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PhD Studentship in the interaction of topologically designed defective-graphene substrates with catalytically active metal atoms

Physics & Astronomy

Location:  UK Other
Closing Date:  Tuesday 11 April 2023
Reference:  SCI2154

A funded PhD studentship is available as a joint position within the groups of Dr Alex Saywell (University of Nottingham - Nanoscience group) and Dr David Duncan (Diamond Light Source – Structures and Surfaces). The studentship will be hosted at the School of Physics and Astronomy (Nottingham), where you will have access to a range of experimental techniques, including low-temperature ultra-high vacuum scanning probe microscopy (SPM) and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopies. You will also be part of the vibrant research community in the Physical Sciences division of Diamond Light Source (Oxfordshire), where you will have access to experts in a wide array of experimental methods, including X-ray photoelectron spectroscopies and transmission electron microscopies. An enhanced stipend, above the UKRI minimum, is awarded with this studentship.

Project overview: Catalysts are involved in the manufacture of almost every consumer product, from food to telephones. Major advances in catalysts make everyday products cheaper, reduce industrial waste and pollution, and make industrial processes more energy efficient. Thus, improvements in catalysis are key to transitioning the world economy to a sustainable state.

Single atom catalysis, where single metal atoms are dispersed across a supporting material, has become a popular field over the last decade. Single atom catalysts (SAC) offer a route to catalysts that have the high selectivities of homogenous catalysts, but the ease of catalytic recovery from heterogenous catalysts. The key to generating a SAC is preventing sintering of the single atoms into nanoparticles by the utilisation of specific supporting substrates. Defective-graphene is one such substrate, and we have recently developed a methodology to prepare defective-graphene films from the bottom up using topological design.

In this studentship we will further develop this field of by studying the interaction of topologically designed defective-graphene substrates with metal atoms. This will be done through a rigorous scientific programme both at Diamond Light Source and at the University of Nottingham. The student will exploit cutting-edge scanning probe microscopy and lab-based ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy measurements at the University of Nottingham to fully characterise how these metal atoms disperse on the substrates and how these dispersed metal atoms interact with gases of interest. At Diamond, the student will exploit the unique-in-world capabilities at I09 to quantitatively determine the adsorption structure of the coordinated metal atoms. The work is done in collaboration with other Universities in the UK, Europe and the USA, as such the student will gain experience in working within an international collaborative environment.

Details of funding: Funding for this position is open to UK applications, and the 4-year studentship will commence in October 2023 (earlier start dates may be available upon request). The stipend is set at £2000 per year above the UKRI minimum. A degree in a relevant physical sciences discipline is required.

To apply: Informal enquiries may be sent to Dr Alex Saywell ( or Dr David Duncan ( Formal applications should be submitted to the University of Nottingham. Previous hands-on experience in, and/or knowledge of, scanning probe microscopy, photoelectron spectroscopy, and surface science techniques is advantageous but not necessary.

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