Computational Methods for Materials Science

Study mode:On campus Study type:Full-time Languages: English
Local:$ 28.4 k / Year(s) Foreign:$ 47.9 k / Year(s) Deadline: Jun 29, 2024
6 place StudyQA ranking:1340 Duration:4 years

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This four year Doctoral Training Programme on computational methods for material modelling aims to train scientists not only in the use of existing modelling methods but also in the underlying computational and mathematical techniques. This will allow students to develop and enhance existing methods, for instance by introducing new capabilities and functionalities, and also to create innovative new software tools for materials modelling in industrial and academic research.

The first year of the CDT is a materials modelling option within the MPhil in Scientific Computing at the University of Cambridge and a range of additional training elements.

The MPhil in Scientific Computing is administered by the Department of Physics, but it serves the training needs of the Schools of Physical Sciences, Technology and Biological Sciences. The ability to have a single Master’s course for such a broad range of disciplines and applications is achieved by offering core (i.e. common for all students) numerical and High Performance Computing (HPC) lecture courses, and complementing them with elective courses relevant to the specific discipline applications.

In this way, it is possible to generate a bespoke training portfolio for each student without losing the benefits of a cohort training approach. This bespoke course is fully flexible in allowing each student to liaise with their academic or industrial supervisor to choose a study area of mutual interest.

The final three years consist of a PhD research project, with student-led choice of projects from a large pool contributed by researchers associated with the CDT.

Based on their first year training and subject to the outcome of examinations, the students will then choose a research project to continue a PhD from the start of the second year. This project may be based on the same topic as the preceding placement/project, or it may be different.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the MPhil, students will have:

  • a comprehensive understanding of numerical methods, and a thorough knowledge of the literature, applicable to their own research;
  • demonstrated originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in their field;
  • shown abilities in the critical evaluation of current research and research techniques and methodologies;
  • demonstrated self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and acted autonomously in the planning and implementation of research.

By the end of the PhD programme, students will have demonstrated:

  • the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research or other advanced scholarship, of a quality to satisfy peer review, extend the forefront of the discipline, and merit publication;
  • a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge which is at the forefront of an academic discipline or area of professional practice;
  • the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;
  • a detailed understanding of applicable techniques for research and advanced academic enquiry;
  • the development of a PhD thesis for examination that they can defend in an oral examination and, if successful, graduate with a PhD.


Distinction (i.e. an average grade greater than 75%) in the MPhil will guarantee admission to the PhD programme . A grade of between 60% and 74% will lead to a review by the CDT Academic Committee on a case-by-case basis. Grades less than 60% will not normally qualify for the PhD programme.

The first year of the CDT has a research as well as a taught element. The students attend lecture courses during the first five months (October-February) and then they will undertake a substantial Research Project over the next 6 months (from March to the end of August) in a participating Department. The research element aims to provide essential skills for a successful completion of the PhD, as well as to assess and enhance the research capacity of the students. It is based on a materials science topic which is studied by means of scientific computation. Research project topics will be provided by academic supervisors or by the industrial partners. Most of the projects are expected to make use of the University’s High Performance Computing Service (for which CPU time for training and research has been budgeted for every student).

The taught element comprises of core lecture courses on topics of all aspects of scientific computing, and elective lecture courses relevant to the topic of the research project. There is equal examination credit weighting between the taught and the research elements of the course, which is gained by submitting a dissertation on the project and by written assignments and examinations on the core and elective courses, respectively. Weighting of the assessed course components is as follows: Dissertation (research) 50%; written assignments 25%; written examinations 25%.

The core courses are on topics of high-performance scientific computing and advanced numerical methods and techniques; they are taught and examined during the first five months (October-February). Their purpose is to provide the students with essential background knowledge for completing their theses and for their general education in scientific computing.

Appropriate elective courses are selected from Master’s-level courses offered by the Departments of the School of Physical Sciences, Technology or Biological Sciences. The choice of courses will be such as to provide the students with essential background knowledge for completing their theses and for their general education in the materials science application of the project. They are decided in consultation with the project supervisor.

Depending on the materials science application of the research topic, students will follow one of the following two numerical methodology options: a) Continuum methods based on systems of partial differential equations (PDEs, e.g. finite-difference, element or volume methods); or b) atomistic approaches, which can be based on classical particle-based modelling (e.g. molecular dynamics) or on electronic structure- based methods (e.g. density functional theory). The students who take the atomistic modelling options will attend a 12-lecture course before continuing to classical particle-based methods or electronic structure methods. Irrespective of the numerical methodology option, students will attend lecture courses on High Performance Computing topics and elements of Numerical Analysis.

In addition to the comprehensive set of Masters-level courses provided by the MPhil and across the University in the field, which will be available to the CDT students, it will also be possible for students to take supplementary courses (not for examination) at undergraduate level, where a specific need is identified, in order to ensure that any prerequisite knowledge for the Masters courses is in place.

Moreover, depending on their background and circumstances, students may be offered places in the EPSRC-funded Autumn Academy, which takes place just before the start of the academic year (two weeks in September).

One to one supervision

MPhil: Students are under the general direction of the course director; each is assigned a project supervisor who guides the student's choice of courses and provides supervision on request.

PhD: In the doctoral stage, the supervisory team consists of the Principal Supervisor (normally referred to as the Supervisor) and an Adviser. The Supervisor is the main person appointed to oversee and help with a student's programme of study in the specific subject area of their doctoral research and an Adviser is appointed to act as a second point of contact for academic advice.

The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University’s expectations regarding supervision.

