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PhD studentships in optical communications & networks for the cloud: 3 fully funded positions in collaboration with Microsoft Research (Cambridge)

Eligibility: UK/EU students ONLY

Duration of study: Full Time- three years fixed term

Starting date: September 2018

Application deadline: 20th July 2018 or until filled

Eligibility: UK/EU students ONLY 

Optical fibre networks underpin the digital communications infrastructure. The next research challenge is to introduce intelligence so that they able to dynamically provide capacity where and when it is needed – transforming next-generation information infrastructure. Microsoft Research has recently set up a Research alliance in ‘Optics for the Cloud’ with three fully-funded PhD studentships are available within UCL’s Optical Networks Group (head: Prof Polina Bayvel) to work in this area, focusing on different challenges relating to optical networking in the Cloud. The students will work closely with researchers on the EPSRC TRANSNET (Transforming optical networks – building an intelligent optical infrastructure) programme grant:

and researchers at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. The research will combine techniques from machine learning, graph theory, digital communications and digital signal processing, optical communications and networks and advanced photonic concepts to shape the next generations of high-speed optical communications which will support the growth of the world’s communication infrastructure and will broadly be in the following areas.

1.  Network Topologies for the Cloud: Cloud network traffic is expected to more than double every two years and new services require very low latency requirements. Research will focus on developing new approaches to the design of network topologies and architectures, tailored to application requirements: throughput, scalability, latency and resilience.  Optimal topologies will need to be adaptive and be tailored to applications requirements on capacity and delay, physical properties of the transmission channels and the information from intelligent transceivers on network state. Supervisor: Dr Lidia Galdino/Prof Polina Bayvel 

2.  Digital signal processing for intra- and inter-data centre applications: In the cloud architecture for the future, increasing traffic demands and computing resources highlight that the capability of electrical network switches will not scale in line with Moore’s law. Intelligent optical networks and intelligent transceivers may provide a solution for the next generation data-centre optical networks. This PhD will focus on investigating whether ultra-fast optical switching in combination with coherent detection and simplified digital signal processing will be an enabling technology for the continued scaling of data center network bandwidth  Supervisor: Dr Domaniç Lavery/Dr Robert Killey 

3.  Optical fabric for zero‐latency memory disaggregation at Pb/s clusterscale network: Data centres have been historically based on a server-centric approach with fixed amounts of processor and directly attached memory resources within the boundary of a mainboard tray. The PhD project aims to explore memory disaggregation (pooled memory) at Rack and Cluster level and identify the scalability limits both in terms of number of end-points, network capacity per CPU/Memory, and the associated penalties to processing power, sustained memory bandwidth. It will decouple CPU from memory and use an all-optical interconnect network using scalable on-board transceivers and optical switches to minimize and offer deterministic round-trip latency, maximize throughput and bandwidth density at the lowest cost and power consumption. This PhD program will devise network graphs/topologies and switches for minimum remote memory transaction latency. It will explore the use of optics (Tx/Rx) as close to CPU and Memory as possible. Transceiver technologies using either WDM or SDM, optimal baud-rate and modulation formats using direct-detection with different coding and equalization schemes will be investigated. Finally, on-chip (using FPGA/MPSoCs) and chip-to-chip optical network methods/protocols for minimum remote memory transaction latency will be explored for demonstrating the technologies on real-traffic/real-conditions systems. Supervisor: Dr George Zervas/Dr Zhixin Liu.

Starting date: September 2018 (or later, subject to agreement) – we will continue to advertise the positions until they are filled 

Funding includes tax-free stipend of £16,777 per annum (increasing with inflation), together with a generous top up of up to £4k per year as well as well as tuition fees at a home/EU rate. Additional support will cover consumables, books, professional memberships and travel to workshops and conferences, inc to different Microsoft locations worldwide.

Eligibility: UK/EU students ONLY 

The successful applicants will be part of the Optical Networks Group, Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering. Applicants (UK/EU only) should be outstanding academically, ideally have 1st class (or a very good 2’1) undergraduate degree or equivalent in physics, communications or electronic & electrical engineering and a clear aptitude and enthusiasm for research.  Experience of hands-on experimental work in a (optical communications/nonlinear optics/high-speed digital comms) research environment is a significant advantage.  It is expected that projects 1 and 2 will include machine learning techniques to enable  and data-driven insights from physical experiments in optical networks ad will require an understanding of data science and machine learning and experience of independent projects (such as data competitions in Kaggle or elsewhere)  and exposure to machine learning libraries like Caffe, Tensorflow, Keras or similar. Strong skills in using the terminal environment in Linux or MacOS, and potentially exposure to front-end tools in HPC or cloud computing (e.g., Jupyter or other front ends for machine learning and data science) is desirable.

Competence with scientific computing is essential for all positions.

The Optical Networks Group, UCL, founded in 1994, is a world-leading research group in optical communication systems and networks.  The current research themes include the intelligent optical network architectures and wavelength routing algorithms, high capacity optical transmission and digital signal processing to achieve this.  The state-of-the art experimental facilities include terabit/s WDM optical transmission & network test-bed, with sophisticated signal generation & detection capabilities, recirculating and straight-line optical fibre test-beds with access to the UK National dark fibre network infrastructure. 

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 

Applications should be made using the UCL postgraduate study application form. Candidates should indicate on the application form under 'Name of Proposed supervisor', Optical Networks group Microsoft Studentship. See:

Please contact Professor Polina Bayvel on for any further information and any questions of eligibility. 

You can also download a copy of this advert.

Closing date Friday 20 July 2018