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Correlative characterisation of electrocatalysts for the Oxygen Evolution Reaction

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr Alex Walton, Dr Katie Moore  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD is an opportunity to become an expert in using the [KLM1] cutting-edge surface characterisation equipment at the hub of the Henry Royce Institute (the UK’s national institute for materials research) in order to tackle one of the biggest challenges in green hydrogen production.

Water electrolysis holds the key to green hydrogen and as such is a focus of intense research activity, both in industry and academia. The key bottleneck to development is the oxygen evolution reaction (OER), which requires very efficient electrocatalysts to proceed at a useful rate. The current state-of-the-art electrocatalysts are based on ruthenium and iridium oxides which are prohibitively expensive. Earth-abundant alternatives are therefore needed for widespread adoption of this technology.

First row transition metal (Co, Fe, Ni) oxyhydroxides are promising candidate electrocatalysts, but fall short of Ir and Ru in terms of stability and activity. A poor understanding of the basic surface chemistry of these materials and their OER reaction mechanisms severely hampers development. This project will exploit the world-leading surface analysis facilities available at the Royce hub by combining the surface chemical information from X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy and high-resolution Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (NanoSIMS) with robust, carefully benchmarked electrochemical testing to gain unprecedented insight into the surface chemistry of transition metal oxyhydroxides and hence provide design principles for competitive earth-abundant catalysts.

In this project, you will:

•               Develop model electrocatalysts with the minimum of system complexity so that their behaviour is repeatable and their surface chemistry can be understood in detail

•               Correlate spectroscopic measurements of surface chemistry from XPS, nanoscale trace element and isotopic mapping from NanoSIMS and catalytic performance data to elucidate structure-function relationships.

•               Demonstrate that we can use the mechanistic insight gained to develop more active catalysts.

Academic background of candidates 

Applicants are expected to hold, or about to obtain, a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Physics or Materials Science/Engineering. A Masters degree is desirable.

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

The School is committed to Athena SWAN principles to promote women in science; the School’s website documenting activity in this area can be found at:

The University will actively foster a culture of inclusion and diversity and will seek to achieve true equality of opportunity for all members of its community.

Contact for further Information

Alex Walton [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a 3.5 year EPSRC DTG studentship. Funding will cover UK tuition fee and stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of scholarships that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.
Start date: September 2022


Annual Review of Analytical Chemistry 2020, 13,273.
The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2021, 125,20940.
J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 2021, 54,194001
The Journal of Physical Chemistry C 2019, 123,9176.

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