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Atomic imaging for optimising van der Waals heterostructures

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, June 30, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The possibility to create new ‘designer’ materials by stacking together atomically thin layers extracted from layered materials with different properties has opened up a huge range of opportunities, from new optoelectronic phenomena [1], modifying and enhancing electron interactions in moire superlattices [2], to creating a totally new concept of designer nanochannels for molecular or ionic transport [3]. The impressive progress in understanding these phenomena and creating ideal conditions for their observation crucially depends on our knowledge of the atomic-resolution structure of the heterostructures. For example, in the case of new artificial crystals we need to know the structure and composition of buried interfaces between dissimilar atomic layers, while in the case of nanochannels created by leaving atomically-thin spaces between joined together 2D blocks, the required information is the quality of the channel ‘walls’ and the structure of the confined substance. Thanks to the extreme thinness of 2D heterostructures, such information can be obtained using transmission electron microscopy, either in the usual planar geometry, or in cross-section [4].
In this project you will analyse 2D heterostructures made either from dissimilar atomically thin layers (artificial 2D crystals) or put together to create specially designed nanochannels (dubbed ‘2D nothing’). These artificial crystals are fabricated by assembly of monolayers extracted from layered crystals (for example, graphene, insulating hexagonal boron nitride, semiconducting transition-metal chalcogenides, ferromagnetic CrI3 or superconducting NbSe2). The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute contains all the state-of-the art microfabrication facilities that will be needed for this project, including recently commissioned glove-box exfoliation and transfer systems. The Department of Materials has a suite of cutting edge transmission electron microscopy (TEM) facilities that you will use to study their atomic structure and combine this with the results of other measurements (electronic or mass transport) to reveal and understand the underlying phenomena. The new knowledge will then be applied to optimise the structure and properties of new nanodevices.

Among the many challenging problems that this approach can be expected to solve, the initial focus will be on:

(i) Understanding the atomic structure of buried interfaces in artificial crystals with twisted component layers. This can be expected to help solve the rich and unusual physics found in such systems.

(ii) Revealing the structure of liquids confined in atomically thin 2D channels. This has generate huge excitement but the precise structure of such systems is still far from clear and of huge importance to microfluidic, biology, environmental separations.

In this project you will acquire a broad range of microfabrication and characterisation experimental skills. The specific challenges can be adapted depending on the interests of the student. There will be opportunities to undertake experiments at national and international facilities, and to present your work at world leading international conferences.

Funding Notes

Successful candidates will have 1st or high 2.1 class Undergraduate degree in Physics/Chemistry/Engineering or Materials.

This project is being considered for DTA funding. This would provide a full fee waiver and a EPSRC standard stipend. International applicants are welcome to apply but will require access to self-funding.


[1] L. Britnell, et al. Science 340, 1311–1314 (2013); [2] R. Krishna-Kumar, Science 357, 181-184 (2017); [3] B. Radha et al. Nature 538, 222–225 (2016). [4] S.J.Haigh et al, Nature Mater. 11, 764 (2012)

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials?
Metallurgy and Materials

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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