Photochemistry, electron transfer and catalysis mapped by a combination of ultrafast laser and X-ray spectroscopies

   Department of Chemistry

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  Prof J Weinstein  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

We seek an enthusiastic candidate with a degree in Chemistry, Physics, or related discipline (e.g., engineering) to work on a PhD project available in Professor Julia Weinstein’s group at the University of Sheffield, UK.

The PhD will combine studies of the photocatalytic mechanism in solution with optical and X-ray methods on the ultrafast timescale. The application of ultrafast X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs) will bring fundamentally new insights into electronically excited states of transition‐metal complexes, which underpin broad range of their applications, ranging from solar energy conversion, to the storage and processing of information, and photocatalysis.


Control of light-driven charge- and energy transfer processes in photoactive molecules and materials – directing reactivity at will – is a long-standing challenge in chemistry and photosciences. We have shown (Science 2014, 1492; Nature Chem 2017, 1099) that it is possible to control photoinduced electron transfer in solution, by bond-specific vibrational (IR) excitation on the sub-picosecond timescale. The key open question is the role of vibrations, coherence, and structural changes accompanying electronic excitation in such systems in solution, on the time scale under 20 ps. X-ray free electron lasers give researchers a unique opportunity to directly address the questions of electronic, spin, and structural change on the femtosecond time scale, with atomic specificity.

The PhD will use emerging methods of ultrafast structural dynamics to understand mechanism of electron- and energy transport in photoactive molecules in solution. Another direction of research is to use a combination of tender and hard X-ray spectroscopies and X-ray spectroelectrochemistry to investigate redox catalysis. The PhD will focus on the complexes of Fe, Pt, Cr and Cu which have been synthesised in my group and which show potential for controllable photochemistry on sub-picosecond timescale, or photocatalytic properties.

The PI leads the Lord Porter Laser Laboratory at Sheffield where the compounds will be studied in detail by femtosecond optical spectroscopies and electrochemistry prior to X-ray studies.

You will master ultrafast optical methods (transient absorption, transient infrared, and fluorescence up-conversion spectroscopies), electrochemistry, mechanistic catalysis (Sheffield). You will also master time-resolved X-ray spectroscopic methods, working in national and international facilities. You will be part of an interdisciplinary, international, dynamic team, travel the world, work at STFC CLF, XFEL and synchrotron facilities (and learn how to write proposals for beam time).

The candidates should have at least a 2:1 degree in Chemistry, Physics, or Engineering. Ability to work in interdisciplinary, international environment, to be both an independent researcher and a strong team player, are important, as are enthusiasm and willingness to travel.

​​Subject areas:

in Chemistry: Physical Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry 

in Physics: Chemical Physics, Optical Physics

Additional keywords: Photochemistry, ultrafast laser spectroscopy, X-ray free electron lasers.

Eligibility: UK only.

Start date: 01 October 2023. Duration - 4 years.


Any questions – ask [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

The project is co-funded by the UK XFEL Physical Sciences Hub and the University of Sheffield.
The funding includes a tax-free stipend at the current UKRI rate (£18,622 in 2023/2024), increasing yearly in accordance with the UKRI guidelines;
Tuition fees to the University will also be covered at the UK home rate.
Consumables and travel budget is also provided.

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