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PhD Studentship: Why do Gels Collapse? Unifying Macroscopic and Microscopic Behaviour (Industry PhD studentship with BCFN and Bayer)

University of Bristol - Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Bristol
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: Studentship covers fees, stipend and bench fee
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 13th February 2019
Closes: 25th March 2019

The project:

We are now accepting applications to an industry studentship with BCFN 4 year PhD Programme and Bayer to start in September 2019.

Project title: Why do Gels Collapse? Unifying Macroscopic and Microscopic Behaviour

Collapse of colloidal gels has significant consequences for a tremendous range of products. Gel collapse is a complex process, as gels are non-equilibrium materials whose properties change over time, and the processes that lead the material to spontaneously collapse are not understood. Among the key challenges is to understand the cause of the delay time prior to collapse where apparently little happens, and through this understanding to have a better ability to predict the stability suspensions, and especially newly developed products.

Like most materials the macroscopic behaviour of gels ultimately stems from their microscopic properties and their time-evolution. We have been working for some time, focusing on the microscopic behavior. In particular, we have investigated the change in microscopic structure over time [1], and determined the local structures which give gels their rigidity in the first place [2].

You benefit from completing the first year of the BCFN PhD programme and at the extended project phase you will move on to this industry project. For full details please visit our website –

You will need to meet the standard BCFN PhD programme entry requirements and attend an interview either in person at Bristol or via Skype. When submitting an application, please state that you are interested in the Bayer studentship in your application.

Proposed Project: connecting between microscopic and macroscopic behavior

The work to date has revealed a depth of knowledge of the microscopic gel system. We know the structure and why the materials are rigid, i.e. solid. We know how the stresses are distributed in the material. But how does this microscopic behaviour cause gel collapse?

To answer this question we will extend our techniques to consider collapsing gels. This we will do with confocal microscopy of a model system which we have developed. The 3d confocal microscopy will reveal the changes in local structure and the forces between the particles, which we expect to underlie the failure of the gel network which leads to collapse. Among the key challenges will be pinpointing the precise failure point where the gel collapse begins.

[1] Zhang I, Royall CP, Faers MA and Bartlett P, “Phase separation dynamics in colloid-polymer mixtures: the effect of interaction range”, Soft Matter, 9 2076-2084 (2013).

[2] Royall CP, Williams SR, Ohtsuka T and Tanaka H, “Direct observation of a local structural echanism for dynamic arrest” Nature Mater. 7 556 (2008).

How to apply:

Please make an online application for this project at Please select Functional Nanomaterials PhD on the Programme Choice page. You will be prompted to enter details of the studentship in the Funding and Research Details sections of the form.

Candidate requirements:  An upper second-class honours degree (or international equivalent) in physics, chemistry, materials science or a related subject (eg MSci, MPhys, MEng, MChem). Applicants with an upper second-class honours BSc degree may be considered if they can demonstrate very good potential for research.

Funding: Studentship covers a stipend at standard RCUK rates, home fees and a bench fee.

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