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Dyes and liquid crystals: novel molecular designs for guest-host applications

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr J N Moore, Dr S Cowling  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


Liquid crystals are remarkable materials: they are fluids made of molecules in constant motion that nevertheless have some degree of ordering or alignment between them. Different types of molecular alignment give rise to different types of liquid crystal, such as nematic liquid crystals where the molecules tend to point in the same direction, and smectic liquid crystals where they tend also to assemble into diffuse layers.

Commercially, liquid crystals comprise a multi-$billion market that includes their use in display screens (phones, TVs, etc.), fibre-optic switches (telecoms networks), light modulators (projectors, augmented reality devices, etc.), and smart windows. Their applications are based on the optical properties that arise from molecular alignment, and on the ability to switch the alignment and properties with an electric field. Applications and device designs are constantly evolving but are often limited by the materials available, and high-tech industry constantly seeks improved materials via new compounds and new formulations of the multi-component mixtures that are used in real-world devices.

From a research perspective, the study of liquid crystals is important fundamental science. A key goal is to develop a detailed understanding of the interplay between molecular structure at the atomic level and the structure and properties of bulk materials in liquid crystalline phases.

We have been developing new approaches to studying and designing liquid crystalline systems by using a combination of experimental and computational techniques. In one example, we have been studying an alkyl chain design motif in which a bulky end-group promotes the formation of smectic phases in cyanobiphenyls. In other examples, we have been studying how the molecular design of anthraquinone dyes used as guests in liquid crystalline hosts can control the molecular alignment, compatibility, stability and colour of the dye in the host.

The understanding gained from these studies has been enabling us to develop a rational approach to the design of new molecules and mixtures. This approach is an ultimate goal for applications because it may allow the more traditional approach of synthesising libraries of compounds and screening them for desired properties to be replaced by rational molecular design allied with more targeted synthesis and formulation.


The objective is to understand the interplay between molecular design and the structure and properties of liquid crystalline phases, including those formed by single compounds and multi-component mixtures. The focus will be on design motifs that promote molecular alignment, including the formation of layers to produce smectic phases and the alignment of dyes in guest-host mixtures. An ultimate objective of such work is the rational design of formulations for use in energy-efficient, lightweight, low-cost, guest-host devices.

Experimental Approach

We have already developed a range of experimental and computational approaches for such studies. Those likely to be deployed in this project include UV-visible spectroscopy, microscopy, X-ray diffraction, DSC, and device studies, allied with DFT calculations and MD simulations. The project will focus on physical and computational chemistry, and is likely to involve some further development work, particularly on computational and analysis methods that involve coding (programming).


The studies will focus on novel liquid crystals and dyes already synthesised in York. The research is expected to generate fundamental new insights into how molecular design motifs influence the structure and properties of liquid crystalline phases, and to generate novel design concepts for new molecules and mixtures. The results of the project may feed back into the synthesis of further new compounds.


The student will join a collaborative team from the Physical and Materials Chemistry groups, and will receive training and close support in experimental and computational techniques from experienced staff in both sections. All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:  

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor's name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2022. Induction activities may start a few days earlier.

To apply for this project, submit an online PhD in Chemistry application:

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a related subject.  

Funding Notes

Fully funded for 3 years by the Department of Chemistry and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,609 for 2021-22), (ii) tuition fees at the Home rate, (iii) funding for consumables. See guidance for further details:
Studentships are available to any student who is eligible to pay tuition fees at the home rate:
Not all projects will be funded; candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


Candidate selection process:
• You should hold or expect to receive at least an upper second class degree in chemistry or a chemical sciences related subject
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the University of York by 28 February 2022
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone or web-chat
• Supervisors can nominate up to 2 candidates to be interviewed for the project
• The interview panel will shortlist candidates for interview from all those nominated
• Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview on 30th or 31st March or 1stApril
• The awarding committee will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

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

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