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Towards the predictive design of PAEK-based polymers - from fundamental polymer physics to advanced materials applications

School of Physics and Astronomy

About the Project

This project is focused on developing a predictive framework to control glass-formation and crystallization in polymers, with a particular focus on the efficient design of high performance polymers within the Poly Aryl Ether Ketone (PAEK) family. PAEK polymers are used in a broad range of applications including smart-phone speakers, electrical insulation, automotive gears, medical implants and aircraft components. This project is a collaboration with Victrex, a world leader in PAEK-based polymers that has its headquarters, its main R&D facilities, and manufacturing in the UK. As two examples of Victrex PAEK-based applications, a medical implant made from Victrex’s PEEK-OPTIMA polymer is implemented every 26 seconds (9 million people to date) including spinal, dental, arthroscopy and dental implants; Victrex polymers are also used to save weight, thus reducing CO2 emissions by millions of tonnes in over 20,000 commercial aircraft. The high temperature performance requirements of many PAEK polymer applications typically demand high glass transition temperatures (Tg), which in turn currently requires high melting points (Tm) and processing temperatures. However, we presently do not have sufficient fundamental understanding of glass-formation or crystallization in polymers to predict Tg or Tm from the structural molecular characteristics, as chosen during polymer synthesis. The goal in this project is thus to identify methods to control the balance of Tg and Tm. The physical properties including structure, dynamics and mechanics of PAEK polymers with systematically varied molecular building blocks will be investigated using a wide range of experimental techniques including calorimetry, dielectric relaxation spectroscopy, advanced rheology, scattering (light, x-rays, neutrons) and microscopy (light, electron). The results will be interpreted and analyzed in light of the current state-of-the-art knowledge of the glass transition and crystallization in polymers. The student will have access to the Victrex R&D team and facilities, with support from Victrex expected to include the manufacture and testing of bespoke new polymer structures in order to validate the student’s work. The successful student will become a member of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Soft Matter for Formulation and industrial innovation (SOFI2 CDT). The student will take part in the full 6-month training programme of SOFI2 CDT which is based at Durham University; after this initial training period the student will be allocated this particular PhD project and transfer to the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds.

Funding Notes

EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training Studentship for 4 years consisting of academic fees (£4,600 for 2020/21), together with a maintenance grant (£15,285 for 2020/21) paid at standard Research Council rates. UK applicants will be eligible for a full award paying tuition fees and maintenance.  European Union applicants will be eligible for an award paying tuition fees only, except in exceptional circumstances, or where residency has been established for more than 3 years prior to the start of the course. Funding is awarded on a competitive basis.

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