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  Bio-derived materials with enhanced properties: controlling the composition of bioderived polymers through automation and machine learning

   Institute for Sustainability

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  Dr Antoine Buchard, Dr Hannah Leese, Prof Tanja Junkers  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Centre for Sustainable & Circular Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project which is part of a joint PhD programme between the University of Bath and Monash University in Australia. 


This project is one of a number that are in competition for up to three funded studentships. 


Home institution: University of Bath

Supervisor(s) at Bath: Dr Antoine Buchard, Dr Hannah Leese

Supervisor(s) at Monash: Prof Tanja Junkers

The reliance of plastic materials on fossil resources and concerns about their end of life necessitate a transition to a circular economy of plastics. One vision for sustainable plastics is that of a class of materials, derived from renewable feedstocks, which exhibit closed-loop life cycles (mechanical and chemical recyclability and/or biodegradability). However, a major technological barrier limiting the widespread adoption of polymers from renewable feedstocks is the need to achieve a delicate balance between thermomechanical performance and degradability.

One strategy used to tune the properties of polymeric materials is the copolymerisation between two or more monomers, combined with the control of the composition and sequence of the resulting copolymers. This usually necessitates the determination of monomers relative reactivity ratios, which is a lengthy and labour-intensive process. In addition, the differences in intrinsic reactivities of monomers means that it can be extremely challenging to achieve specific sequences, in particular statistical copolymers. Unfortunately, these challenges considerably limit our ability to discover new materials that could address technological needs (e.g., materials with high gas barrier properties but with embedded or triggerable degradability). 

In particular, at Bath, the Buchard group ( has been developing a platform of monomers and polymers derived from sugars.[1-3] These renewable and degradable materials have shown promise for a variety of applications, including packaging, battery solid electrolytes and health materials (in collaboration with the Leese group ( Considering the diversity of sugar feedstocks, and the possibilities offered by copolymerisation, the structure/property space to explore is immense and necessitates a rational and optimised approach.

In Monash, the Junkers group ( specialises in the precise engineering of polymers using flow processes and on-line analysis of polymerisation reactions. Recently, they have for example developed a continuous flow system for automated high-throughput screening and autonomous optimisation of radical polymerisations, which is controlled by a machine-learning algorithm that continuously vary reaction parameters until target molecular weights are achieved.[4-5]

In this collaborative and multidisciplinary project, we will develop an experimental set-up which is able to vary copolymerisation reaction parameters (rate of addition, concentrations, temperature etc.) and automatically explore new bio-derived copolymer compositions and sequences, and relate those to the polymer physical properties, which will ultimately inform the design of materials with enhanced characteristics. [...continued]

Project keywords: analytical chemistry, applied chemistry, polymer chemistry, synthetic chemistry, software engineering, chemical engineering, control systems, polymers

To apply:

We invite applications from Science and Engineering graduates who have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second class degree and have a strong interest in Sustainable & Circular Technologies. 

You may express an interest in up to three projects in order of preference. See the CSCT website for more information.

Please submit your application to the Home institution of your preferred project. You should note, however, that you are applying for a joint PhD programme and applications will be processed as such.

If this is your preferred project, apply using the relevant Bath online application form:

Please quote ‘Bath Monash PhD studentship’ in the Finance section and the lead supervisor(s)’ name(s) and project title(s) in the ‘Your research interests’ section.  More information on applying to Bath may be found here.

If the Home institution of your preferred project is Monash, apply here.

Enquiries about the application process should be sent to [Email Address Removed].

Studentship eligibility

Funding for Bath-based projects, such as the one advertised here, is available to candidates who qualify for Home fee status only. In determining Home student status, we follow the UK government’s fee regulations and guidance from the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA). Further information may also be found within the university’s fee status guidance.

EU/EEA citizens who live outside the UK are unlikely to be eligible for Home fees and funding.

Funding for Monash-based projects is available to candidates of any nationality. 

Please see the CSCT website for a full list of available projects.

Chemistry (6) Computer Science (8) Engineering (12) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

Bath Monash PhD studentships include tuition fee sponsorship and a living allowance (stipend) for up to 42 months maximum. Note, however, that studentships for Bath-based projects will provide cover for Home tuition fees ONLY. See the ‘Studentship eligibility’ section above. Non-Australian nationals studying in Australia will be required to pay their own Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).
Additional and suitably qualified applicants who can access a scholarship/studentship from other sources will be also considered.


1) M. Piccini, J. Lighfoot, B. Castro Dominguez and A. Buchard, ACS Appl. Polym. Mater. 2021, 3, 5870-5881.
2) T. M. McGuire, E. F. Clark, A. Buchard, Macromolecules 2021, 54, 5094-5105.
3) G. L. Gregory, L. M. Jenisch, B. Charles, A. Buchard, Macromolecules 2016, 49, 7165-7169.
4) M. Rubens, J.H. Vrijsen, J. Laun and T. Junkers, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2019, 58, 3183-3187
5) M. Rubens and T. Junkers, Polym. Chem. 2019, 10, 6315-6323.

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