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Synthesis of functional materials from elemental sulfur

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, March 31, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A PhD studentship is available in the research group of Dr Tom Hasell, starting in October 2020. This position will be based in the Department of Chemistry, and will also use facilities in the Materials Innovation Factory (MIF), a £82 M research facility that opened in 2017. The student will work in a diverse team,

alongside chemists and materials scientists, and will interact with other PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in the group.
This project will focus on synthetic methods for discovering and designing new functional materials derived from elemental sulfur. Sulfur is an industrial by-product, removed as an impurity in oil-refining. This has led to vast unwanted stockpiles of sulfur, and resulted in low bulk prices. Sulfur is therefore a promising alternative feedstock to carbon for polymeric materials. Sulfur normally exists as S8 rings – a small molecule with poor physical properties. On heating, these sulfur rings can open and polymerise to form long chains. However, because of the reversibility of sulfur bonds, these polymers are not stable, and decompose back to S8 over time, even at room temperature. Inverse vulcanisation has made possible the production of high sulfur polymers, stabilised against depolymerisation by crosslinking.1 These high sulfur-materials show excellent potential as low cost water filters to remove mercury.2-4 Heavy metal contamination exists in the waste streams of many industries, and mercury is of particular concern for human health. Alternative crosslinkers for inverse vulcanisation, from industrial by-products or bio-renewable sources, can be used to reduce the cost and improve the properties of the resultant polymers.4,5 Polymers made from sulfur also have many other intriguing properties and applications in optics, electronics, insulation, and antimicrobial materials. We recently reported a catalytic route that reduces the required reaction time, temperature, and by-products – and allows otherwise unreactive crosslinkers to be used.6

The core aim will be to improve our understanding of how the crosslinker structure and synthesis conditions can be used to improve and control the properties of the resultant polymers. There is scope to investigate the potential of these materials for a range of practical applications, based on the interests of the applicant and direction of the research.

[1] Nat. Chem. 2013, 5, 518–524. [2] Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 5383 - 5386. [3] J. Mater. Chem. A. 2017,5, 11682-11692 [4] J. Mater. Chem. A., 2017, 5, 18603 [5] Chem.-Eur. J. 2019, 25, 10433-10440 [6] Nat. Commun. 2019, 10, 647

Qualifications: Applications are welcomed from students with a 2:1 or higher Masters degree or equivalent in Chemistry, Materials Science, or Materials Engineering, particularly from those with experience or interest in polymers and applied materials.

Applications should be made as soon as possible but no later than 31st March 2020. To apply for this opportunity, please visit:

Informal enquiries are also encouraged and should be addressed to Dr Hasell,
Some teaching duties may be required.

Funding Notes

The award will pay full tuition fees and a maintenance grant for 3.5 years (currently £14,777 p.a.) and it is anticipated that the successful candidate will start in October 2019. Applications from candidates meeting the eligibility requirements of the EPSRC are welcome – please refer to the EPSRC website.

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