*Some projects already carry funding and are indicated with an * in the list below. Please make sure you check the eligibility requirements. The majority of decisions on funding for the remaining PhD positions will be made in March following interviews in February. Apply by 31 January 2019 to be considered for all of these positions. Please check the individual project descriptions for any specific requirements or deadlines.

How to apply

PhD projects

We're recruiting PhD students to work on the following projects. We encourage you to do some research on our academics to really get to know how their work and expertise fits with your interests before you apply.

If you wish to learn more about a particular academic's research or discuss a project you have in mind, they are happy to answer specific questions by email or telephone.

 We have many exciting PhD projects on offer within our four research groups. A selection are given here, new opportunities come up all the time so please do get in touch:

* Funding already secured 

Physics of Life - Biological Physics and Biophysics 

Below are specific projects but we always welcome new proposals for research projects. Please contact the research group if you have something else in mind. 

3D Genomics for a better synthetic biology and gene therapy.

  • Supervisor Dr Agnes Noy and Mark Leake
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

While genome sequencing has led to significant increases in the amount of genetic information available, we are still far from a comprehensive understanding of how genomes work. Recent experiments have shown that DNA looping and folding are essential mechanisms in the switching of genes between their on and off states [1]. This has led to the idea that genetic information is also encoded through DNA topology and highlights the importance of studying the physical properties of DNA [2-4]. This project aims to predict DNA topology for improving genetic devices and genomes for utilisation in synthetic biology and gene therapy. Theoretical predictions will be compared with experiments done at the group of Mark Leake. Your project will allow you to:

1) Describe DNA loops with a physics-based computational methdology. Small loops are good models for understanding the essentials of gene regulation and also they are excellent gene-therapy vectors for introducing external genetic material in our cells. You will learn the most advanced techniques on molecular modelling

2) Develop a software for structural prediction at the genomic scale. The details learnt from small loops will be used for predicting the 3D architecture of genomes and improved them in the field of synthetic biology or biology engineering, absolutely critical for the production of biofuels, drugs or food additives. You will be trained in data analysis and bioinformatics as well as be familiar on the fields of biotechnology and synthetic biology.

Apply now

Combining single-molecule biophysics, DNA origami construction and low temperature plasmas to develop more efficient ways to kill harmful cells

The DNA in a human cell is folded and compacted for storage by proteins and mechanisms that are incompletely understood; without these processes the DNA in one human cell would be around two metres in length. In vitro, we can fold smaller lengths of DNA into 2D or 3D DNA origami by careful design of specific binding sites. Plasma is an overall electrically neutral state of matter created by passing an electromagnetic field through a gas; it breaks bonds and forms positive, negative, and neutral species, along with photons. Low temperature plasma (LTP) is currently being developed as a novel prostate cancer treatment which acts to induce cell death in the tumour cells via DNA damage.  LTP may provide considerable advantages over existing treatments for prostate cancer as plasma can be guided down a needle to allow treatment in the patient without highly invasive surgery. Key to killing harmful cells is to the ability to controllably induce DNA damage. However, existing methods to characterize the extent of DNA damage are relatively imprecise. This project will enable you to develop methods to controllably and precisely characterize the extent of DNA damage in a range of test DNA origami structures using LTPs. 

Your project will allow you to:

1. Develop DNA origami structures. You will develop a range of DNA origami structures to act as biomimetic test structures for characterizing DNA damage.

2. Optimise LTP-mediated DNA damage. You will optimise and develop methods to induce controllable DNA damage in DNA origami samples, and correlate damage with measured plasma generated reactive species.

3. Characterise DNA damage. You will develop methods of single-molecule biophysics, including super-resolution fluorescence microscopy and atomic force microscopy, to precisely characterize the efficacy and mechanism of LTP-mediated DNA damage on DNA origami structures.

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Developing next-generation technology touching life physics tools to tackle debilitating infections and cancers

Our knowledge of many debilitating human diseases is limited by technology: conventional approaches fail to render the quantitative details needed to address key mechanistic questions. This project will develop new biophysics tools for molecular observation in live cells to aid understanding of two diseases of high biomedical importance - (i) Determining roles of a key haematopoietic cytokine receptor, MPL, which interacts with ‘oncogenes’ in rare blood cancers; (ii) Investigating the assembly/disruption of a druggable unique protein structure in protozoan parasites that causes sleeping sickness in humans:

1. Develop new microfluidics for high-throughput immobilization and optical imaging of cells, facilitating rapid exchange of cell microenvironments, screening of cell types/states and other biophysics investigations including genetics profiling.

2. Design and construct optical instrumentation to enable rapid tracking of labelled proteins in cells to nanoscale precision in 3D and improve the time scale of sampling to sub-millisecond levels to probe rapid molecular conformational dynamics.

3. Develop optical tools to determine cell physiology using novel probes for ratiometric imaging and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) to quantify precise pH, ionic strength, membrane voltage, viscosity, and molecular crowding.

