Vice Chancellors Scholarships

All of the below projects are eligible for the Vice Chancellors Scholarship. For more information about this award, and other Postgraduate funding, please see the University Scholarship finder.

Please note that these projects are in competition with a number of other projects across the School of Physical Sciences for three funded positions. There will be an internal competition and the quality of the applicants will play a role in the final decision of the School. Some projects are also in competition for EPSRC funding – you can find out more about this opportunity here.


PhD in Astrochemistry

Supervisor: Professor Nigel Mason

A PhD position is available in the field of Experimental Astrochemistry. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships.

The aim of the project is to study the routes of formation of molecules in the interstellar medium.

The interstellar medium (ISM) is a rich chemical factory, with over 180 molecular species identified to date, mostly observed in star-forming regions. Star formation begins in dense molecular clouds, where cold (~10 K) interstellar dust provides the surfaces for atoms and molecules to “freeze-out”, forming icy mantles. These icy mantles are the largest molecular reservoirs in the ISM, where chemical reactions, driven by both non-thermal and thermal processes, produce more complex molecules that are subsequently released into the gas phase.

The successful candidate will investigate the physical and chemical properties of astrochemical ices in a controlled laboratory environment using ultra-high vacuum chambers and cryogenically cooled substrates to grow interstellar ice analogues. Layers of thin sub-micrometer pure or mixed/layered ices are grown by vapour deposition. The ices are characterised in situ, using Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) on-site or Vacuum Ultraviolet spectroscopy via access to synchrotron facilities (ASTRID2 in Aarhus, Denmark; and the Taiwan Synchrotron facility). The FTIR and VUV spectra are highly sensitive to the ice morphology and the interaction between the molecular species in the ice, and are also used to monitor any changes as a result of thermal (controlled heating) or non-thermal (UV, electron or ion irradiation) processing. Additionally, mass spectroscopy is used to monitor the species that are released into the gas phase (desorption and sputtering) during processing.

A systematic laboratory study of the synthesis of molecular species as a function of ice temperature, morphology and composition as well as the energy, flux and type of processing radiation will be performed and the results compared both with observations and state of the art chemical models of the ISM.


PhD in Star Formation and the Evolution of Galaxies

Supervisor: Dr James Urquhart

A PhD position is available in the field of observational astronomy. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships.

This project will utilise a number of cutting edge molecular line surveys to map the Galaxy-wide distribution of molecular material and link this to the larger scale structural features of the Milky Way, such as the spiral arms and central Galactic bar. These observations will provide a detailed picture of the distribution and dynamics of the molecular gas on scales of whole giant molecular cloud (GMCs) complexes (>100s pc) down to the scales of dense clumps (~1 pc), which is the fundamental star-forming unit. Combining these results with detailed studies of the star forming properties of dense clumps will provide a physical link between star formation taking place on parsec scales and the large-scale dynamics of the Milky Way (kpc scales). This will be used to investigate the role spiral arms play in the formation of GMCs and in the star formation processes, which ultimately drives galactic evolution.

The distances to even to the most nearby galaxies limit extragalactic studies to looking at the large-scale structures such as the spiral arms and whole GMCs (~30-100 parsecs) and so they are unable to investigate the underlying physical processes that regulate star formation. Detailed studies of the connection between the large-scale structures and star formation found in our Galaxy, therefore, also holds the key to a deeper understanding of the fundamental processes by which galaxies convert their molecular material into stars. We will apply the detailed picture of the Milky Way derived to nearby galaxies to obtain a better understanding of their properties and evolution.


PhD in Planetary and Space Science

Supervisor: Dr Penny Wozniakiewicz

A PhD position is available in the field of Planetary and Space Science. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships.

The aim of the project is to develop and test a detector that can be used to collect and investigate the populations of dust particles in the vicinity of the Earth. Originally a very desolate environment with the occasional meteoroid passing through it, the Near Earth Environment has changed dramatically over the past half a century, to one that is now populated by thousands of artificial satellites. Over their lifetime, these satellites have aged due to the harsh environment of space, succumbing to damage caused by oxidation and exposure to extreme temperature variations and solar radiation. This erosion of spacecraft components generates dust which, combined with those naturally occurring micrometeoroids (predominantly from comets and asteroids), pose a significant hazard to future space exploration and satellites. It is vital that we investigate these dust populations in order fully comprehend the hazard they pose and therefore inform the design of future spacecraft (e.g. effective shielding) as well the choice of operational protocols (e.g. waste management). The collector will be composed of multiple thin foils, with the student investigating the influence of:

  • projectile size, structure and composition on penetration hole/crater dimensions and residue preservation
  • impact velocity and angle on penetration hole/crater dimensions and residue preservation
  • collector foil thicknesses on penetration hole/crater dimensions and residue preservation
  • target foil coatings (required to protect against oxidation for some materials) on recognisability of impact craters/holes and impacting particle origins (natural vs. man-made) from residues

The project will make use of the School’s light gas gun facility to simulate the collection of particles and test collector designs, as well as its scanning electron microscopes and Raman spectrometer to study resulting samples.