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Catalyst Reincarnation: Post-polymerization Functionality of Ring-opening Polymerisation Catalysts as Bioactive Additives in Biomedical Materials

Project Description

The Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath has now launched a new joint PhD programme with Monash University, Australia. The Bath Monash Global PhD Programme will have its first intake in October this year.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for up to four funded studentships. More details are available here:

Home institution: University of Bath
Supervisors at Bath: Professor Matthew Davidson (lead) and Professor Janet Scott
Supervisors at Monash: Professor Phil Andrews and Professor Laurence Meagher

Poly(lactide acid) (PLA) and poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) are biocompatible and resorbable polymers widely used in biomedical and therapeutic applications. They are prepared via ring-opening polymerisation (ROP) of lactide (LA) and glycolide (GA) monomers using metal-based catalysts that must subsequently be removed prior to use. We propose to design bismuth-based catalyst systems for the controlled ROP of LA and GA and, rather than removing the catalyst from the final polymer, we will investigate the bismuth-mediated bioactivity (e.g., antimicrobial) of these materials. In effect, a Bi-based catalyst system will be reincarnated as Bi-based functional additives for the material in use. Having established the principle of bismuth catalyst reincarnation, and evaluated the bioactivity in use, we will target specific applications (e.g., biocompatible antimicrobial coatings) through control of polymer architecture and composition. For example, tuning material hydrophilicity, porosity and swelling could be achieved through ‘growing’ PL(G)A from oxidised cellulose surfaces.

The target bismuth catalysts will be defined from preliminary studies on complexes which have been shown to exhibit antibacterial activity (alpha-hydroxy carboxylates, hydroxamates, sulfonates and phosphinates) towards critical multi-drug resistant bacteria and which are also labile enough to initiate polymerisation. These complexes are also able to be introduced as additives if higher Bi loadings are required to achieve sufficient bacteriostatic activity. Bio-assays will involve toxicity of the catalysts towards a range of pathogenic bacteria as well as mammalian cells (COS-7 and human fibroblast cells) while the polymer films will be studied for their ability to inhibit biofilms and their surface bacteriostatic activity. Bismuth content and elution rates will be studied with ICP-MS, polymer profiles will be examined by SEM/TEM and EDX.

The project will develop skills in synthesis and characterisation of bismuth compounds, bio-based polymer synthesis and biological testing of materials. Initial work to develop selective and active bismuth catalysts for (co)polymerisations will be carried out in Bath (Year 1). Materials will then be tested and further developed in Monash (Year 2). Further design, synthesis, characterisation and testing of appropriate materials targeted for specific applications (Year 3) will be carried out in Bath and Monash as appropriate.


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 Chemical 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. However, please note that you are applying for a joint PhD programme and applications will be processed as such.

If this is your preferred project, apply using Bath’s 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 .

Funding Notes

Bath Monash PhD studentships include tuition fee sponsorship and a living allowance (stipend) for the course duration (up to 42 months maximum). Note, however, that studentships for Bath-based projects will provide cover for UK/EU tuition fees ONLY. 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.

How good is research at University of Bath in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.10

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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