4. Develop new computational methods of machine learning/AI, principal component analysis and Hidden Markov Modelling.

Apply now

Dissecting cell complexity using super-resolution microscopy, one molecule at a time

The stress response of sporulation in bacteria is a fantastically system for studying biophysics processes of emergent complexity. This project involves high resolution bioimaging studies in living bacteria of proteins involved in sporulation.

You will study sporulation as a model system to understand how structural and functional complexity emerges in living cells. We aim to understand the: (i) structure and function of proteins involves in regulating sporulation and forming channels between the spore and the mother cell; (ii) roles of the cell wall remodelling during spore formation engulfment. You will use, and develop, pioneering imaging approaches of in the Leake group enabling you to monitor spatiotemporal dynamics, kinetics and interactions of these processes in functional, living cells in real time, one molecule at a time.

This is particularly timely since we have acquired compelling preliminary single-molecule data from several new functional B. subtilis bacterial strains with significant progress in the required molecular biology underway: it is an ideal time to capitalize on these developments by performing extensive functional imaging and analysis combined with complementary new biochemical and genetics investigations.  

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Single-molecule imaging in live cell to study gene geography and the role of DNA biophysics in regulating genes

Your project will address the key question of what is the importance of the physical location of genes in determining their state of activity. We will aim to address this question by studying the effects of bacterial chromosomal gene order on spatiotemporal expression in the context of folded, native genomes. You will use single-molecule bioimaging and computational analysis to determine the output from genes are their location is changed, and how this is affect to whether or not the cell is stressed. This will give a unique insight into how the very local state of DNA topology affects whether or not genes in live cells are switched on or off. Specifically:

1. You will characterize the spatiotemporal localization of new E. coli bacterial strains which expressing genomic fusions to a key enzyme DNA gyrase which relieves DNA torsional stress. These are constructed to use a nucleoid associated protein Fis as a marker for DNA supercoiling inside each cell.

2. You will use super-resolution millisecond Slimfield microscopy which is sensitive at a level of single-molecule detection to determinate the dynamic pattern of spatial localization and stoichiometry of these gyrase subunit proteins GyrA and GyrB to nanoscale precision in single live E. coli cells.

3. You will help to construct under expert teaching several dual-colour fluorescent protein fusion constructs integrated into the E. coli genetic code to pairs of DNA gyrase subunits, and also to Fis, and to a range of different established genome loci markers.

4. You will use nanoscale co-localization microscopy, real-time FRET, and FRAP/FLIP to determine the dynamic moelcular interactions, kinetics and molecular turnover of gyrase components in live cells under a range of bengin and stressed conditions including the appliation of gyrase targetting antibiotics.

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The Calcium: where molecular modeling meets nano-scale microscopy

Calcium is an essential ion for the condensation of biomolecules and for the formation of materials in living organism like bones and teeth. It also estabilizes a DNA mesh present on bacterial biofilm with the function to make bacteria resilient against antibiotic. Despite this enormous impact, the initial steps of calcium-molecule interaction and their impact on the nucleation of biominerals are not well understood. On this project we will describe the first stages of the interaction between Ca2+ and the protein osteopontin (OPN), which has been identified as a key protein regulating the growth of bone mineral. Further, the role of Ca2+ in the organisation of DNA will be investigated. Theoretical predictions will be compared with experiments done at the group of Roland Kroger  at the York JEOL Nanocentre. Your project will allow you to:

1) Describe DNA/Osteopontin folding caused by Ca2+ with molecular modelling. This is relevant for tackling the challenge of antibiotic resistence and for the field of bone regeneration. You will learn the most advanced techniques on molecular modelling

2) Detailed description of Ca2+ interaction using QM-based methodologies. A refinement of the interaction will be obtained by DFT with the leading software CASTEP/ONETEP in collaboration with Matt Probert, who is one of the main developers of the code.

 

Apply now

The long and winding roads of the cell

Intracellular membrane trafficking is essential for many cellular processes and its impairment leads to over 80 major human diseases. Elaborating our understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating membrane trafficking will be invaluable for developing future strategies to tackle trafficking related pathophysiologies, resulting in improving the quality of life for those afflicted. We seek to address fundamental, open questions in membrane trafficking by assembling a highly interdisciplinary research team to integrate biochemical, genetic and cutting-edge biophysics tools.

Your project will allow you to:

1. Determine spatial localization patterns for recycling. To test the hypothesis that cargo trafficking occurs via two distinct surface recycling routes we will map the patterns of dynamic spatial localization of the endolysosomal system and recycling cargoes in live yeast.

2. Characterize transcriptional/metabolic control of recycling. We will use glucose depletion as a stress factor to study the interplay between transcriptional and metabolic control of recycling, testing hypotheses that transcriptional upregulation of endocytosis is mediated through the Mig1 repressor, and inhibition of surface recycling is initiated by novel factors we have identified.

