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 Ferrotoroidal materials

Supervisor: Dr Donna C. Arnold

A PhD position is available in the field of Materials Chemistry. 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.

Magnetoelectric materials continue to attract extensive research attention due to their potential in applications such as sensors, transducers, actuators and next generation memory devices. Ferrotoroidic materials are expected to play a key role in these technologies. However there are currently few ferrotoroidal materials known. The project aims to investigate novel design protocols for the synthesis of new ferrotoroidal materials and characterise their magnetoelectric properties.

 

PhD in Computational Nanomedicine: Modelling of Nanoparticle Therapeutics.

Supervisor: Dr Dean Sayle

A PhD position is available in the field of Nanomedicine and Nanotechnology. 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.

Medicines, ranging from aspirin to anticancer drugs, are normally molecules. However, crystals can now be made small enough to pass through the body and act as nanomedicines. In this research you will use a supercomputer to simulate the capture, storage and release of oxygen by CeO2 nanocrystals or ‘nanozymes’ to modulate oxygen levels in cellular environments. No prior knowledge of computer simulation is required because full training will be provided. ‘Crystals’ (rather than molecules) acting as nanotherapeutic agents is a potentially transformative technology for medicine in the 21st century.

 

PhD in the Design and Synthesis of Smart Molecular Materials

Supervisor: Helena J. Shepherd

A PhD position is available in the field of Molecular Materials Chemistry. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership and Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships.

The aim of the project is to develop new switchable materials comprised of both organic and organometallic molecular systems that can sense and respond to their environment. So-called ‘smart materials’, these systems can change their colour, structure and electronic properties in response to temperature, pressure, light and the presence of certain chemicals. They will be used to design new responsive devices with applications in healthcare, sensing and display technologies. Molecular (or molecule-based) systems provide multiple advantages for this type of application, primarily due to their intrinsic chemical and functional versatility as well as the small size of their functional units.

The project will provide the student with experience in a wide range of synthetic and characterisation techniques in this highly interdisciplinary field of research. In the initial phase of the project the student will synthesise materials using a combination of traditional synthetic chemistry methods and solvent-free green-chemistry. Chemical characterisation will be performed using standard techniques including NMR, UV-vis, mass spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction and so on. Full analysis of properties will be undertaken via reflectivity measurements (to characterise changes in colour), Raman spectroscopy, AFM, SEM and TEM as required. Devices in the form of functional thin films and interfaces will be produced using a number of novel techniques for in-situ synthesis of smart materials currently under development in the Shepherd group. Full training in all techniques will be provided by the PI and associated members of the School of Physical Sciences.

 

PhD in Computational Many-Body Physics

Supervisor: Dr Gunnar Möller

Candidates are sought for a PhD position in the field of computational many-body physics. 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 this PhD project is to develop a quantitative model of heavy-fermion Fermi liquids and superconductors. We will approach the study of such materials by improving on the accuracy of dynamical mean-field theory. This will be achieved using numerical diagrammatic Monte-Carlo methods, an approach based on the stochastic summation of Feynman graphs.

The project will offer exposure to both numerical and analytical methods of quantum many-body physics. The candidate will perform tasks including code development, simulation and data analysis, application of analytic models, and comparison to theory predictions, allowing them to develop their understanding of condensed matter physics alongside strong computational and programming skills.

 

PhD in organic redox chemistry and electrochemistry

Supervisor: Dr Alexander Murray

A PhD position is available to design new redox-active organic small molecules for flow batteries. 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.

Given the intermittent nature of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, in addition to portable batteries grid-scale energy storage of renewables is a growing necessity for a future renewable economy. Flow batteries are rechargeable fuel cells which use reversible electrochemical reactions of small molecules in a pumped storage medium and are ideal for larger scale usage due to their decoupling of energy and power density, robust electrode chemistry and potentially indefinite lifetime. However, current state-of-the-art systems utilise vanadium as a redox mediator which has poor oxidation and reduction kinetics and a highly volatile spot price. Furthermore, the ultimate practical cell lifetimes are unknown for any class of flow batteries. We propose that redox-active organic molecules should have predictable, fully reversible redox chemistry and furthermore be electronically tunable to meet the needs of the application.

