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Extending Soft X-ray Spectroscopies to Realistic Catalytic Conditions


Project Description

In a world of global warming and diminishing resources, we must find ways to efficiently produce useful chemicals from waste products such as carbon dioxide, rather than from the fossil fuels currently used to make detergents, medicines, and plastics. The chemical industry relies on catalysts to increase the rate at which a chemical reaction occurs, by providing alternative reaction mechanisms. In order to achieve major improvements in these processes and the catalysts used, we need to understand the chemical reactions occurring on the catalyst’s surface and how these are altered by the chemical composition of the catalyst. However, we currently lack characterisation techniques that can provide this information and are compatible with the elevated temperatures and pressures typical in a catalytic reactor.

This PhD project aims to develop a new approach based on ultra-thin membranes, to extend the operating range of X-ray spectroscopy methods (XPS and XAS) from the vacuum conditions currently prevalent, to atmospheric pressures and above. This will involve the development of a micro-reactor that incorporates a graphene membrane as a window through which the chemistry occurring at catalyst surfaces can be directly observed, whilst a high pressure is maintained in the reactor. This will allow the chemical state of the catalyst and its influence on the products produced to be directly observed, helping to inform the design of new catalysts and processes that more efficiently convert raw materials into desired products. Membrane fabrication and reactor testing will involve techniques including physical and chemical vapour deposition, SEM, Raman, and mass-spectrometry. XPS will initially be carried out in a lab-based system, but the later stages of the project will involve the use of the synchrotron facilities, such as Diamond Light Source.

Candidates are considered in the January 2020 admissions cycle which has an application deadline of 24 January 2020.

Any questions concerning the project can be addressed to Dr Robert Weatherup (). General enquiries on how to apply can be made by e mail to . You must complete the standard Oxford University Application for Graduate Studies. Further information and an electronic copy of the application form can be found at http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/postgraduate_courses/apply/index.html.

Funding Notes

This Royal Society of Chemistry and Department of Materials funded 3.5 year DPhil in Materials Studentship will provide full fees and maintenance for a student with home or EU fee status. A student with overseas fee status would have to provide funds to cover the difference between home and overseas course fees. The stipend will be at least £16,009 per year. Information on fee status can be found at View Website.

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