3. Determine factors driving endosomal protein sorting. We predict surface recycling depends on the physical separation of endosomal proteins from maturing endosomes, and will test how the local intracellular

Apply now

Condensed Matter Physics 

Below are specific projects but we always welcome new proposals for research projects. Please contact the research group if you have something else in mind. 

Atomic scale modelling of magnetic random access memory

  • Supervisor Dr Richard Evans
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

MRAM is a data storage device which utilises a magnetic material to store information, and is a potential replacement for current charge-based devices such as DRAM due to its non-volatility and low power consumption. MRAM technologies are particularly challenging due to the small dimensions of around 1nm thickness and the use of spin electronics for retrieving the stored information.

This project aims to develop a complete understanding of the material and device properties at the atomic scale in close collaboration with experimental research groups and industrial researchers and will combine molecular and spin dynamics with a model of spin transport dynamics.

Apply now

Atomistic simulations of advanced permanent magnet materials*

  • Supervisor Dr Richard Evans
  • Funding Tuition fees for UK/EU students. Stipend for UK students (£14,777 for 2018/19).
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

Neodymium permanent magnets are ubiquitous in technologies from cars to wind generators due to their inherent efficiency in converting electrical power to mechanical motion or vice versa. Next generation rare-earth-transition metal permanent magnet materials based on the TmMn12 (RETM12) structure present an exciting opportunity to double the energy efficiency of the materials. Coupled with new motor designs this presents the possibility of doubling the power output of a wind turbine or range of hybrid car with the same battery size.

The aim of this funded PhD project is to develop new atomistic models of RETM12-based permanent magnet materials to predict their performance and understand the fundamental magnetic properties. These models will be used to guide industrial magnet production in collaboration with Toyota Motor Corporation and the MagHEM project to accelerate the development of next generation magnets with ultrahigh energy efficiency. 

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Computational modelling of materials for energy applications*

  • Supervisor Keith McKenna
  • Funding Tuition fees for UK/EU students. Stipend for UK students (£14,777 for 2018/19). Fees may also be covered for exceptional EU or overseas candidates - please email for details.
  • Application deadline October 2019

A fully funded PhD studentship is now available within the Department of Physics at the University of York.

The development of advanced materials for applications in rechargeable batteries, solar cells and photocatalysts is the key to accelerating the uptake of renewable energy technologies. First principles methods that predict the structure and properties of materials using quantum mechanics are playing an increasingly important role in materials discovery and optimisation in this field. However, real materials are not perfect. They are often structured at the nanoscale and contain a range of defects which affect performance. The development of first principles methods that can predict the properties of materials including realistic features is therefore of utmost importance.

In this project you will develop and apply theoretical approaches to model the structural, thermodynamic and electronic properties of a range of energy materials using density functional theory (DFT). Specifically you will consider the effects of complex defects such as grain boundaries in next generation solar absorber materials (e.g. lead-halide perovskites and CZTS), photocatalysts and batteries. These predictions will be used to guide experimental work towards synthesis of materials with improved efficiency.

The project will be supervised by Dr Keith McKenna and you will join an active group with materials modelling research spanning a number of areas including energy materials, nanoelectronics and magnetism (http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~km816/). Our group provides a friendly and supportive environment for learning the technical skills needed in the project. You will also benefit from an extensive package of training in wider research and transferable skills throughout your PhD studies.

You should have (or be close to obtaining) a good masters degree in Physics, Chemistry or related Physical Science (1 or 2:1). Good computational skills and experience in computer simulation would also be an advantage. However, the most important qualities to be successful in the project are curiosity, enthusiasm, good communication skills and an ability to learn new ideas and techniques.

The start date for the PhD studentship is flexible (any date up to October 2019 is possible) and applications will be considered until a suitable candidate is identified. The three-year studentship on offer provides a yearly stipend at the research council recommended level (£14,777 for 2018-2019). The studentship also covers fees for UK students. Fees may also be covered for exceptional EU or overseas candidates - please email for details. Informal enquiries are welcome and can be made to Dr Keith McKenna (keith.mckenna@york.ac.uk).

 

Apply now

EBIC environmental STEM microscopy for energy materials and gas sensors

Electron Beam induced current (EBIC) is an electron probe technique widely used in the semiconductor industry for the analysis of p-n junctions, minority carrier distributions, and material defects. It has been developed for the SEM environment with the spatial resolution limited to tens of nanometres. Aberration corrected STEM (scanning transmission electron microscopy) is able to provide atomic scale resolution but cannot benefit from commercially available EBIC packages.

This project goal is to develop EBIC analyses techniques for STEM microscopy allowing to studying material defects and electric properties of thin films down to the atomic scale. This development combined with the unique capabilities of the double aberration corrected gas environmental STEM in York, will open the path for the fundamental study of the electric properties in nanomaterials during gas environment exposure as well as the effect of electric bias on phase transformation as such as oxidation and reduction.

