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  Non-periodic structures in metal–organic frameworks

   Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

   Monday, September 30, 2024  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Changing the way we use energy is pivotal in reducing emissions, and understanding the detailed chemistry and structure driving materials technologies offers a key route to energy efficiency. Metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) show exciting promise for chemical separations as well as in membranes for batteries to fuel cells – and even as protective coatings for semiconductors used in solar energy and lighting applications. Often the properties of interest in MOFs, from pore structures to chemical functionality, are controlled by the crystal structure. But the details of how individual molecules enter and interact with MOF pores and how MOF structures change upon heating, melting, or interfacing with other materials is often non-periodic, that is, a deviation from the crystal structure.

This project will develop and apply advanced electron microscopy to probe these important non-periodic structures. The project will include opportunities to explore cryogenic freezing of guest molecules into MOF crystals as well as to examine disordered, amorphous, and liquid phases that emerge in MOFs and MOF composite materials. 

Scanning transmission electron microscopy offers unique insights into the nanometre to atomic scale structure of materials. However, MOFs are often very fragile when exposed to high energy electron beams, posing a significant challenge for electron microscopy of MOFs. At Leeds, we have been developing a suite of techniques for low-dose electron diffraction, spectroscopy, and imaging for MOFs and other beam-sensitive materials [1-3]. This project will build on these tools to gain insight into the fundamental principles of non-periodic structure (and dynamics) in MOFs.

The project will have a primary focus on structural and chemical characterisation, along with some opportunities to carry out MOF synthesis. The PhD researcher will receive training to drive forward their research using approaches including electron diffraction, pair distribution function analysis, and vibrational and core ionisation spectroscopy. The project will draw on materials science, chemistry, physics, and engineering principles. Applications are welcome from undergraduate degrees in any related field. 

We are keen to support and develop an inclusive community of researchers, with the aim for equity for marginalised researchers. If you are interested, please email Sean Collins () for informal inquiries.

Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Materials Science (24) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

A highly competitive European Research Council (UKRI Frontier Research Guarantee) Studentship, offering the award of fees at the UK fee rate of £4,786, together with a tax-free maintenance grant of £19,237 per year for 3.5 years. This opportunity is open to UK applicants only. All candidates will be placed into the European Research Council Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.


[1] A. F. Sapnik et al. Commun. Chem. 2023, 6, 92.
[2] J. Hou et al. Science 2021, 374, 621-625.
[3] S. M. Collins et al. Nano Lett. 2021, 20, 1272-1279.

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