Seminars & classes

The course has a seminar programme which invites academic and industrial speakers. The students also give presentations of their research work as a preparation for their mid-term assessment.


MPhil: The course offers lectures in topics of scientific high performance computing, numerical analysis, computational methods and techniques and algorithmic approaches related to continuum methods based on partial differential equations.


MPhil: The lectures on topics of numerical analysis and HPC are complemented with hands-on practicals using the Linux-based desktop-replacement laptops provided by the CDT, as well as on the University’s High Performance Computing Service.

Small group teaching

Small group teaching (supervisions) are offered on the four numerical analysis lecture courses, these include both one-to-one and group supervisions.


Literature reviews are part of the two written assignments and of the research project dissertation.


MPhil: The students have to give presentations on their research project as part of their mid-term assessment and have to present a poster at their viva-voce examinations.


MPhil: Feedback on the student’s performance on their examination and on the written assignment results is provided by the course Director; feedback on their research project progress is provided by their research project supervisor.

PhD: In the doctoral stage, Supervisors report termly on the progress of their students and these reports are available to the student.

Graduate students are represented on the Department's Graduate Student Consultative Committee, which normally meets five times a year, and consists of one or more student representatives from each of the research groups. The Committee exists to enable discussion of any issue affecting graduate students and students may approach any member of the Committee to suggest items for discussion.



The topic of the substantial Research Project (and hence the choice of supervisor) should fall within the research interests of the groups within the Departments of the Schools of Physical Sciences, Technology and Biological Sciences. The project is supervised by a member of the research groups of the Departments of the School.

To gain examination credit for the research element of the MPhil in Scientific Computing (50% credit towards the degree), students have to submit by the end of August of the first year of the CDT a 15,000-word (maximum) dissertation on the substantial Research Project. The viva voce examination of the dissertation will take place during September, conducted by two examiners (an external examiner from another institution and an internal examiner, who cannot be the student’s supervisor or anyone closely associated with the supervision process) and carried out according to the relevant University regulations. The assessment of the project is based on the candidate's understanding of the background literature, the commitment of the candidate to the project, the degree of originality shown in the research and the degree of rigour applied in justifying any conclusions.

The final PhD assessment will be of a submitted thesis and subsequent viva voce examination. The length and format of the thesis will be determined by the requirements of the Department in which the student is registered for the PhD.

Depending on the Department in which the student is registered, at the end of their second year (first year of PhD programme), students may have to submit a report describing their progress. This will be examined by two academics not directly associated with the project, who will make a recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies about whether the student should be allowed to continue with the PhD.


The taught element of the MPhil is examined in part by means of two written assignments amounting to 6 credit units. Together with the written examination papers, the students must accumulate a total of 12 units for examination credit (24 hrs course = 4 units, 16 hrs course = 2.5 units, 12 hrs course = 2 units, 6 hrs course = 1 unit).

Written examination

The taught element of the MPhil is examined in part by means of unseen written examination papers also amounting to 6 credit units. Together with the two written assignments, the students must accumulate a total of 12 units for examination credit (24 hrs course = 4 units, 16 hrs course = 2.5 units, 12 hrs course = 2 units, 6 hrs course = 1 unit).

  • Magistr (Master's Degree) at Pass level. Diploma Specialista (completed post-1991) with a minimum overall grade of good or 4/5 Bachelor's from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and other prestigious institutions with an overall grade of 4/5 Bologna Bachelor's from other institutions with an overall grade of 5/5, Excellent
  • Diploma Specialista (completed post-1991) with a minimum overall grade of Excellent or 5/5 Bachelor's from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and other prestigious institutions with an overall grade of 5/5
  • IELTS (Academic) 7.0
  • TOEFL Internet Score 100
  • £50 application fee
  • First Academic Reference
  • Second Academic Reference
  • Transcript
  • Personal Reference

Apply using the Applicant Portal

The Apply Online button on the right will take you to the Applicant Portal, where you can create and submit your application, and request references.

An application is only complete when:

  1. you have submitted your application via the Applicant Portal and paid the £50 application fee
  2. you have uploaded the required supporting documents via the Applicant Self-Service
  3. your referees have provided their references.

If you miss the deadlines specified in this section, you will not be able to submit your application.

The MPhil in Scientific Computing by this route (PSM24) can only be taken as part of the 4-year programme. Those wishing to pursue the MPhil in Scientific Computing as a standalone course should apply for course PSM2.

Applicants are asked to clearly state in Section A.12 of the application form that they are interested in the CDT, as well as their choice of research areas. You may list more than one area of research and, if doing so, should indicate your order of preference. Your choice must be identified at this stage so that your application can be forwarded to appropriate supervisors for consideration. It is not necessary to nominate a prospective supervisor although you may do so in this section if you wish. Cohort numbers for the CDT will be capped. Candidates not made an offer under this scheme may be still considered for PhD places in any of the other research groups in the Department of Physics. If you would like to be considered by another research group as a 2nd choice, please indicate that when you apply.

All applications are considered as they are received (rolling admissions). However the CDT operates an internal review date once a year, normally in December - March in order to make decisions on offers and then to allocate funding. Each year the deadlines to submit applications for consideration in the internal review round are advertised on the Graduate Admissions website.

Any applications received after the internal review date will be considered but funding opportunities may be limited.

Selection Process

Selected candidates will be interviewed by Skype, telephone or in person.

  • Global Education
  • Gates Cambridge Scholarships
  • Raymond and Beverly Sackler Fund for the Physics of Medicine
  • Mott Fund for Physics of the Environment
  • Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability
  • Issac Newton Studentship (Astronomy/Astrophysics)
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