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New Antiferroelectrics: Exploring Hybrid-improper Mechanisms to Design and Prepare Functional Materials


Dr Emma McCabe Friday, April 30, 2021 Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Durham United Kingdom Experimental Physics Physics Solid State Physics

About the Project

The increasingly diverse demands of emerging technologies means that research to design and optimize new functional materials is a top priority. The discovery of new mechanisms for ferroelectric properties (exploited in piezoelectrics, memory devices and more recently in photovoltaics) has revolutionized this field. This project will explore these hybrid-improper mechanisms to design and optimize new antiferroelectric (AFE) materials. A funded PhD position is available under the supervision of Dr Emma McCabe and Dr Budhika Mendis in Physics at the Durham University, UK. 

Antiferroelectrics are gaining interest for their applications in energy storage. They adopt a non-polar ground state with a metastable polar phase accessible by application of an applied electric field. Our project is predominantly experimental (to design, synthesis and characterize new materials) but computational work carried out with collaborators will give further insight into our experimental results.

Our first materials targets will be new layered perovskite-related oxides (e.g. Ruddlesden-Popper, Aurivillius and related families of materials). Synthesis will be by solid state and topotactic reactions and characterisation by in-house X-ray powder diffraction (and Rietveld refinement), electron microscopy and physical property measurements (both in-house and with collaborators). We will apply to carry out experiments at central facilities (e.g. neutron scattering, synchrotron X-ray diffraction experiments) and we’ll also carry out density functional theory calculations to complement our experimental results. This combined experimental and computational approach will give the deepest understanding of these materials and the opportunity for the student to gain a breadth of experience in materials synthesis, characterisation and computational methods.

This PhD Studentship is due to start in October 2021. 

Entry requirements and Funding: Applicants should have or expect to obtain a first class honours degree or upper second class integrated Masters (or equivalent) in Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science or a related subject. The Scholarship will be offered at the standard UK Research Councils’ rate (currently £15,285; to cover living costs) and will cover tuition fees at the Home/Islands rate (currently £4,407) and may involve undertaking teaching/demonstrating duties during the period of study.

Applying for the Position: The closing date for applications is Friday 30 April 2021, but applications will be reviewed as they are received. The start date is October 2021, but there is flexibility to start later.

Applications are particularly welcome from people in under-represented groups in STEM including female and black and ethnic minority candidates.

For further information or informal enquiries, please contact Dr Emma McCabe (), or the Senior Postgraduate Research Administrator ().

To apply please go to Department of Physics : How to apply - Durham University and please note that you will be expected to provide personal details, education and employment history and supporting documentation (Curriculum Vitae, transcript of results, two academic references).

Applications can be made immediately and interviews will be held until the studentship is filled.

About the University: Durham University, founded in 1832, is the third oldest English University. It is in the Top 100 Universities in the world as ranked by Times Higher Education and QS, and the Department of Physics ( is currently ranked 4th in the UK Complete University Guide. Materials Physics is one of the largest, most diverse and dynamic fields in modern physics, encompassing all aspects of the solid and liquid states of matter. This breadth is reflected in the research undertaken at Durham which spans a wide range of subjects from light emitting polymers and solar cell materials to nanoscale magnetics. Our work aims to push forward the forefront of our understanding in the physics of materials using experiment, theory and computation - Centre for Materials Physics (

Funding Notes

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International students, includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (currently £15,285 per annum to cover living costs) and will additionally cover tuition fees at the Home rate (currently £4,407 per annum). Also, additional funding is included to cover research costs and local, national and international travel such as conferences.

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