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Fully-Funded (Home/EU Rate) PhD Studentship (Fixed Term) - Towards Sustainable Plasmon-Enhanced Catalysis: Synthesis and Characterization of Earth-Abundant Plasmonic Nanoparticles

University of Cambridge - Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Cambridge
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: Not Specified
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 12th October 2018
Closes: 14th December 2018
Reference: LJ17009

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 3 years in the first instance.

Industries creating inorganic, organic, and agricultural chemicals use a staggering 4.2% of the worldwide delivered energy, mainly from unsustainable fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the sun provides energy that could be utilized to power photochemical reactions sustainably and cleanly. Recent advances revealing how localized surface plasmon resonances (LSPRs), light-driven electron oscillations in metal nanoparticles, can concentrate light at the molecular scale made the dream of efficient photochemistry one step closer [1-3]. However, plasmonic materials are almost exclusively constructed from the rare and unsustainable metals Ag and Au. In addition to being incompatible with current industrial practices relying on catalytic surfaces to lower energy barriers and guide reactions, Ag and Au cause prohibitive cost challenges for real-world applications. But there is hope: several of the few metals predicted to sustain LSPRs and become potential alternatives to Ag and Au are amongst the most abundant, i.e. sustainable, elements on Earth (Al, Mg, Na, K).

The plasmonic behavior of Al has been experimentally demonstrated over a decade ago, and created a new era for high-energy plasmonics. Last year, we have published the first report on the plasmonic properties of colloidally synthesized Mg nanoparticles [4] and envision a plethora of discoveries and applications for this exciting new materials

The goal of this project is to unravel and control the fundamental plasmonic properties of magnesium nanoparticles and decorated nanoparticles. As this is a completely new tool in the plasmonics toolbox, questions to answer range from very fundamental (how do we control particle shape?) to very applied (how does the plasmon-enhanced reaction rate vary with decoration by a platinum-group metal?)

A background in materials science, chemistry, experimental physics or closely related disciplines is required, however previous experience on plasmonic nanostructures is not. The student selected for this project will be trained on air-free chemical techniques, optical spectroscopy, and electron microscopy, and join a growing interdisciplinary group.  Applicants should have (or expect to be awarded) an upper second or first class UK honours degree at the level of MSci, MEng (or overseas equivalents) and should be eligible for 'home rate' fees.

  1. D. F. Swearer, R. K. Leary, R. Newell, S. Yazdi, H. Robatjazi, Y. Zhang, D. Renard, P. Nordlander, P. A. Midgley, N. J. Halas, E. Ringe, "Transition Metal Decorated Aluminum Nanocrystals" ACS Nano (2017), 11, 10281
  2. D. F. Swearer, H. Zhao, L. Zhou, C. Zhang, H. Robatjazi, J. M. Martinez, C. M. Krauter, S. Yazdi, M. J. McClain, E. Ringe, E. Carter, P. Nordlander, N. J. Halas, "Heterometallic Antenna-Reactors Complexes for Photocatalysis", PNAS (2016), 113, 8916
  3. P. Christopher, H. Xin, S. Linic, "Visible-light-enhanced Catalytic Oxidation Reactions on Plasmonic Silver Nanostructures", Nat. Chem (2011), 3, 467
  4. J. S. Biggins, S. Yazdi, E. Ringe, "Magnesium Nanoparticle Plasmonics" Nano Lett. (2018) 18, 3752

For more information contact Emilie Ringe (

Application forms and the Graduate Studies Prospectus are available from the Graduate Admissions Office at  Further information on the application process is available from Rosie Ward (

Please quote reference LJ17009 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

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