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Molecular Understanding of the role of Surface Functionality on the properties of cellulose films and surfaces


Project Description

The Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath has launched a joint PhD programme with Monash University, Australia.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for up to four funded studentships. More details are available here: http://www.csct.ac.uk/study-with-us/

Home institution: Bath University
Supervisor at Bath: Prof Steve Parker (lead)
Supervisor at Monash: Warren Batchelor

Context

Cellulose is the most abundant and bio-mass derived polymeric material that has potential to be the major sustainable feedstock for many applications, from absorbents and gels to protective films. Cellulose will play a critical role in the transition away from using the fossil-fuel derived polymers that are difficult to recycle and are environmentally persistent. Despite the abundance of cellulose, it is often challenging to characterise experimentally, not least because of considerable flexibility of the chains which leads to marked differences in solubility and aggregation. In addition, the presence of ions and small molecules can also alter the behaviour at the interfaces, which then gives rise to a considerable variation in the functional properties.
The building block of these films is the individual cellulose nanofibres, assembled into a nonwoven structure, together with the pores between them. The cellulose nanofibers have a structure built up of crystalline cellulose domains of 4 nm diameter combined into larger 20-50 nm diameter structures with amorphous cellulose. The performance of these materials as barriers is controlled by transport of oxygen and water molecules through the pores, their interaction with the cellulose surfaces and transport around the surface of the crystalline cellulose domains.
We will aim to obtain a quantitative understanding of the behaviour of these interfaces by developing and applying molecular simulation approaches, coupled with targeted experiments. We will begin by investigating the interfacial properties of cellulose nanomaterial-based films, and how the presence of small molecules and ions affect the structure, dynamics and transport. The next stage would be to study the role of surface functionalisation, and thus by comparing experiment and simulation we will evaluate a range of properties, such as water vapour and oxygen permeability, needed for improved barrier packaging materials. Furthermore, by being able scan through different surface groups and the composition of intermediate layers we will be able to identify how best to modify the surfaces to drive performance. Once we have shown that such properties can be reliably calculated, we will have the tools to use these molecular level insights to make predictions on how to tune the material properties for improved performance.
Steve Parker will lead the computational work. The complementary experimental component will be led by Warren Batchelor who has expertise in the development and application of cellulose nanofibres for new sustainable materials. Janet Scott is internationally leading on the use of renewable raw materials, particularly cellulose and will be able to give guidance and help set priorities.

Application process

We invite applications from Science and Engineering graduates who have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second class degree and have a strong interest in Sustainable & Circular Technologies.

You MUST express interest for three projects in order of preference – you can see all projects here: https://www.csct.ac.uk/bath-monash-global-phd-programme/ . Please submit your application at the Home institution of your preferred project (‘Home’ institution details can be found in the project summary). However, please note that you are applying for a joint PhD programme and applications will be processed as such.

University of Bath

Please submit your application through the following link: https://www.csct.ac.uk/bath-monash-global-phd-programme/
Please make sure to mention in the “finance” section of your application that you are applying for funding through the joint Bath/Monash PhD programme for your specified projects.
In the “research interests” section of your application, please name the three projects you are interested in and rank them in order of preference. Please also include the names of the Bath lead supervisors.

Monash University

Expressions of interest (EoI) can be lodged through https://www.monash.edu/science/bath-monash-program. The EoI should provide the following information:
CV including details of citizenship, your Official Academic Transcripts, key to grades/grading scale of your transcripts, evidence of English language proficiency (IELTS or TOEFL, for full requirements see: https://www.monash.edu/graduate-research/faqs-and-resources/content/chapter-two/2-2), and two referees and contact details (optional). You must provide a link to these documents in Section 8 using Google Drive (Instructions in Section 8).

Funding Notes

Bath Monash PhD studentships include tuition fee sponsorship and a living allowance (stipend) for the course duration (up to 42 months maximum). Note, however, that studentships for Bath-based projects will provide cover for UK/EU tuition fees ONLY. Non-Australian nationals studying in Australia will be required to pay their own Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).

Additional and suitably qualified applicants who can access a scholarship/studentship from other sources will be also considered.

How good is research at University of Bath in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.10

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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