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Observing reactions at working catalyst surfaces with X-ray spectroscopy

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, April 01, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Catalysis is critical to the efficient conversion of raw materials into the chemicals needed for products such as detergents, soaps, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. Designing improved catalysts requires a detailed understanding of the chemical reactions that occur during operation. However, current approaches typically characterise the catalyst outside of its reaction environment, telling us little about what happens during its active life.

This PhD project will develop and apply an innovative approach to directly study transition metal catalyst nanoparticles under atmospheric pressure reaction conditions. This will use windows made from the two-dimensional material graphene, through which the chemistry occurring at catalyst surfaces can be directly observed using X-ray spectroscopy. Understanding how the catalyst’s chemical state alters the ease with which certain reactions can occur will help inform the design of new catalysts and processes that more efficiently convert raw materials into desired products.

The student will be based in Dr. Robert Weatherup’s research group, embedded within the University of Manchester at Harwell (, located alongside Diamond Light Source on the Harwell campus. This is the UK’s leading science innovation and technology campus situated 20 minutes from Oxford and one hour from London. You will have access to the world-class research facilities on site and be provided with in-depth training in a range of experimental techniques including X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), mass spectrometry, and associated analysis methods. You will also gain experience in preparing model catalyst materials using colloidal synthesis and thin-film deposition techniques, and in manipulating two-dimensional materials such as graphene. The research will be linked to the UK catalysis Hub, which is also based on site, providing further opportunities for academic and industrial interaction.

Contact for further Information:
Robert Weatherup,

Funding Notes

This is a 3 year studentship which will cover fees and stipend (£14,777 in 2018-19).

Open to UK/EU applicants only.

We expect the Programme to commence in September 2019.

Applicants are expected to hold, or be about to obtain, a good 2:i honours degree (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Physics, Materials Science or a related discipline. Some prior experience in X-ray spectroscopy is advantageous but not essential.

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