This technique once developed will be applied to materials for solar cell structures and gas sensing devices.

Apply now

First principles modelling of defects in solar absorber materials*

  • Supervisor Dr Keith McKenna
  • Funding Tuition fees for UK/EU students. Stipend for UK students (£14,777 for 2018/19).
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

A number of materials are emerging as promising candidates to replace silicon in the next generation of solar cells. They offer the prospect of high efficiency, low cost and flexibility allowing for their incorporation into building materials for example. It is critical to understand the properties of atomic scale defects in these materials (such as vacancies, dislocations and grain boundaries) which can negatively impact both performance and stability.

The project will involve the application of density functional theory (DFT) to investigate the properties of a range of defects in solar absorbers such as CdTe, CH3NH3PbI3 and Cu2ZnSn(S,Se)4 in order to understand how to optimise materials for applications. You will work closely with experimental collaborators to test and verify your predictions.

Apply now

Impact of grain boundary shape on magnetic properties of electrical steels

  • Supervisor Dr Keith McKenna
  • Funding  Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

Electrical steels are iron-silicon alloys (typically 3.2% silicon) that are used in electrical generators, transformers and end use devices such as motors which are important for the global economy to function. They are polycrystalline and careful refinement of the grain structure is essential for optimisation of properties for applications. However, little is currently known about the impact of grain boundary properties such as orientation difference, grain boundary shape, grain boundary chemistry and the presence of precipitates on magnetic properties.

In this project you will use theoretical models (both classical potentials and density functional theory) to model the structure and properties of grain boundaries in magnetic steels. Cogent Power, a partner in this project, will provide industrial input as well as a pathway to test predictions and deliver improvements in materials.

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Iron Oxidation at the atomic scale: an In-situ environmental TEM/STEM study

Fe and Fe-oxide (FeOx) based nanoparticles (NPs) have shown promising applications in physical and medical sciences. These include magnetic storage devices, catalysis, contrast enhancement in magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic hyperthermia. These applications rely on the magnetic and catalytic properties of the NPs. In particular, the NP magnetic properties are strongly influenced by their stoichiometry and their crystalline structure. Understanding the Fe oxidation processes down to atomic scale is paramount for the control of NPs production. It has been previously shown that crystalline defects in magnetite (Fe3O4) thin films are detrimental for their overall magnetization. In our previous work on such films, we have shown that ex-situ annealing under a CO/CO2 gas mixture can successfully produce Fe3O4 thin film virtually defect free with bulk like magnetic properties. In the first phase of this project we will expand the gas capability of the York Environmental Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope (ESTEM) by implementing a CO/CO2 gas line that will add up to the existing O2, N2 and H2 ones. In the second phase the Fe-O phase diagram will be investigated in-situ for nanoparticles and thin films from room temperature to 1100C. The phase transformations between Fe-oxides phases and their stability will be explored at the atomic scale. In particular to understand the optimal conditions to produce single crystal, defect free and chemically ordered magnetite nanocrystal with improved magnetic properties. This research will provide a deeper insight in the oxidation mechanism, crystalline defect formation, and their relation to the magnetic properties to great advantage to the field of magnetism and catalysis with potential industrial applications.

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Light emitting two-dimensional materials for silicon emitters*

  • Supervisor Dr Yue Wang & Professor Thomas Krauss
  • Funding The three-year studentship provides a yearly stipend (£14,777 for 2018-2019). The studentship also covers fees for UK students.
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

Silicon photonics has been widely recognized as the potential technology to achieve broadband, high-density, high-speed data interconnections for next generation computing. The progress achieved in recent years in this field has been very exciting. However, an on-chip silicon light source at low-cost still remains challenging, as silicon itself does not emit light efficiently. Two-dimensional (2D) materials that were spawned out of the graphene revolution can address this challenge. This family of materials exhibit remarkable properties, including excellent electrical conduction and efficient light emission.

The aim of this project is to develop silicon light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and lasers by integrating 2D materials with silicon nanocavities. The student will work alongside research assistants, and UK and international collaborators to examine the light-emitting properties of suitable 2D materials that are both optically and electrically pumped. The student will also be involved in the design of passive and active devices using computer modelling, fabrication and characterisation of devices in our state-of-the-art clean room and optics laboratories.

We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with a background in photonics, electronics, physics or material science to take on this project. The PhD studentship will be undertaken within the Department of Physics at the University of York, starting before October 2019. The three-year studentship provides a yearly stipend (£14,777 for 2018-2019). The studentship also covers fees for UK students. Informal inquiries can be made to Dr Y Wang (yue.wang@york.ac.uk) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and a cover letter.