The aim of the project is to synthesise both positive and negative tunable electrochemical mediators, to investigate their electrochemical properties and test them in a prototype redox flow battery system. The student will be trained in both organic synthesis techniques as well as electrochemical analysis and flow chemistry, giving a broad range of skills in both synthetic and analytical chemical science.

 

PhD in the interlink between charge order and superconductivity

Supervisor: Dr Silvia Ramos

A PhD position is available in the field of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics. 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 study of the correlation between the structure of atoms and electrons in a material and the properties it displays is a central theme in condensed matter. The development of new materials for technological applications often relies on the discovery of solids that display different types of electronically ordered phases and our ability to tune the conditions under which the different properties are displayed.

The aim of this project is to study the development of charge order (metal-insulator transitions) in materials with low dimensionality in connection with superconductivity. In recent years this has become an area of growing interest for both theory and experiment. We will specifically be addressing this problem using techniques that are sensitive to local order such as X-ray absorption and emission spectroscopy and mSR, which are perfectly suited to the study of doped materials. The work will rely on the use of national and international X-ray synchrotron and muon spallation sources (e.g. Diamond Light Source and ISIS neutron and muon facility in the U.K., E.S.R.F. in France and PSI in Switzerland).

The student will receive training on both specialised scientific skills (large facility experimental techniques) and transferable skills during the course of the PhD. These will be delivered by the supervisor, the Functional Materials Group, the Graduate School at the University of Kent, the South Easter Physics Network (SEPnet) and other external sources as appropriate.

 

PhD in Ferroelectric Metal-Organic Frameworks

Supervisors: Dr Nicholas Bristowe and Dr Paul Saines

A PhD position is available in the field of inorganic material chemistry exploring the development of new ferroelectric metal-organic frameworks. 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.

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which combine inorganic and organic building blocks in the same extended solid, have recently attracted significant attention for their fascinating functional electronic and magnetic properties. This is facilitated by their tremendous compositional flexibility, leading to unique architectures that enable new routes to achieving and optimising functional properties. This project will explore the smart design of optimised ferroelectric MOFs with functional properties at ambient conditions by optimising both the supramolecular host-guest interactions within these materials and the structural distortions of the framework. This project will use a combination of synthesis and experimental characterisation of these promising compounds informed and interpreted through first principles calculations. The precise balance of experimental and computational approaches will be tailored to fit the interests and abilities of the successful candidate.

 

PhD in Tuning structure and properties in layered perovskites

Supervisor: Dr Emma E. McCabe

A PhD position is available in the field of materials chemistry/physics working on the synthesis and characterisation of polar (ferroelectric) materials, complemented by computational work carried out with collaborators. 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 explore the structural chemistry and properties of A-site ordered perovskites. These materials have three-dimensional (3D) frameworks, but in terms of symmetry, are layered and therefore have potential to exhibit ferroelectricity by the recently discovered hybrid-improper mechanism. To date, these materials have been overlooked by the ferroelectrics community but are likely to show enhanced properties compared with other two-dimensional hybrid-improper ferroelectric materials.

The student will synthesise and investigate the structures of these new materials to understand their compositional flexibility and how far we can tune their properties. The project will initially follow two strands:

  • Ordered cation-deficient systems: building on successful Masters projects, the student will extend this work and incorporate magnetic ions into these materials.
  • Low temperature (topotactic) reactions of these systems to tune polar properties: building on preliminary results the student will explore the role of cation-insertion reactions in tuning the anion sublattice as well as the electronic structure and properties.

This experimental work will be complemented by density functional theory (DFT) calculations in collaboration with Dr Nick Bristowe.

The student will benefit from training in-house in solid state and (air-sensitive) low-temperature synthesis methods, in structural characterisation techniques (both in-house e.g. X-ray powder diffraction facilities, at central facilities e.g. neutron scattering experiments and through collaborations e.g. for electron diffraction) and in property measurements (e.g. in-house magnetic measurements and other techniques through collaborations). The possibility for the student to develop both experimental and computational expertise (with the balance between computation and experiment tailored to suit the student’s interests) makes this an excellent opportunity for the student to develop a broad expertise in materials chemistry research.

 

PhD in X-ray absorption spectroscopy of glass-ceramics for applications in optics, healthcare, and energy

Supervisor: Dr Gavin Mountjoy

A PhD position is available in the fields of solid state physics/chemistry. 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.

