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Understanding atmospheric nucleation of secondary organic aerosol through the synthesis and analysis of monoterpene derivatives and their clusters

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr ME Sanz, Dr Andre Cobb  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

One of the major challenges of our lifetime is climate change. Aerosols play a vital role in our climate by partially counteracting the warming caused by greenhouse gases. A main constituent of aerosol is secondary organic aerosol (SOA), formed from the reactions of organic matter in the atmosphere [1]. However, SOA is also one of the largest sources of uncertainty in climate modelling as its composition, formation and evolution are not well understood [2,3]. A critical process in the formation of SOA is atmospheric nucleation, which occurs when stable molecular clusters are formed spontaneously from gas phase molecules. However, knowledge on nucleation is limited, as information on the structures of the smallest molecular clusters that initiate the process is missing. Understanding the nature of critical clusters is the first step to reveal the formation mechanism of atmospheric particles and their composition. The aim of this project is to determine the first aggregation stages of clusters of SOA precursors at the molecular level.  

Oxidised volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the principal components of SOA. We will focus on oxidised monoterpenes that are identified to be precursors of SOA. We will synthesise these species and characterise their clusters with other atmospherically-relevant molecules using cutting-edge broadband rotational spectroscopy in combination with high level molecular modelling [4,5]. We will determine reaction pathways and the intermolecular forces driving aggregation.  

Student Profile

Applicants must have or be predicted to obtain a BSc or a Master’s degree with first-class honours or upper division second-class honours (2:1) in Chemistry.

Candidates should be able to demonstrate an aptitude for multidisciplinary research, the ability to work collaboratively in a diverse research environment as well as problem-solving and independence. This position will suit a candidate with an interest in physical chemistry and organic chemistry.

How to apply

Applications, including a cover letter, a full up-to-date CV, together with the names, addresses and email addresses of two academic referees should be sent as soon as possible to Dr Maria Sanz ([Email Address Removed]).

To be considered for the position candidates must also apply via King’s Apply online application system at

If you require support with the application process, please contact the Chemistry Postgraduate Administrator Cairn Macfarland [Email Address Removed].

Please indicate your desired supervisor and quote research group . 

We aim to hold interviews in mid-March, with a starting date of June/July 2022 if possible.

At King’s, we are deeply committed to embedding good equality and diversity practice into all of our activities so that the university is an inclusive, welcoming and inspiring place to work and study, regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.

We particularly welcome applications from marginalised groups as King’s strives to have our staff and employees mirror diversity of our student population.

This position is now open to international Students.

Funding Notes

Funding is available for 4 years and covers tuition fees at the level set for UK/EU students, c. £5,820 p.a. and a tax-free stipend of approximately £17,609 p.a. with possible inflationary increases after the first year.


[1] J. Zhu, J. E. Penner, G. Lin, C. Zhou, L. Xu and B. Zhuang, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 2017, 114, 12685.
[2] M. Hallquist et al., Atmos. Chem. Phys., 2009, 9, 5155.
[3] H. Kroll and J. H. Seinfeld, Atmos. Environ., 2008, 42, I.
[4] S. I. Murugachandran et al., J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2021, 12, 1081.
[5] E. Burevschi et al., J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2021, 12, 12419.
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