 

Apply now

Modelling the properties of electron and hole polarons in materials*

  • Supervisor Dr Keith McKenna
  • Funding Tuition fees for UK/EU students. Stipend for UK students (£14,777 for 2018/19).
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

The strong coupling between electrons and phonons in some materials leads to the formation of small polarons (quasiparticles comprised of a localised electron and an associated polarisation field). Predicting the properties of polarons is an important fundamental problem as well as being relevant for technologically important phenomena such as magnetism, photoconductivity, dielectric response and reactivity.

In this project you will employ first principles methods recently developed in our group to predict the formation and properties in a range of previously unexplored materials including oxides, nitrides and perovskites. These predictions will be tested in close collaboration with experimental collaborators.

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Nanophononic metamaterials: engineering phonons to convert between heat and electricity

  • Supervisor Dr Phil Hasnip
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

Thermoelectrics are materials which convert temperature gradients into electricity, or vice versa. These materials can harvest waste heat from industrial processes, turning it into electricity, or use current to provide efficient cooling. These require a material with high electrical conductivity and low thermal conductivity. For metals these are contradictory, since both current and heat are carried by electrons; however, in semiconductors the heat is carried by phonons. Previous semiconductor research has focused on introducing defects to scatter heat-carrying phonons, but electrons often scatter from these too, lowering the electrical conductivity.

We propose a novel approach, using nanoscale engineering to tailor a material’s phonons. By patterning the material’s surface, specific phonon modes may be created which hybridise with heat-carrying phonons in the bulk material, reducing the thermal conductivity 100-fold. The bulk material is completely unchanged, so electrical properties are unaffected. This new class of nanostructures is known as nanophononic metamaterials (NPMs), and have the potential to have higher thermoelectric figures of merit than any previously known material.

Fabricating these nanostructures is challenging, and it is vital to focus on specific NPMs which can deliver the phononic and electronic properties required for high-efficiency thermoelectrics. We propose to use state-of-the-art quantum mechanical simulations (DFT) to predict and model the electronic and phononic properties of NPMs and, coupled with larger semi-empirical models, to design realistic nanoscale device NPMs with high thermoelectric efficiency. These designs will form the basis for new collaborations with world-leading experimental groups, in order to fabricate the NPMs and verify their performance.

This work will be carried out in collaboration with Dr Mahmoud Hussein (University of Colorado Boulder, USA).

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Screened-exchange-based orbital functionals for generalised Kohn-Sham density-functional theory

  • Supervisor Professor Rex Godby
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision 
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

The PhD student will explore and develop a new approach to ground-state and time-dependent quantum mechanics of systems containing interacting electrons such as nanostructures and solids. The approach is based on concepts from many-body perturbation theory such as the GW approximation, together with the powerful framework of generalised Kohn-Sham density-functional theory, which combines the strengths of many-body perturbation theory with the efficiency of density-functional theory.

The key computational tool will be the group's iDEA code (interacting dynamical electrons approach), a Python code suite (with some Cython extensions). The iDEA code is uniquely placed to allow us to calculate the exact time-dependent quantum mechanics for a wide variety of model nanosystems, which will allow exploration of reliable approximate generalised Kohn-Sham functionals for these systems. An example would be a voltage pulse applied to a molecular junction, taking account of exact relationships satisfied by those functionals.

The approach developed will also be coded into one of the main ab-initio DFT code packages (such as ABINIT or CASTEP) and applied to realistic nanostructures.

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Theory-led optimisation of materials for tunnelling magnetoresistive devices

  • Supervisor Dr Keith McKenna
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

Tunnelling magnetoresistive devices find applications as a magnetic sensors in hard disk read heads and in emerging non-volatile magnetic random access memory (MRAM) technologies. The active part of the device consists of an insulating MgO film sandwiched between two ferromagnetic electrodes. While great progress has been made in the performance of these devices there is a need to make further improvements in the materials to allow widespread adoption of MRAM technology for memory applications. This includes finding new barrier materials which present a lower resistance-area product and understanding and mitigating the negative impact of defects such as vacancies and grain boundaries on performance.

In this project you will employ first principles methods (density functional theory) to model materials for tunnelling magnetoresistive devices in order to guide the optimisation of this technology. You will work closely with experimental collaborators to test and verify your predictions.

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Toward next generation of solar cells: the correlation between efficiency and interface atomic structures in perovskite solar cells

  • Supervisor Dr Vlado Lazarov and Leonardo Lari
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

Perovskite solar cells (PSCs) have the potential to revolutionise the field of solar cells. Their efficiency in the last decades has increased by an order of magnitude, which is unprecedented in this field. In addition, they are cheap to be made and easy to manufacture. Hence the tremendous interest in perovskite solar cells as the next generation of efficient and cost effective solar cells. Further efficiency enhancement, improving their stability as well as making them environmentally friendly requires: i) the fundamental understanding of the interfaces between the TiO2 and the perovskite layer and ii) the developing of a Pb-free perovskite absorber layer. This project aims to address these two outstanding challenges by atomic level characterisation and quantum mechanical modelling using density functional theory (DFT).

