UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy

Prof Alexandra Olaya-Castro

Prof Alexandra Olaya-Castro

Professor of Physics

Dept of Physics & Astronomy

Faculty of Maths & Physical Sciences

Joined UCL
1st Oct 2008

Research summary

My research falls broadly in the emergent field of Quantum Biology. This is an interdisciplinary area of research that aims to understand and exploit quantum phenomena taking place at the biomolecular, nanometre scale, under conditions of physiological relevance. Specifically, my research aims to elucidate fundamental quantum principles underlying energy dynamics and conversion at the biomolecular level. I develop theoretical approaches that bring together in a complementary fashion concepts from modern quantum science, physical chemistry and biophysics. Our current focus is on the theoretical prediction of signatures and consequences of non-trivial quantum behaviour in the electronic and vibrational dynamics of photo-activated biomolecules. For more information please visit my website 


Teaching summary

I teach Advanced Quantum Theory, an intercollegiate course for 4th year students that is attended by students from UCL, Kings College London, Queen Mary University of London and Royal Holloway. 


University of Oxford
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 2005
Universidad de los Andes
Other higher degree, Master of Natural Science | 2002
Universidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas, Bogota
First Degree, Bachelor of Science | 1997


I was born and grew up in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. I did my undergraduate in Physics Education at Universidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas and then spent several years working for ICFES, developing physics tests for large-scale assessment of education in Colombia. I combined my work in education assessment with my master studies at Universidad de Los Andes, where I did MSc thesis with Prof. Luis Quiroga. During this time, I also worked with Prof. Carlos Tejedor at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain) and Prof. Pawel Hawrylak at the Institute for Microstructural Sciences in Ottawa, Canada. I then moved to the University of Oxford (Somerville College) in October 2002 to do my D Phil (Ph D) with Prof. Neil Johnson, funded by a Clarendon Fund Scholarship, an Overseas Research Student award, and a Somerville Senior Scholarship. During my doctoral studies I spent a few months working in Prof. Hideo Mabuchi's group at California Institute of Technology. I finished my doctorate in 2005 and right after this obtained a Junior Research Fellowship at Trinity College, Oxford University. In November 2008 I was awarded an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship that allowed me to start my independent research career at University College London. I was appointed as a permanent Lecturer in September 2011 and was promoted to reader in September 2015. Throughout my career I have made scientific contributions to the understanding of signatures and implications of quantum coherence in a variety of quantum systems that include exciton condensates in quantum wells, multi-qubit systems embedded in optical cavities. My current focus is to develop theory on the signatures and influence of quantum coherence in photo-activated biomolecular systems.