Glass-ceramic materials play pivotal roles in science and technology, where their attributes of being strong, transparent, shapeable, and having varied composition, lead to applications that range from treatment of cancer to safe storage of nuclear waste. In this project you will study the atomic structure of glass-ceramic materials which are under development for varied applications in medical treatments, optical communications, and the energy sector.

The method of x-ray absorption spectroscopy is ideally suited to probe the local atomic environment of transition metals in the solid state, especially in oxide glass-ceramics which have substantial structural disorder. You will become expert in the X-ray absorption spectroscopy which is a mature and powerful technique that is continuing to be advanced for use at forefront of solid state physics/chemistry. X-ray absorption spectroscopy will be used to uncover the arrangements of atoms in new glass-ceramics, which will enable the properties of these materials to be optimised.

You will receive full training in the theory and methods of X-ray absorption spectroscopy techniques: EXAFS and XANES. In addition a deep understanding will be gained of the structure and properties of oxide solids with important technological applications. Additional techniques utilised in the project will include diffraction and molecular dynamics modelling. The project will involve collaboration with national and overseas research groups with expertise in synthesis and property evaluation. Hence you will experience working within a network of world-leading scientists.

 

PhD in Sodium-ion battery technology

Supervisors: Dr Maria Alfredsson and Dr Ewan Clark

A PhD position is available in the field of materials chemistry for sodium-ion batteries (SIBs). 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.

SIBs are still in the early stages of development but much research in the last years have emphasised their potential applications and how they will complement lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) as energy storage. Currently, much of the materials used in LIBs are modified to be used within SIBs but this has proven to produce a working but not optimised battery system.

The aim of the project is to develop novel Na-ion salts, which will be studied in various organic and aqueous solvents to identify novel electrolytes to be employed in SIBs. One limitation with current electrolytes are their tendency to react with the electrode materials, which dramatically shortens the lifetime of the batteries. Another objective is therefore, to determine the electrochemical performance of the electrolytes in combination with various electrode materials.

The project is divided into four work packages (WP): WP1 -synthesise and characterise novel Na-ion salts in collaboration with Alistore-ERI members. The solubility, viscosity, ionic conduction, electrochemical window etc. of the salts will be characterised using, e.g. NMR, Raman and IR spectroscopy. WP2 – use atomistic simulations to research Na-ion transport mechanisms in various electrolytes to identify the optimal solvent for the salt. The simulations will also be used to interpret the results obtained in WP1. WP3 – synthesise of anode and cathode materials. As SIBs are not commercially available the electrode materials currently used in SIBs cannot be purchased. Electrode materials will be synthesised and characterised. WP4 – is associated with the design, assembly and electrochemical cycling of half- and full-battery cells. The PhD student will be trained in working with a glovebox, assemble and cycle batteries to determine the electrochemical performance and lifetime. The candidate will write beamtime proposals and actively undertake measurements on central synchrotron facilities.

 

PhD in “Super hydrophobic aerogels for environmental applications”

Supervisor: Prof Anna Corrias

A PhD position is available in the field of Materials Chemistry. 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.

Polluted waters and oil spillage seriously affect communities around the world. Large oil spillages causing major disasters attract a lot of media attention but even smaller and sometimes chronic accidents that go mostly unnoticed have a lasting effect on the whole ecosystem.

This project will develop sponge like materials with optimised sorption capacity, that can then be recovered and re-used for cost-effectiveness. For these characteristics to be achieved the following properties will be combined in a single nanocomposite material: the very high porosity of aerogels (the lightest materials ever made with up to 98% of their total volume being air, hence the name), the super-hydrophobic and oleophilic character of carbon nanostructures (such as graphene and buckypaper), and the magnetic properties of nanoparticles.

The synthesised nanocomposites will be characterised using a multi-technique approach involving powder X-ray diffraction, N2 physisorption at 77 K, electron microscopy , thermal analysis techniques, Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, Contact Angle measurements and SQUID magnetometry. You will receive full training on most of these techniques, gaining a deep knowledge of the morphology, structure and properties of these nanocomposites. The project involves an international collaboration with the University of Cagliari and research visits may be possible through an existing Erasmus programme agreement.