Very recently, GreatCell Solar has shown that halide treatments of TiO2 nanopowders, used as electrode material in perovskite cells, further boost the perovskite solar cells efficiency. However, this important empirical finding is limited due to the lack of the understanding of the mechanism of improved efficiency. The first goal of the project is to understand how the structure and chemistry of the TiO2 electrode and its interface with the perovskite layer affects the efficiency of the solar cells. This will be done by employing state of the art atomic resolution imaging and spectroscopy coupled with quantum mechanical calculations. Achieving of this goal will enable developing a new doping strategy for more efficient cells. The second goal of the project is to develop a new absorber perovskite layer that is Pb-free, which will lead to environmentally friendly perovskite solar cells. This project will be conducted jointly with GreatCell Solar, the UK leader in perovskite solar cells research.

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Nuclear Physics

Below are specific projects but we always welcome new proposals for research projects. Please contact the research group if you have something else in mind. 

York Plasma Institute 

Below are specific projects but we always welcome new proposals for research projects. Please contact the research group if you have something else in mind. 

Fast ions from graphene with potential application spanning fusion and oncology

Proton and heavier ion acceleration using ultra-intense lasers is being widely investigated for pure science, plasma diagnostics, medical as well as fusion engineering applications. One approach to achieving higher proton and ion energies is to use thin targets, and perhaps the thinner the better. However, thin targets are easily destroyed by the so-called laser prepulse which arrives prior to the main laser pulse on all intense laser systems. The maximum proton energy achieved so far has been limited to several tens of MeV when using relatively thick, of the order of a micrometer, targets. This has been the case even though there has been a successful decade long development of laser technologies which provide higher contrast, higher intensity and higher energy laser pulses. Very recently, the use of thin (10-100 nm) targets with ultra-intense lasers has shown promise by accelerating protons and carbons ions up to higher energies. This proposal pursues this approach through a collaboration with teams in Japan and Taiwan to the development and shoot the ‘ultimate target’; a large-area suspended graphene foil which is as thin as one atom (order of 1 nm) and suspended across holes of 100 μm in diameter. Graphene has several features that make this a particularly exciting material for laser ion acceleration. It is: 1) the thinnest material known, 2) mechanically strong, 3) formed from carbon which is a biologically compatible material and so suitable for ion oncology, and 4) transparent and unaffected by a laser prepulse below intensities of approximately 1011 W/cm2. Large-area suspended graphene foil is uniform and flat, thickness control is exquisite offering nm-order accuracy by building targets graphene layer by layer. Longer term, target manufacture is relatively straightforward and cheap target mass produce seems possible. Very little material is ablated in a laser shot, making the material suitable for future high repetition rate (e.g. many Hz). Perhaps it will be a magical material? This project will develop experimental and computational tools to study carbon (and proton) acceleration from graphene targets. The work will be carried out at the York Plasma Institute and at large facilities in the UK, Japan and elsewhere. The project provides an excellent opportunity for collaboration and for exploring new ideas.

This project will be based at the University of York. Please contact Prof Nigel Woolsey for more information.

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Laser-driven fusion: the Polar Direct Drive Shock Ignition approach

Join Robbie Scott at the Central Laser Facility (STFC) and Nigel Woolsey in the Physics Department (York) and contribute to an international effort to achieve fusion energy gain through Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF). This project will explore the possibility of using the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the USA to pursue an advanced approach to ICF referred to as ‘polar direct drive shock ignition’.  The project will have a computational bias but is firmly based around the interpretation of experiments. You’ll have the opportunity to use advanced radiation hydrodynamic models to study implosions, and new computational techniques to address the complex physics associated with laser-plasma interaction and the effect of overlapping many laser beams to assess the impact of multiple overlapping beams

 

This is an exciting time, as NIF is in the process of acquiring the optics needed for polar direct drive and you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate on NIF experiments with the Universities of Rochester (who also operate the Omega laser) and Alberta. You’ll have opportunities to travel as well as develop expertise in computational and theoretical approaches and link this to an exciting experimental programme of work.


Currently, the NIF is configured to drive ICF experiments using indirect drive. Here the NIF beams (192 of them) enter both ends of cylindrical cavity, called a hohlraum, from the north- and south-poles to create a uniform x-ray drive. This x-ray, i.e. indirect, drive implodes a millimetre scale spherical capsule containing deuterium and tritium fuel placed at the centre of the hohlraum. In direct drive, there is no hohlraum, and laser beams irradiate the capsule directly. As the NIF beams are arranged around the north- and south-poles of a sphere, new optical elements are needed to shape the laser focal spots to create a so-called polar direct drive platform. Shock ignition separates the compression of the fuel from the process raising the fuel temperature to initiate nuclear fusion burn. In this scheme a strong shock is launched late in the compression phase and the collision of shocks close to the compressed capsule centre rapidly raises the temperature to hundreds of millions of Kevin. These temperatures are needed to ensure there are enough nuclear reactions to sustain a fusion burn.


