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Structure and Dynamics of Ethanol and Sugar in an aqueous solution

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Water is the most important and anomalous solvent in the universe. There have been extensive studies on water performed over many decades in the literature. Much of that work has focussed on water on its own, or typically water and another single solvent or solute.

Working with the world’s leading premium beverage brand owners, in this study we want to look at the effect of water on alcohols (co-solvent) and sugars (solute) to help understand the fundamentals of the properties of these tertiary solvents. Your research may drive sustainability advances from improved manufacturing design, energy reduction of standing processes and optimising ingredient usage from having generated new insights into how these solvents behave.

Alcohols and sugar have much in common in that there are still many fundamental open questions regarding their effect on the structure and dynamics of water and, in turn, how water influences the structure and dynamics of the co-solvent and solute.

The approach is to use a range of experimental methods to probe the structure and dynamics of this tertiary system across a range of relevant length and time scales at various concentration of co-solvent and solute, and to develop or use existing theory and simulation model to describe the experimental data obtained.
Spectroscopy and scattering techniques are well established tools for probing molecular structure and dynamics. Depending on the wavelength of the incident radiation, these techniques can be used to probe the system at atomic, electronic or nano-scales.
We plan to use a combination of scattering and spectroscopy techniques in this proposal.
Specifically it is envisaged that the student will investigate the use of neutrons and/or X-rays on the system using the STFC facilities at Harwell, Oxford. The use of neutron diffraction, will allow us to probe for any structural features at the molecular scale. X-rays could show if there is evidence of molecular clustering or phase separation at small length scales of several to tens of nanometers.
Ultra-fast Terahertz spectroscopy (UoB Physics) and pulsed NMR (UoB Chemistry) will also be important tools in the study. This spectroscopic technique will allow us to probe molecular re-orientation dynamics at the femtosecond scale and can identify structural features in water molecules and their surroundings at distances of the first and second hydration shells, typically to around 10 Å. It should also be able to generate data on the hydration of sugar and alcohol in each other’s presence, and if their presence affects water shell mobility . Pulsed Field NMR can measure the diffusivity of alkyl chains in the alcohol or diffusivity of sugar chains as a function of the composition.
At the longer length scales, measuring properties such as viscosity, microscopy and rheology can add further structural and dynamic information, whilst some information on dynamics and possible phase transition can be measured by Differential Scanning Calorimetry. These techniques are available in-house at Chem Eng Birmingham
Lastly, the accumulated data would be ideally analysed and fitted to existing or new theoretical models, and computer simulations.

You will be expected to engage with the UK based partner company on a frequent basis during the course of the study, should any findings show a near in opportunity you will work with the company to test your findings.

The ideal candidate should have a good first degree (1st or 2.1) in one of the following disciplines: Physics, Physical Chemistry, or Chemistry. Good experimental skills a pre and proven experience working with data acquisition, processing and analysis would be a bonus. The flexibility to travel between facilities in the UK would also be essential.

Contact Professor Eddie Pelan for further details:

Funding Notes

Funding: This project will be a 3 year PhD funded by the Department, however, Self-funded students can also apply.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering?
Chemical Engineering

FTE Category A staff submitted: 32.50

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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