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Electronic Structure and Bonding in f Element Molecules at Ambient and High Pressures

Project Description

The f block is vital to modern society. The 4f (lanthanide) elements lie at the heart of many key technologies, e.g. phosphors and lighting (europium); high-strength magnets for electronics, hybrid vehicles and wind turbines (neodymium); optoelectronics (neodymium, erbium); magnetic resonance imaging (gadolinium); automobile catalytic converters (cerium). The 5f (actinide) series features two elements (uranium and plutonium) that are central to nuclear power production. We need to know as much as we possibly can about the chemistry of these fascinating elements.
Solids show different compressibility depending on the type of bonding (ionic vs covalent) in the material, and the bonding and properties of f element-containing materials can be changed by pressure. Indeed, pressure has proven to be a useful tool to understand the behaviour of the 5f orbitals of uranium and plutonium compounds. In this PhD project you will use computational molecular quantum chemistry (based on density functional and ab initio theories) in conjunction with analysis tools such as the Quantum Theory of Atoms in Molecules, Natural Bond Orbital and Energy Decomposition Analysis to probe covalency, and weak interactions between metals and solvent/ligand peripheral groups, in a range of molecular compounds of the 4f and 5f elements at ambient and high pressures. For representative examples of the type of problem to be addressed, and the methodology to be employed, please see Angewandte Chemie International Edition 54 (2015) 6735 and Dalton Transactions 48 (2019) DOI: 10.1039/C8DT05094E.
The computational chemistry of the f block remains challenging, for two principal reasons: (i) relativistic effects (the modification of atomic orbital energies vs non relativistic analogues, and spin-orbit coupling) - which can either be neglected or accommodated with only simple approximations and corrections for light atoms - have a significant effect on 4f and 5f element chemistry, and must be explicitly included in calculations, and (ii) the near degeneracy of several sets of valence atomic orbitals (e.g. for the actinides 5f, 6d, 7s and 7p) can lead to a plethora of closely-spaced electronic states which pose formidable electron correlation challenges. In this project you will learn how modern computational chemistry can overcome these challenges, and apply your skills to cutting edge problems in molecular f element chemistry.

Applicants are expected to hold, or about to obtain, a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in chemistry or physics.

Contact for further Information;
Nik Kaltsoyannis

Funding Notes

This is a 3.5 year EPSRC DTP funded studentship covering fees and stipend(£15,009 p.a. in 2019/20).

Open to UK and EU nationals only, due to funding restrictions.

We expect the programme to start in September 2019.


Angewandte Chemie International Edition 54 (2015) 6735
Dalton Transactions 48 (2019) DOI: 10.1039/C8DT05094E

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