For more information please contact Nigel Woolsey at nigel.woolsey@york.ac.uk and check his webpage at https://www.york.ac.uk/physics/people/woolsey/.

 

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Low temperature plasma induced CO2 conversion for green value-added chemical delivery and energy storage*

  • Supervisor Professor Timo Gans
  • Funding Self funded & fully funded positions available
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019

This multi-disciplinary project offers students the opportunity to carry out postgraduate research at the interface of physics and chemistry. The student will be based in the York Plasma Institute and will have access to a wide range of state-of-the-art facilities in the York Plasma Institute Laboratories.

Our previous and ongoing research in this area has already shown the extraordinary potential of low temperature plasma to efficiently convert CO2 (a waste product) into CO which is a valuable building block for the chemicals industry. CO is an inherently toxic gas, so a low temperature plasma based process for its in situ generation as and when required from relatively non-toxic CO2 offers a green approach to the use of CO.

Non-equilibrium atmospheric pressure plasmas offer an attractive technology for converting greenhouse gases into valuable chemical products. This is a particularly promising route for versatile energy storage in renewable energy power plants, exploiting solar or wind energy, towards a CO2 neutral energy economy. This project will focus on efficient conversion of CO2 to CO and O2, using low-temperature atmospheric pressure plasmas. While efficient conversion has already been empirically demonstrated, the fundamental mechanisms of the non-equilibrium chemical kinetics are complex, nonetheless crucial to lift this technology towards a new generation of chemical processing. Reaction and conversion pathways critically depend on the nonMaxwellian electron dynamics on nanosecond timescales and associated energy deposition through dissociation and rotational-vibrational molecular excitation processes. These processes are key for tailored properties since the non-equilibrium electron induced chemical pathways allow superior efficiency over nonselective energy deposition in classical thermal chemistry. The combination of our recently developed control strategies for tailored electron dynamics and our advanced pico- and nanosecond optical diagnostic techniques for electron properties and reactive species analysis are unique worldwide. Together with our advanced multi-scale computational techniques for the chemical kinetics we are ideally positioned to lead this newly emerging field with global impact.

In addition to optimising and studying the plasma used to convert CO2 into CO, the student will also be able to investigate the utilization of the produced CO as a chemical reagent. Whilst many catalytic reactions of CO are already well known, these have been carried out using ultra-pure CO. The CO produced by a low temperature plasma will inevitably contain impurities (oxygen, ozone etc.) and the effect of these on the catalyst and reaction needs to be determined.

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Low-temperature plasma nitrogen fixation for agricultural applications*

This collaborative inter-disciplinary PhD project involves innovative research at the interface of physics, environment, chemistry and biology. The student will be part of the York Plasma Institute in the Department of Physics, with access to state-of-the-art experimental and computational facilities. The project will be carried out in close collaboration with research groups in the Departments of Environment, Chemistry and Biology and the University of York. The project builds on a recently successfully collaborative project between the research groups. Low-temperature plasmas have established applications ranging from computer chips and mobile phones to spacecraft population and medicine. Low-temperature or ‘cold’ plasmas are weakly ionised gases far from thermodynamic equilibrium. They are composed of a few hot electrons (few eV or ~10,000 C), while the heavier ions and neutrals (the dominant component) are close to room temperatures. These plasmas offer many technological applications, primarily motivated by their efficiency to generate reactive species in ambient dry environments at low temperatures, otherwise not achievable.

Artificial nitrogen fixation, for synthesis of ammonia mainly for fertiliser production, is a very important and demanding chemical process consuming around 1 – 2% of the world’s annual total energy supply. It is well known that lightning in the atmosphere improves plant growth through nitrogen fixation. We can mimic this process through sustaining low-temperature plasmas in ambient air. Plasmas can convert atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen molecules into nitrates, which are dissolvable in rain or water aerosol, and can then be carried to the soil. A key advantage of using plasmas is sustainability and independence of chemical plant infrastructure and production supply chains.

Sustaining and tailoring plasmas in ambient air is challenging, as these plasmas are susceptible to thermal instabilities, which need to be controlled. This project will involve the application of experimental and simulation techniques to explore the production of relevant chemically reactive species in air plasmas, how they can trigger downstream chemical and biological processes, and associated enhanced plant growth. State-of-the-art recently developed diagnostic analytical techniques will be applied and further developed to quantify reactive species within the plasma phase, and their transport into water and soil.

The project is suitable for candidates interested in physical and analytical chemistry, spectroscopic techniques and free radical chemistry. Training will be provided in all areas, and a willingness to learn new techniques and disciplines are more important than any prior experience. The successful candidate will have at least a 2:1 honours degree in a relevant science or engineering subject.

