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A Multilateral Investigation into Nucleation and Growth of Magnesite

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  • Full or part time
    Dr D Di Tommaso
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

My research group focuses on the development and application of computational chemistry techniques to solve a wide range of problems in Physical and Materials Chemistry ( We are particularly interested in modelling processes of crystal nucleation and growth of materials from solutions, with the aim of understanding the role of solution composition (nature of the solvent and type and concentration of solution additive) on the kinetics and thermodynamics of crystal growth processes. We employ a variety of theoretical techniques including electronic structure methods, molecular dynamics, free energy methods and continuum approaches, and we have access to extensive supercomputing facilities.

I have potential computational chemistry PhD research projects using magnesite (MgCO3) as the model system. The formation of MgCO3 has aroused much interest due to its potential as a possible long-term carbon dioxide (CO2) storage host: The reaction of CO2 with Mg-rich silicate rocks in an aqueous medium to form anhydrous magnesium carbonate could in fact represent a thermodynamically favourable, safe, and readably auditable route to the carbon capture and storage of anthropogenically generated CO2. However, the carbonation of magnesium silicates is limited by the rate of precipitation of magnesite: conditions of elevated temperatures and pressures are necessary for the direct precipitation of magnesite and prevent the formation of the hydrated forms of Mg-carbonates. On the other hand, pure magnesium carbonate nucleates and grows at Earth’s near-surface conditions that are certainly very different from the high-temperatures and/or -pressures necessary to synthesize magnesite in the laboratory. It has been proposed that the presence in the solution of additives (ions or molecules that are different from the constituents of the solvent and of the crystal) could activate the process of nucleation and growth of magnesite.

The aim of this PhD research project is to develop and apply atomistic simulations, complemented by synchrotron-based and high-resolution imaging techniques, to obtain an unprecedented view of the elusive phenomena occurring at the molecular-scale during the crystallisation of MgCO3 from multicomponent aqueous solutions: dehydration of magnesium ions; formation of MgCO3 aqueous complexes, clusters and nanophases; processes of water-exchange at the solid-liquid interface.

Techniques and training:
The student will gain a detailed knowledge of computational chemistry methods, including quantum chemistry, molecular dynamics, free energy methods, and development and validation of forcefields. Transferable skills such as design and implementation of modular computer codes, and soft skills such as reporting of results orally and writing, in both academic and industrial settings, project planning and management will also be developed. The proposed project will be carried out in close collaboration with highly renowned experimental geoscientists in Grenoble, Granada and Utrecht.

Email: [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Applicants wishing to apply for PhD funding through Ciência sem Fronteiras, CONACYT or the China Scholarship Council are welcomed, as are those applicants who can self-fund.
Applicants should be able to demonstrate that they can cover the cost of living expenses and tuition fees for a minimum of 3.5 years. However, the School does offer a limited number of tuition fee only scholarships for excellent applicants and if you wish to apply for these, you should discuss this with your potential supervisor.


Tian KV, Chass GA, Di Tommaso D (2015) Simulations reveal the role of composition into atomic-level flexibility of bioactive glass ionomer cements. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, DOI:10.1039/C5CP05650K.
Di Tommaso D, Watson K (2014) Density functional theory study of the oligomerization of carboxylic acids. Journal of Physical Chemistry A 118, 11098–11113.
Di Tommaso D, Ruiz-Agudo E, de Leeuw NH, Putnis A, Putnis CV (2014) Modelling the effects of salt solutions on the hydration of calcium ions, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 16, 7772-7785.
Di Tommaso D (2014) The molecular self-association of carboxylic acids in different solvation environments: Testing the validity of the link hypothesis using a quantum mechanical continuum solvation approach. CrystEngComm 15, 6564-6577.
Wolthers M, Di Tommaso D, Du Z, de Leeuw NH (2013) Variations in calcite growth kinetics with surface topography: molecular dynamics simulations and process-based growth kinetics modelling. CrystEngComm 15, 5506-5514.
Wolthers M, Di Tommaso D, Du Z, de Leeuw NH (2012) Calcite surface reactivity: molecular dynamic simulations and macroscopic surface modelling of the structurally heterogeneous calcite-water interface. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 14, 15145-15157.
Di Tommaso D, de Leeuw NH (2010) Structure and dynamics of the hydrated magnesium ion and of the solvated magnesium carbonates: insights from first principles simulations. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 12, 894-901.
Di Tommaso D, de Leeuw NH (2010) First principles simulations of the structural and dynamical properties of hydrated metal ions Me2+ and solvated metal carbonates (Me = Ca, Mg and Sr). Crystal Growth & Design 10, 4292-4302.

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 14.00

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