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Exploiting 17O solid-state NMR spectroscopy of catalysts and porous solids

   School of Chemistry

   Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD studentship is an exciting opportunity to develop new approaches to solid-state NMR in collaboration with industry. 17O solid-state Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is an excellent local probe of ordered and disordered materials, due to its large chemical shift range giving excellent discrimination between bulk and defect sites. Despite the prevalence of oxygen in many industrially relevant catalysts, the low natural abundance (0.037%) of the only NMR-active isotope (17O) presents a major challenge to fully exploiting solid-state NMR as a characterisation tool. This lack of sensitivity can be overcome by 17O isotopic enrichment of the material before the NMR experiment is carried out. 17O-enrichment methods give access to a broad range of industrially relevant molecules and materials, providing an entry route into the structural elucidation of both their bulk and surface or interfaces. The Ashbrook group has world-class expertise in methods for 17O enrichment, including pioneering work in the field of aluminosilicate microporous solids.[1]

This 4-year PhD studentship is currently available at St Andrew’s University in collaboration with Johnson Matthey (JM). The objective of this project is to develop cost-effective uniform and selective approaches to 17O enrichment using methods such as mechanochemistry and solution slurrying to study a range of materials used in sustainable technologies with advanced NMR methods.[2, 3] Specifically, this project aims to investigate synthetic zeolites, solid-state electrolytes and oxygen-evolution catalysts. This project will utilise the “NMR crystallography approach,” combining experimental and computational methods for structural elucidation. During the project external research facilities, such as the UK High-Field Solid-State NMR Facility, will be utilised.

The PhD studentship will allow a highly motivated candidate to participate in the development of 17O methodologies for sustainable technologies, and develop a research profile across both NMR spectroscopy and materials. The successful applicant will join a collaborative, international and multidisciplinary research team with opportunities for secondment in JM’s Technology Centre to gain hands-on experience of scientific research in an industrial setting. 

JM is a global leader in sustainable technologies specialising in catalysis, precious metal products, chemicals and process technology. With operations in over 30 countries, JM employs more than 13,000 people. JM uses science to make the world cleaner and healthier. Over the past two centuries JM has built its reputation and place as a global leader through quality, integrity, and innovation. Today, more than 93% of the group’s sales come from products and services which provide sustainability benefits through the positive impact they have on the environment, resource efficiency and human health.

This PhD studentship will be associated with the EaSI-CAT CDT at St Andrews. Further information can be obtained from Professor Ashbrook ().

Please see: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/chemistry/prospective/pgr/ for the application procedure or e-mail  for more information regarding PhD opportunities at St Andrews. We encourage applications for the EaSiCAT Centre for Doctoral training (http://www.criticat.co.uk) and from Chinese nationals through the St Andrews CSC Scheme (https://csc.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/). There are opportunities for self-funded PhD students to make use of the St Andrews Handsel Scheme to fund the difference between home and international fees.


1. Heard, C.J., et al., Fast room temperature lability of aluminosilicate zeolites. Nature Communications, 2019. 10(1): p. 4690.
2. Chen, C.-H., et al., Direct 17O Isotopic Labeling of Oxides Using Mechanochemistry. Inorganic Chemistry, 2020. 59(18): p. 13050-13066.
3. Pugh, S.M., et al., Facile, Room-Temperature 17O Enrichment of Zeolite Frameworks Revealed by Solid-State NMR Spectroscopy.Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2020. 142(2): p. 900-906.

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