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Low-temperature plasmas for electric propulsion*

  • Supervisor Dr James Dedrick
  • Funding Self funded & fully funded positions available
  • Application deadline  31st January 2019


Low-temperature plasmas are prevalent in modern technology and current applications include semiconductor processing, television displays and propulsions systems for spacecraft. This project provides the opportunity to undertake international, collaborative research in low-temperature plasma physics with application to electric propulsion.

Recent research efforts have driven the development of compact, long-lasting propulsion systems. To increase their power efficiency and longevity, the potential use of plasma thrusters that generate a chargeneutral exhaust plume is of significant interest. This is because a cathode neutraliser (as installed on ion engines and Hall thrusters) is no longer required to ensure charge neutrality of the spacecraft and prevent beam stalling.

To maximise power efficiency and performance, a detailed understanding of the plasma physics is crucial. Compact plasma thrusters present additional challenges due to their limited diagnostic access. This project will therefore utilise state-of-the-art optical and numerical techniques to further our understanding of the physical mechanisms that operate on nanosecond timescales and ultimately drive performance.

Based at the York Plasma Institute in the Department of Physics, the studentship offers the opportunity to collaborate with international research partners at the SP3 Laboratory, Australian National University (ANU) and the Computational Plasma Science and Engineering Group (CPSEG), University of Michigan. During a funded University of York studentship, the student will be a member of the low-temperature plasma team. Our laboratory undertakes diverse and high-impact research in fields including semiconductor processing, thin films, green energy, plasma medicine and electric propulsion.

For futher information please contact james.dedrick@york.ac.uk

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Magnetic fields and laser-driven fusion plasmas

Magnetic confinement fusion or MCF relies upon a strong magnetic field to confine the plasma and limit electron thermal conduction to the walls of the experiment. These plasmas are fully magnetized with the gyro-frequency of the particles in the magnetic field roughly matching the collision times. In laser-produced- and especially inertial confinement fusion (ICF) plasmas the extreme densities result in collision times that are shorter by very many orders of magnitude. This results in thermal conduction losses that are a significant which needs addressing in ICF implosion. One suggestion is to magnetise the hot spot, reduce conduction loses to improve the fusion gain and ultimately reduce the driver energy for target ignition.

 

State-of-the-art electromagnets can produce extraordinary large magnetic fields, with a recent report achieving 1,200 T.  The group at York is working with teams at the University of Bordeaux and Laurence Livermore National Laboratory in California to create an all optical approach to generating large quasi-static magnetic fields and use these magnetic fields for experiments on any high-energy and high-power laser facility in the world. Our experiments have been successful and show that we can create and measure controlled strong 500 T magnetic fields and over a few nanoseconds. These experiment use miniature, laser driven capacitor-coil targets to generate the magnetic fields and are composed of two parallel plates connected by a coil-shaped wire.

 

Your project will involve international travel and working with teams based in Bordeaux and Livermore and the use of these targets to explore the impact of strong magnetic fields on dense plasmas and interpret how magnetic fields move, growth, twist etc. This includes studying extended magneto-hydrodynamic affects such as heat flow anisotropy and heat flow advection processes which occur in inertial fusion plasmas. The project will enable you to develop expertise in both experimental and computational plasma physics.

 

For more information please contact Nigel Woolsey at nigel.woolsey@york.ac.uk and check his webpage at https://www.york.ac.uk/physics/people/woolsey/.

 

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Unravelling the physics and chemistry of Plasma-Enhanced Pulsed Laser Deposition*

  • Supervisor Dr Erik Wagenaars
  • Funding Awaiting funding decision
  • Application deadline 31st January 2019


Metal oxide thin films like ZnO, Al2O3 and TiO2 are widely used in industry in microelectronics, catalysts and display devices. Conventional techniques for the production of these films, such as pulsed laser deposition (PLD), chemical vapour deposition and physical vapour deposition, all suffer from a lack of fundamental understanding of the underlying physical processes and detailed control of the deposited film properties. The goal of this research is to overcome these limitations by introducing a new deposition technique that uniquely combines laser and electrically produced plasmas: Plasma-Enhanced Pulsed Laser Deposition (PE-PLD).

The PE-PLD process can be described as 3 phases with distinctly different physics involved: laser ablation, plume dynamics and interactions, and thin-film formation. These individual processes have been studied in isolation in some detail, but the multi-scale and multi-physics nature of the PE-PLD process means that linking these studies is challenging, limiting what can be learned practically about how to better control thin film production.

This project will focus on enhancing the understanding of the underpinning plasma physics and chemistry of PE-PLD. You will combine state-of-the-art multiscale numerical modelling with direct measurements of plasma properties performed in the YPI Laboratories. The overall aim of the research is to provide predictive knowledge of high-quality thin film production, superior to current empirical methods.

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