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Synthesis of nitrate ester polymers for energetic binder applications

   School of Chemistry

   Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

A PhD studentship is available from autumn 2022 in the group of Prof. Colin Pulham in the School of Chemistry, The University of Edinburgh –

Project Summary

In this fully funded PhD studentship you will develop new energetic polymers for use as binders in modern explosive formulations. You will synthesise oxygen-containing heterocyclic monomers in batch and flow, undertake their polymerisation, and then investigate the cure chemistry of the resulting energetic polymers. Modelling techniques may be used to aid understanding of the formation and properties of these materials.

Explosives are often complex formulations which contain several components, and a polymeric binder is frequently used to improve both hazard characteristics and mechanical properties. Inert polymeric binders may reduce the explosive power of the formulation, and so polymers containing energetic substituents such as azide, nitrate ester etc. have been developed. The most well-known of these energetic binders is nitrocellulose (NC), a polysaccharide with pendant nitrate ester functionality. Unfortunately, the use of NC presents several challenges: it is derived from a biological material which is inherently variable; chemical stabilisers are required to prevent autocatalytic degradation; and the high glass transition temperature of NC means that NC-containing formulations must be plasticised to ensure acceptable mechanical and hazard properties.

A range of synthetic energetic binders have been produced which address some of the shortcomings of NC, but further development is necessary to achieve the required combination of physical properties, stability and energy.

The scope of this PhD project is to design, synthesise and characterise a range of novel energetic monomers, principally based on the oxirane and oxetane ring systems. These will be polymerised to produce curable energetic polymers, and the cure chemistry and properties of the polymers will also be studied. This project will enable the student to develop a wide range of skills including synthesis in batch and flow, small molecule and polymer chemistry, modelling, kinetics, and working safely with energetic materials.


In the first instance, informal enquiries (accompanied by a CV) should be directed to: Professor Colin Pulham, School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh, David Brewster Road, Edinburgh EH9 3FJ, UK. . The position will remain open until filled.

Equality and Diversity

The School of Chemistry holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. The University is a member of the Race Equality Charter and is a Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champion, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment. See our University Initiatives website for further information. University Initiatives website:

Funding Notes

The studentship is fully funded for 48 months by an external partner through the University of Edinburgh and covers tuition fees and an annual stipend (starting at £16,062 per annum). A stipulation of the award is that the candidate must be a British National.

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