We are always on the look out for talented, driven individuals who have a passion for materials chemistry. The Solid State Electronic Structure Group at Imperial College is a dynamic and creative research team. The details of the PhD project(s) are below. For further information please contact Prof. David Payne directly.

PhD in exsolved nanoparticles for catalytic applications

Of key importance in solid oxide fuel cell commercialization is the development of a high quality cathode material for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) that displays good catalytic activity, stability, and low area specific resistance (ASR) at real operating conditions.

A promising in-situ synthesis method has been demonstrated to produce stable nanoparticles on perovskite surfaces without sacrificing catalytic activity. The atomic species that form nanoparticles are expelled from the bulk of the perovskite to the surface, and the term “exsolved” nanoparticles has been coined. Remarkably when heated to high temperature for a prolonged time  period to simulate real fuel cell operation, these nanoparticles do not sinter and exhibit an anchoring effect with the parent perovskite. This leads to the remarkably stable ASR during operation at high temperature for hundreds of hours. A very interesting property is that exsolved nanoparticles can be dissolved to the bulk by simply heating the material under oxidizing condition and exsolved back to the surface under reducing conditions. This suggests a practical method of maintenance for real fuel cell application. The challenge is to understand the mechanism of formation of these nanoparticles, characterise their growth and understand their increased surface stability and catalytic performance, and this will be the focus of this PhD project.

As part of a very large recently funded EPSRC “Critical Mass” grant, the successful candidate will become a member of the consortium of universities studying different aspects of this phenomenon, including the Universities of St Andrews, Bath, Newcastle and Ulster. We will perform a wide range of cutting-edge characterisation measurements including high-pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (HPXPS) (currently available in the laboratory of Dr. Payne), as well as Photoelectron Emission Microscopy (PEEM), hard X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and environmental Transmission electron microscopy (eTEM) – the latter at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA. This exciting project will enable wide ranging collaboration and travel, in an area of future clean energy technologies.

The minimum academic requirement for admission is an upper second class UK MSci or MEng honours degree.

Application process

Stage 1: Send a full CV, including your marks (%), the names and contact details of two referees, as well as a covering letter, to Dr. David Payne (d.payne@imperial.ac.uk). Applications that do not provide all this information cannot be considered.

Stage 2: Suitable applicants will be interviewed and, if successful, invited to make a formal application. The prospectus, entry requirements and application form (under ‘Applying’) are available at: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/pgprospectus. Information about the Department can be found at http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/materials

Applications will be considered from now until the position is filled.

Equality and DiversityCommitted to equality and valuing diversity, we are also an Athena SWAN Silver Award winner, a Stonewall Diversity Champion, a Disability Confident Employer and are working in partnership with GIRES to promote respect for trans people. The College is a proud signatory to the San-Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which means that in hiring and promotion decisions, we evaluate applicants on the quality of their work, not the journal impact factor where it is published. For more information, see https://www.imperial.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/about-imperial-research/research-evaluation/

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