Photonics for Net Zero Enabled by Patternable Boron-Phosphide Polymers

   Department of Chemistry

  ,  Thursday, April 04, 2024  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The manipulation of light in optoelectronic devices is a cornerstone for the delivery of Net Zero, for example in low-energy optical computing (silicon-photonics) and green hydrogen generation from water (photocatalysis). Underpinning such technologies are 2D/thin-film group III/IV/V semiconductors that have controllable bandgaps. Unlike graphene (zero bandgap) or hexagonal-boron-nitride (h-BN, 6 eV), boron-phosphide (BP) is a semiconductor (2 eV bandgap for cubic-BP, 1 eV direct bandgap predicted for h-BP), that also has additional attractive thermal (conducting), mechanical (super-hard) and chemical (oxidation-resistant) properties. However, c-BP is notoriously difficult to synthesise, while the synthesis of h-BP is unknown. Unlocking the reliable, scalable, and efficient synthesis of c-BP and h-BP will set the scene for their wider development and represent a breakthrough in main-group materials chemistry and III–V semiconductor utilisation for Net-Zero applications. In particular, c-BP is acknowledged as being a next-generation photocatalyst for water splitting (i.e. green hydrogen); while h-BP is predicted to be a perfect candidate for deployment in silicon emitters, the “Holy Grail” of optical computing.

 This project will explore the synthesis and development of main-group phosphine-borane-polymers (polyphosphinoboranes) as scalable pre-ceramic precursors to c-BP or h-BP. These polymers will then be integrated with photonic devices, such as solar absorbers and silicon emitters, using thin-film methods and nanolithography techniques. The project will combine the expertise of Andrew Weller in the catalytic synthesis and exploitation of pre-cursor BP-polyphosphinoboranes [1] with expertise in photonic devices of Christina Wang [2].

 The project will be suitable for a PhD candidate who has interests in innovative molecular synthesis methods for new, polymeric, pre-ceramic BP-polymers, and their deployment in technologically important photonic devices. The project will be truly interdisciplinary, crossing traditional boundaries. The PhD student would be based in both the Weller and Wang labs, with access to the state-of-the-art facilities including the nanofabrication facility at York JEOL Nanocentre, and will work with teams of experts in both groups to deliver on the ambitious goals. While full training will be given in all aspects of the project, it would best suit a graduate student with experience of synthetic chemistry who has a real interest in transitioning and expanding their skill set to include materials chemistry and device fabrication. There are opportunities for wider collaboration on the project (and international travel) to other centres of excellence in main group polymer synthesis and materials characterisation.

 The studentship is offered by the Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Materials for Net Zero (SusMat0). SusMat0 is focused on the development of sustainable materials for advanced energy-related technologies key to achieving the target of net zero carbon emissions. It includes research on materials for energy generation/storage technologies (for example solar cells, batteries), devices with improved energy efficiency (for example OLEDs, memories, power electronics) and technologies for synthesising chemicals using renewable energy. As a member of a cohort of students you will receive training in core chemistry, physics and engineering approaches relevant to cross-disciplinary sustainable materials research. We aim to produce well-rounded scientists, equipped and empowered to engage effectively with each other.

You will follow our core cohort-based training programme to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills, as well as training on specific techniques and equipment. Training includes employability and professionalism, graduate teaching assistant training and guidance on writing papers.

There will be opportunities for networking and sharing your work both within and beyond the University. Funding is provided to enable you to attend conferences and external training. The department also runs a varied and comprehensive seminar programme.

Equality and Diversity

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel:

As part of our commitment to Equality and Diversity, and Widening Participation, we are working with the YCEDE project ( to improve the number of under-represented groups participating in doctoral study.  

Entry requirements 

You should hold or expect to achieve the equivalent of at least a UK upper second class degree in Chemistry or a relevant related subject. 

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor's name above to email them. 

For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution.

Guidance for applicants:

Submit an online PhD in Chemistry application:

The start date of the PhD will be 16 September 2024

Chemistry (6) Materials Science (24) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

This project is part of the EPSRC SusMat0 Doctoral Training Programme. Funding is from EPSRC and the Department of Chemistry.
Funding is for 3.5 years, including:
Tax-free annual stipend (£18,622 full time for 2023/24), tuition fees at the home rate plus research training and support grant (RTSG).
Up to 30% of DTP studentships may be awarded to international students, however we have reached this cap, so this project is only available to those who are eligible to pay fees at the home rate.
Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of strong candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


[1] J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021, 143, 21010; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2023, e202216106
[2] ACS Nano 2022, 16, 6493; Laser Photonic Rev. 2018, 12, 1800015.

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