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PhD in Materials Chemistry - Azobenzene Lyotropic Liquid Crystals as Photoswitchable Materials for Solar Thermal Fuels

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R.C. Evans
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship to be run in close collaboration between the University of Cambridge (Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy) and Diamond Light Source.

Applicants should have (or expect to be awarded) an upper second or first class UK honours degree at the level of MSci, MEng (or overseas equivalents) and should meet the EPSRC criteria for UK/EU residency and liability for ’home rate’ fees. Overseas nationals are not eligible and should not apply.

The studentship is fully funded for UK students and will run for up to 4 years from October 2020. These will be co-located between the two sites, with years 1 and 4 in Cambridge (supervisor: Dr Rachel Evans), and years 2 and 3 at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory site in Oxfordshire (supervisor: Dr Nathan Cowieson).

Solar-thermal fuels capture and store solar energy in the strained bonds of photoswitchable materials, which can then be released as heat on the application of an external stimulus. This project seeks to develop solar thermal fuels based on lyotropic liquid crystals (LLCs) prepared from azobenzene photosurfactants. The key focus will be to understand how cooperative intermolecular interactions between molecules in the LLC assembly can increase the photon energy storage density. This will be achieved by investigating the relationship between structural organisation, and the kinetics, energetics and heterogeneity of photoswitching process. This knowledge will lead to the identification of new design rules to generate more efficient solar thermal fuels with potential in off-grid energy storage.

In this project, you will synthesise novel light-sensitive photosurfactants and investigate their assembly into LLC phases using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), polarised optical microscopy and calorimetric methods. You will work alongside scientists at Diamond to design and build a sample holder and irradiation chamber to enable in-situ investigation of light-induced structural changes to LLC phases by SAXS, gaining valuable experience in programming (e.g. Python) and electronics. Advanced infrared spectroscopy (X-ray IR microspectroscopy, time-resolved infrared) will be used to map the heterogeneity and kinetics of the photoswitching process.

Two additional joint projects are also available between the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy (Cambridge) and Diamond Light Source, offering an opportunity to form research networks outside of the immediate supervisory teams. The projects are designed so that all students will be present at Cambridge and Diamond during the same periods of their study.

The funds for this post are available up to 4 years and include fees and maintenance for “home-rate’ students, and a contribution to travel expenses between Cambridge and Diamond.

Potential applicants are strongly advised to send a two-page CV and expression of interest to Dr Rachel C. Evans ([Email Address Removed]) before making a formal application.

The on-line application system is available at Further information on the application process is available from Rosie Ward ([Email Address Removed]).

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