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PhD Project – School of Chemistry – Using experimental actinide chemistry to solve technical challenges in spent fuel and nuclear material management within the NDA Group.

   College of Science and Engineering

   Friday, July 08, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD studentship in Synthetic Inorganic Chemistry of the Actinides funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). This collaborative PhD project is based at the University of Glasgow and supervised by Dr Joy H. Farnaby and Dr Emma K. Gibson, with co-supervision by Dr Robin M. Orr at the National Nuclear Laboratory and Dr Helen M. Steele at Sellafield Ltd.

Electricity generation using Nuclear Power is key to the delivery of a permanent transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources and achieving Net Zero. Nuclear fuel reprocessing separates the valuable uranium (U) and plutonium (Pu) material from the waste fission products. After six decades of commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing at Sellafield, the UK has the largest inventory of separated civilian Pu worldwide. This inventory is in the form of actinide oxide powders (AnO2 where An = U, Pu; or mixtures of An = MOx). The AnO2 are chemically reactive towards atmospheric gases and the products of water and air radiolysis, resulting in the production and consumption of reactive gas mixtures, and changes to material properties over time.

This PhD project will use a combination of synthetic actinide chemistry and heterogeneous catalysis to deliver the experimental data urgently needed for retreatment, storage, and future disposition of the UK’s spent fuel and nuclear material.

This PhD has an ambitious scope of work, including synthesis, reactivity, and advanced spectroscopy. AnO2 reactivity occurs at the solid-gas interface like heterogeneous catalysis by uranium oxides (ACS Catalysis 2019, 9 ,4719). Actinide oxide nanoparticles (AnO2-NP) will be synthesised from molecular precursors, in which key properties e.g. surface area and morphology can be varied. Catalysis reactor technology will be used to probe and quantify reactivity of AnO2-NP with water/air radiolysis products (also mixtures of gases, and effects of temperature, pressure, and radiation). Gaseous products will be monitored by an in-line mass spectrometer and the AnO2-NP solids characterised pre- and post-reaction by standard techniques (BET, PXRD, TGA, Raman, elemental composition, GC). Experimental work at Glasgow University has been carefully designed in collaboration to generate data directly comparable to ongoing industrial work. Therefore, delivering the data to bridge the knowledge gap between model and real systems, and to draw out the physical constants needed to establish the structure-property relationships. Additionally, advanced spectroscopic techniques will be employed and developed to gain insight into surface adsorbed species, and NP characterisation e.g. using Inelastic Neutron Scattering (INS) at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, or X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy at Diamond Light Source  with vibrational spectroscopy (IR and Raman).

Further Information: For more information on our research see: https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/chemistry/staff/joyfarnaby/

This position will remain open only until a suitable candidate is filled, so prospective PhD candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Farnaby as soon as possible. Please email with a CV (including grades to date and contact details of two academic referees) and a cover letter describing your interest in this PhD position.

Start-date: 3rd October 2022

Eligibility: Applicants should hold (or expect to be awarded) a first class or upper-second class Masters degree (MSci, MChem, MSc, MRes) or BSc (Hons) degree in Chemistry. Applicants should have a keen interest in synthetic inorganic chemistry of the f-elements. Research experience in air-sensitive inorganic chemistry or catalysis is advantageous, but not essential.

Formal Applications: please refer to the following website for details on how to apply:


As an Athena SWAN Bronze Award holder, the School of Chemistry has equality, diversity and inclusion at its heart, and actively supports applications from all sections of society (https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/chemistry/abouttheschool/athenaswan/)

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