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PhD in Chemistry - Spectroscopic investigations of physico-chemical aspects of healthcare

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, April 30, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Johnson Matthey is a leading FT 100 speciality chemicals company and a global leader in advanced materials in diverse areas from catalysis and Li-ion batteries to pharmaceuticals and advanced packaging. It has science interests in a wide range of areas from inorganic and physical chemistry through to materials science and specialised organics and underpinning all of this is a commitment to high quality, world-class R&D.

As part of an on-going research collaboration with Johnson Matthey, Glasgow based researchers are applying the generic technique of neutron scattering to investigate issues connected with hydrocarbon transformations over zeolite catalysts [1-6]. That work is concentrated around the three following techniques: inelastic neutron scattering (INS), quasi-elastic neutron scattering (QENS) and molecular dynamics (MD) calculations. This new project will build on the existing industrial/academic collaboration to take the learning gained from the INS, QENS and MD studies and apply these techniques to examine contemporary issues connected with the highly profitable healthcare sector. The Company recognise that there are important global challenges related to personalised healthcare, including low-cost healthcare for developing countries, that are amenable to inspection by neutron spectroscopy.

The first phase of the project will look at protein/enzyme dynamics. Protein dynamics is a highly active area of research with the majority of the work undertaken at the biology/chemistry interface. One area that is receiving considerable attention is the use of terahertz spectroscopy to investigate functionally relevant, global and sub-global collective modes with periods on the picosecond timescale. These modes are thought to convey biological relevance of low-frequency biopolymer dynamics, with the broad features associated with the existence of a large number of terahertz collective modes in biomaterials. To-date, the majority of these studies have been undertaken with laser-based optical spectroscopy measurements. However, there is an increasingly realisation that these diagnostic vibrational modes are additionally accessible via INS, which offers the opportunities for selective deuteration experiments, as well as 2-dimensional analysis (SQ, ) on direct geometry chopper-based spectrometers. Moreover, this new body of work will be supplemented by QENS measurements which will provide further insight in to diffusional characteristics of the selected bio-polymeric systems as a function of the degree of hydration.

The second phase of the project will examine the crystallisation of pharmaceuticals (e.g. co-crystals and hybrid/amorphous systems). There is a growing appreciation of the importance of crystallisation phenomena connected to pharmacologically active materials; not just for medicines but a range of healthcare products. Topics ripe for investigation include (i) the diffusion of solvent in different crystal structures (e.g. lamellar plate compared to cubic crystals); (ii) the effect of morphology and binding on solvent migration; (iii) solid/solid phase transitions and (iv) change in solid form as a function of temperature. These fundamental physico-chemical properties will be probed by a combination of INS and QENS; the resulting perspective will be directed to understanding the performance of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in terms of polymorphism (crystallisation) and the production of co-crystals. Co-crystal development is an increasingly popular step in the drug development process: by forming co-crystals – crystalline complexes formed by two (or more) separate molecular entities – drug developers can modify the physical properties of an API while preserving the benefits of a crystalline solid form.

For the first 12-18 months the student will primarily undertake laboratory-based studies to define baseline analytical measurements that characterise the phenomena under examination. This will include application of the following techniques: infrared spectroscopy, Raman scattering, X-ray diffraction, thermogravimetric analysis, elemental analysis, UV-visible spectroscopy, pore structure analysis, nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectrometry, etc. The neutron based experiments will be performed at the STFC ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility [7] that is located at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, with the experiments managed by Professor Stewart Parker (ISIS Facility Senior Scientist/ Honorary Professor, School of Chemistry). Professor David Lennon is the project Principal Investigator, who will coordinate all aspects of the project.

As the project develops, there will also be the opportunity to combine in situ Raman scattering alongside INS measurements using bespoke apparatus uniquely available at the Central Facility. The student will be expected to spend blocks of time (2-3 weeks per annum) located at the industrial research laboratories, where there will be the opportunity to become involved in Scientific Machine Learning investigations as part of a collaboration between Johnson Matthey and STFC’s Scientific Computing Department. Collectively, the project will provide the student with experience in the development of physical chemistry methods applied to novel and innovative healthcare functions, with a particular emphasis on applied molecular spectroscopy.

Funding Notes

Funding is available to cover tuition fees for UK/EU applicants for 3.5 years, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate (estimated £15,245 for Session 2020-21).


[1] Suwardiyanto et al., Faraday Discussions (Catalysis for Fuels), 197 (2017) 447; [2] S.K. Matam et al., Catalysis Science and Technology, 8 (2018) 3304; [3] A. Zachariou et al., Applied Catalysis A: General , 569 (2019) 1; [4] A.P. Hawkins et al., Journal of Physical Chemistry C, 123 (2019) 417; [5] A.P. Hawkins et al., RSC Advances , 9 (2019) 18785; [6] A. Zachariou et al., ACS Omega, 5 (2020) 2755; [7]

How good is research at University of Glasgow in Chemistry?
(joint submission with University of Strathclyde)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.80

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

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