems, networks and programming model for data centres has dominated the lab’s research agenda. A key change in this space over the last few years is the dramatic customer uptake in the cloud computing model, where customers are using hosted services rather than deploying their own systems. The move to data centre driven compute has also enabled new applications and compute models, such as neural networks and artificial Intelligence that are only practical at the data centre scale. These drivers have already resulted in a massive increase in the installed data center capacity with considerable future demand placing increasing pressure on the optical networks and devices that are used to build these data centers.

The successful candidate will split their time between the Aston institute of Photonic Technologies and Microsoft Research Cambridge, enjoying the benefits of world leading grating fabrication and system test facilities at Aston, and the opportunity to develop and test data centre switching architectures at Microsoft, and ensuring the real world relevance of their research. The successful candidate will be a member of the Aston Graduate School, which provides a supportive environment for all research students across the University, and will also be supported by a Graduate Development Team and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences who together provide a range of training and development opportunities for research student. There is also the opportunity to apply for an internship in one of the Microsoft Research laboratories. Internships involve working on a project alongside and as part of a team of Microsoft researchers. Scholars are paid during their internship, in addition to their scholarship bursary.

Financial support and eligibility

The studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the home fees rate, plus a stipend of £14,777.

Applicants must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. Eligibility details are available via the EPSRC website, for further clarification regarding eligibility please contact the Research Admissions Officer

Applications Process

Applications must be made using theonline application form. This, reference forms and details of entry requirements, including English languageare available here.

The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement, detailing how your knowledge and experience will benefit the project and may also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature. An original proposal is not required.

For informal enquiries about this project, please contact Prof Andrew Ellis by e-mail and for further information about the application process please contact the Research Admissions Officer at

We would particularly like to encourage applications from groups underrepresented in the Electrical Engineering research field, including women seeking to progress their academic careers. Aston University is committed to the principles of the Athena SWAN Charter, recognised recently by a prestigious Silver Award to EAS, and we pride ourselves on our vibrant, friendly and supportive working environment and family atmosphere.

Closing date for applications is 31st July 2018.

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