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Across multiple timescales and length scales: Using in-situ X-ray scattering to understand hierarchical MOF assembly

   School of Chemistry

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  Dr H Yeung  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

We seek to recruit a motivated PhD student for a joint 4-year project between the School of Chemistry, University of Birmingham, and Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility. The successful candidate will be part of a growing multidisciplinary research team aiming to reveal new understanding of functional materials using synchrotron light. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are an important new class of materials, with potential applications in energy storage, sensing, sustainability and healthcare.

Recently, MOFs with hierarchical structure–on multiple length scales–have been created that give rise to unprecedented properties and emergent phenomena, such as structural colour.[1] However, a lack of understanding of the formation of hierarchical MOFs limits the functionality and diversity of new materials, as well as control over their properties. The challenge lies in characterisation of this complex system over the wide range of structural length scales (10^-10 m – 10^-3 m) and mechanistic timescales (10^-3 s – 10^4 s) that contribute to the formation process. Synchrotron X-ray scattering is well-suited to such characterisation but linking information across such a wide range of timescales and length scales remains a considerable challenge.

This project will develop the necessary protocols and expertise to perform and analyse tandem in-situ X-ray scattering experiments across beamlines I22 and I15-1 at Diamond, to probe the key length scales and timescales involved in hierarchical MOF formation. It will develop reproducible chemical methods for the assembly of hierarchical MOFs for sensing applications. It will use small-angle X-ray scattering to determine particle size and bulk chemical information, and use pair distribution function measurements to determine local structural changes e.g., metal–linker coordination environments. By collecting data in-situ during MOF formation and correlating structural changes across multiple length scales, it will lead to new understanding of the formation mechanism and its effect on the quality of hierarchical MOF structures in two important MOF classes: zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs)[2] and the University of Oslo (UiO) family[3].

The student will spend two years based in the group of Dr Hamish H-M Yeung at the University of Birmingham, School of Chemistry, developing their skills in synthetic chemistry, materials synthesis, characterization and sensing[4]. They will then spend two years working across two beamlines at Diamond Light Source, the UK's national synchrotron, receiving training from I15-1 Principal Beamline Scientist Dr Phil Chater and I22 Beamline Scientist Dr Andy Smith in equipment design, small-angle X-ray scattering, pair distribution function measurements and data analysis. The student will have an allowance up to £3000 per year for conferences, training and travel between Diamond and Birmingham, and will receive additional training in transferable skills such as Python, scientific writing and presentations.

We welcome applicants from all backgrounds. Diamond Light Source Ltd and the University of Birmingham School of Chemistry hold Athena SWAN Bronze Awards, demonstrating their commitment to provide equal opportunities and to advance the representation of women in STEM/M subjects: science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded with an enhanced stipend and tuition fees paid to UK level, with additional funds available for travel and conferences. This re-advertised post will remain open until a suitable candidate is found. Candidates should have or be about to complete a Masters degree with first class or upper second class honours in a scientific discipline, such as Chemistry, Physics, Materials. They are expected to demonstrate a good understanding of X-ray (and/or light) scattering, diffraction and/or crystallography, and show interest in functional materials, condensed matter, metal–organic frameworks, crystallization and/or sensing. For more details, please contact: [Email Address Removed]


[1] Avci et al., Nat. Chem., 10, 78–84 (2018).
[2] Yeung et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 58, 566–571 (2019).
[3] Firth et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 143, 47, 19668–19683 (2021).
[4] Yeung et al., J. Mater. Chem. A., 8, 18007–18014 (2020).

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