Critical materials for future technologies are often highly complex and notoriously difficult to characterise by applying a single technique. The activity of these materials is controlled by their composition and structures on multiple length-scales, from the atomic to the macro-scale. They commonly involve low atomic weight, mobile elements (e.g. hydrogen, carbon, lithium) that are the most challenging to quantitatively characterise in their state of interest. This is true for materials found in batteries or relevant to the hydrogen economy and catalysis for new fuels for instance, as well as liquids or liquid-solid interfaces critical for lubrication, CCS and catalysis. Enabling precise characterisation of structure and composition from the micron up to a scale close to individual atoms will lead to understanding the physical and chemical processes that control how these materials perform during service and what controls their behaviour and / or limits their lifetime. Cryo-microscopy has a critical role to play there too, but brings a number of challenges.
In this project we will explore the use of cryo approaches for energy-relevant reactive systems (initially proposing catalytic materials) – and develop protocols, tools and analytical methods using model systems, building capability to fully representative real-world materials. A first major challenge in studying light elements in materials is the migration and damage of species during both preparation and characterisation, which can be even more prevalent when trying to maintain specimens in an environment close to that faced during service. A second major challenge is the need to collect information not only on the structure of property enhancing features of interest but also their composition and chemical state, as well as their activity, e.g. via in situ techniques, and wherever possible from not only the same material sample but the very same specimen analysed by different techniques and correlating the results. A third major challenge is in establishing bridges and convergence between the data streams originating from different microscopy and microanalysis techniques, which will be critical to make the most of cryo-enabled multi-microscopy approaches.
Informal enquiries about the post and the application process can be made to Prof Mary Ryan by including a motivation letter and CV.
Applicants should hold or expect to obtain a First-Class Honours or a high 2:1 degree at Master’s level (or equivalent) in Materials Engineering, another branch of engineering or a related science. Funding is through the project InFUSE (Interface with the future: underpinning science to support the energy transition), funded by the EPSRC and Shell.
Eligibility for student funding: https://www.ukri.org/councils/esrc/career-and-skills-development/funding-for-postgraduate-training/eligibility-for-studentship-funding/