 

PhD in Synthetic Organo-silicon Chemistry

Supervisors: Dr Ewan Clark and Dr Aniello Palma

A PhD position is available in the field of synthetic organo-main group chemistry. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership and Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships.

Chemists face the challenge of synthesising complex constructs for a variety of applications such as drug design, or producing natural and non-natural products. This project aims to exploit recently developed routes to anionic silicon nucleophiles and explore them for silyl-lithiation chemistry. Analogous to carbo-lithiation, this is a way of simultaneously installing two functional groups across a double bond, and rapidly introducing new synthetic handles into molecules to allow short, efficient, and green syntheses of pharmaceutically relevant compounds.

The project will involve the synthesis of novel silanides under mild conditions and development of structure/property relationships for their reaction with simple organic molecules to give a deep understanding of this nascent methodology. The relationship between silane substituents and their reactivity towards alkenes will be established, and the stereocontrolled addition of silanides in chiral environments (e.g. chiral allylic and homoallylic alcohols, chiral additives and chiral ligands linked to the silanes) will be investigated to provide new routes to bio-active intermediates.

 

PhD in Chemistry – The Formation and Manipulation of Lipid Nanodiscs by Stimuli-Responsive Amphiphilic Copolymers

Supervisors: Dr Simon J. Holder and Dr Robert Barker

A PhD position is available in the fields of polymer chemistry, surface science, biophysics and biochemistry. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership and Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships.

The aim of the project is to synthesise stimuli-responsive synthetic copolymers that enable the formation and stabilisation of lipid membranes in the form of nanodiscs. Nanodiscs are discrete isolated monodisperse lipid bilayers that can be prepared from membrane scaffold proteins (MSPs), peptides and synthetic polymers. The usage of nanodiscs is growing year-on-year because of the attraction that they can be used to isolate membrane proteins to enable purification and high-resolution structural studies in environments closer to their native state. However, in the body, proteins are completely free to move, the problem with current nanodisc technology is that it still constrains the proteins, limiting the potential applications. Therefore, the goals of this project will be: 1. To develop tuneable co-polymers which can be used to replace current nanodisc technology to enable higher resolution, unconstrained structural studies. 2. To design and characterise polymer-surface interactions in order to manipulate the study of nanodisc embedded proteins. 3. To test these new tools with biological collaborators at the University of Copenhagen, University of Lancaster and Anglia Ruskin University.

Dr Holder’s group has a long research record in the synthesis and self-assembly of novel block copolymers and this project will utilise this expertise to design and synthesise novel stimuli-responsive block copolymer that will enable fine control over the formation and assembly of nanodiscs. Dr Barker’s group has been working with and developing nanodisc technologies for the last 7 years, with expertise in biophysical analysis techniques and surface science, the project will involve working closely with his team to test the novel block copolymers developed.

 

PhD in the development of novel weapons for the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Supervisors: Dr Jennifer Hiscock (Main supervisor), Dr Robert Barker and Dr Daniel Mulvihill (Co-supervisors)

A PhD position is available in the fields of applied supramolecular chemistry, big data and surface science. This project is in competition with other projects offered by the School of Physical Sciences for one of a number of EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership and Vice Chancellor’s PhD Studentships

Since the 1980’s the invention of new antimicrobials has ground to a halt, but bacteria have now been identified that are resistant to treatment with all classes of antimicrobial currently marketed. In 2016 the Hiscock group first identified a novel class of Supramolecular Self-associating Antimicrobials (SSAs). Many antimicrobial agents, including SSAs, function by interacting with the microbial surface of susceptible cells. However, the specifics of molecular level mode of antimicrobial action at the cell surface is not well understood. This represents a major rate limiting step in the development of novel weapons in the fight against AMR.

This PhD project aims to remove antimicrobial development road blocks by:

  • using surface science and biophysics methodologies (including neutron scattering experiments, QCM-D and AFM) to gain a detailed understanding of surface-active antimicrobials (both SSAs and conventional surface-active antibiotics) modes of action;
  • exploring a big data approach to derive the relationship between SSA molecular structure and antimicrobial activity;

using structure-activity relationships identified to design, synthesise and test next generation SSAs with increased antimicrobial efficacy and, introduce a targeted approach to re-sensitize AMR microorganisms towards currently redundant chemical agents.