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PhD UK/EU Studentship: Analysis and quantitative evaluation of functionalised nanoscale silica


Due to funding regulations, this studentship is only available to UK and EU nationals. Students must meet the eligibility criteria at: http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/studentregistry/fees/funding/councils/eligibility.html

A fully funded 3.5 year iCASE studentship is available to work with Dr Mick Mantle (Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology, University of Cambridge) and Dr Alan Taylor (Industrial supervisor, The Welding Institute (TWI), Granta Park Cambridge)) .The project will start 1 October 2017. The aim of this Ph.D. is to investigate and develop analytical methods for the quantified characterisation of novel functionalised nanoscale oxides with a specific focus on silica. Such materials represent potential novel additives for emerging metamaterials such as self-renewing, erosion resistant and anti-icing composite materials for use in extreme environments (high erosion and very low temperature). Potential end user applications are numerous and include wind turbine blades, aircraft and rotorcraft leading edges, automotive components and cryogenic storage tanks for space applications.

The objectives of the PhD are the following:

  • To synthetize and characterise functional additives according to design rules established by TWI and in accordance with TWI background IP. These additives will include oxide (silica) nanoparticles that are functionalised with at least one type of ligand and which may possess structural hierarchies that are able to confer hydrophobicity and erosion resistance to a bulk resin without adversely affecting the intrinsic properties of the bulk whilst bringing about a step change in the efficacy of the performance of the composites made with these resins.

Silica nano-particles in different sizes will be synthetized via the well-known sol-gel technique Stoeber process. The range of diameters of the spheres produced will vary and a combination of sizes to form the so-called 'raspberry-like-structures' will be also investigated. They will be characterised using a range of methods but particularly 1H, 13C & 29Si Magic Angle Spinning (MAS) NMR and NMR relaxometry will be used to determine both intra- and extra- particle (surface) functionalisation. In addition pulsed field gradient diffusion NMR will be used to examine particle aggregation and particle internal mass transport properties. Other analytical methods that are expected to be used include TGA to determine particle thermal properties and SEM to determine the morphology of the particles. Particles of different sizes and clusters in a determined manner will be exposed to a surface treatment that will allow the functionalisation of each of the particles with a determined functional group to provide hydrophobicity and compatibility with the matrix. They will also be characterised via DLS to evaluate the particle size distribution.

A further aspect will be to incorporate and disperse these additives into model resin systems and to undertake characterisation which includes: evaluation and definition of a suitable method and steps in order to incorporate nano-additives into resins; investigation and identification of the suitable dispersing technology (e.g. ultrasound homogeniser, 3-roll-mill, high pressure homogeniser, beads mill); Investigation of the influence of the nanostructured additives and their dispersion quality (e. g. viscosity/loading profile, curing behaviour, stability and re-agglomeration). Characterisation will include: initial and early characterisation of the modified resin: thermal properties (TGA and DSC, mechanical properties (Taber abrasion), repellency properties (surface energy and roll-off angles); Characterisation of the dispersions via spectroscopy (IR, NMR, Raman, UV - Chemical titration); microscopy (TEM, SEM, AFM, OM, fluorescence); and study of the influence of particles on network formation with methods such as chemorheology, DSC, IR TF.

Applicants for the studentship should have a First Class (or a high 2:1) degree in a relevant discipline such as chemical engineering, engineering, chemistry or physics.

Please note that whilst this project is based in Cambridge the student will be expected to spend considerable time working at TWI in Granta Park.

To apply for this position, please send the following to recruitment@ceb.cam.ac.uk by 17:00 on Friday 12th May 2017:

1) Include the vacancy reference number, NQ11802, in the subject line of your email 2) A detailed curriculum vitae, to include grades/marks received in relevant examinations

Please quote reference NQ11802 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

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