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Spectroscopy & Dynamics of Atmospherically Relevant Molecules in the Time and Frequency Domains

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  • Full or part time
    Dr SJ Greaves
    Dr D Townsend
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Developing a more detailed understanding of the primary ultraviolet (UV) photochemistry operating in molecules found in the atmosphere is an important challenge that aims to provide new data for improved climate modelling. Furthermore, such studies also raise new and interesting fundamental questions relating more widely to the complex interplay between initial chemical structure, the dynamical timescales of structural change and the ultimate photochemical function. What happens to a molecule after absorbing a UV photon is hard to predict as there are often a number of competing pathways available for the dissipation of the excess energy. Which pathway dominates depends on subtle characteristics of the molecule, its environment, and how excitation takes place. The primary aim of this interesting and challenging project is to systematically interrogate these various pathways in more detail for several carefully selected molecules of atmospheric relevance. This will utilize state-of-the-art laser-based experimental methods in tandem with highly-differential charged particle imaging detection. Specific examples of systems that will be investigated include small halocarbon species, acetone and nitro-containing compounds such as nitrobenzene and nitrotoluene.
The coherently structured research programme will be jointly supervised by Dr Dave Townsend and Dr Stuart Greaves, both of whom are based at Heriot-Watt University. The work forms part of a wider initiative that has recently received substantial finding (£1.3M) from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the laboratories in which the work will be undertaken are very well-equipped with extensive laser and velocity map imaging instrumentation already available. A particularly appealing aspect of the project is that the various molecular systems under study will be investigated using a combination of both time- and frequency-resolved measurements, using femtosecond and nanosecond lasers, respectively. This dual strategy is not commonly exploited and permits a much more complete picture of the photochemistry to be revealed than is possible using a single experimental approach in isolation. Over the course of the PhD, the candidate will develop a broad range of highly-transferable skills and experience in the areas of laser science, ultra-high vacuum apparatus, molecular spectroscopy and dynamics, charged particle imaging and high-level data analysis/modelling. The project also has some scope for developing proficiency using quantum chemistry calculations.
We are seeking a talented individual to join us at this exciting time. A suitable applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in chemistry or physics and be strongly motivated with the drive required to pursue three years of intensive and rewarding study. The project will require both individual and group work and a successful candidate must be capable of operating effectively in both environments. Any candidate must have a good grounding in the theories of spectroscopy and lasers. Some previous experience of laboratory work is also expected – preferably in the form of a relevant undergraduate project within the general area of atomic or molecular spectroscopy/dynamics. Experience of vacuum systems and computer programming (especially LabView or MatLab) would be highly desirable but is not essential. The candidate will also be expected to contribute to dissemination of the research findings through paper writing and presentations at national and international conferences.

See our group website at

The Institute of Chemical Sciences (ICS) is an excellent environment for PhD research, with a thriving community of academics, post-doctoral and PhD researchers spread across three sections: Molecular Chemistry, Materials Chemistry, and Dynamics and Structure. ICS also has many links to the other research institutes within the overall umbrella of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, providing a strong interdisciplinary theme to our research. Heriot-Watt University occupies an attractive campus site on the outskirts of Edinburgh, with excellent public transport links to the centre of one of the Europe’s most exciting cities.

Funding Notes

You should have, or expect to receive, a First class MChem degree in Chemistry, or equivalent in a relevant related subject. This project is funded by the Heriot-Watt University James Watt Scholarship programme, which provides tuition fees and a stipend (approx. £15,000) for 3 years of study. It is only open to EU and UK nationals.


For some representative examples of our previous recent work, please see the following (and references therein):
J. O. F. Thompson, L. B. Klein, T. I. Sølling, M. J. Paterson & D. Townsend, The role of novel Rydberg-valence behaviour in the non-adiabatic dynamics of tertiary aliphatic amines, Chem. Sci., 7, 1826, (2016).
D. J. Hadden, T. M. Messider, J. G. Leng & S. J. Greaves, Velocity map imaging the scattering plane of gas surface collisions, Rev. Sci. Instrum., 87, 106104, (2016).

How good is research at Heriot-Watt University in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 30.00

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