PhD opportunities

Ph.D. projects within the Heterogeneous Catalysis Section of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry

Research within the Heterogeneous Catalysis Section covers a range of topics that typically have strong connections to industrially relevant process operations. The following four Ph.D. projects are available for commencement in October 2022. If you are interested in any of these projects and expect to obtain a 2:1 degree grade or higher in Chemistry, Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry, Chemical Physics in 2022 you are encouraged to contact the Principal Investigator(s) associated with the relevant project.

After you contact the potential supervisor by email, then you can apply for admission to the School of Chemistry (our graduate school is part of the graduate school of the College of Science and Engineering and the College handles the application process).  Please read the information and apply on-line at

  •  Formation of Carbon Nanotubes using Heterogeneous Catalysts.

Synthesis of carbon nanotubes (CNT) with tailored characteristics has been one of the most important goals of nanotechnology for the last two decades promising a generation of novel functional nanomaterials, nanoelectronic devices and nanomedical tools. Typically, these materials are produced catalytically from a range of gases (CO, C2H4, or mixtures) and vapours (ethanol) over different metal catalysts, typically nickel or iron. However, generation of these materials with specific properties requires control of the process and catalyst. This may also involve functionalisation of the CNTs with for example thiophene to optimise fibre properties. Very little of the research into these materials has involved a systematic examination of the catalyst system and its role. A recent report [1] has shown that the diameter of the CNT is controlled by the catalyst particle size. However, this is a rare study and suggests that a more detailed examination of catalyst properties and how they affect CNT properties would be timely. Innospec is a catalyst manufacturer and is interested in developing this area but the absence of good fundamental data is a major hinderance. This study is a perfect opportunity remedy that. The PhD will provide excellent training for a student in both catalysis and materials science. They will be involved in characterisation and testing of the catalysts and the CNTs. They will spend time at the company facilities and if appropriate undertake some research there. There is also the opportunity to undertake measurements at National facilities.

1. N. A. Algadri, Z. Hassan, K. Ibrahim, and M. Bououdina, J Mater Sci, 52, 12772-12782,2017

Supervisors: Prof S D Jackson & Dr Emma Gibson

  • Catalytic Oxidation of biomass derivatives using polyoxometalates; a computational and catalyst characterisation study.

The PhD student will be part of a multidisciplinary effort aimed at applying the concept of ‘materials by design’ to metal oxide chemistry synthesis. The project will focus on polyoxometalates for use in upgrading biomass derivatives to valuable chemicals, through a combination of computational modelling and materials characterisation. We are looking for an enthusiastic and flexible candidate willing to learn new skills in computational chemistry and catalyst characterisation, and comfortable in a multidisciplinary setting. If you have any questions before applying send an email.

A bit about your supervisors: Dr Nadal is a newly appointed Lecturer at the School of Chemistry in the University of Glasgow. Her group works in theoretical chemistry and computational modelling of metal oxide clusters. Renowned for studying oxide-based materials in electronics to further increase the circuit density in electronic devices, beyond the limitations of lithography. Further interests in inorganic porous materials, environmental catalysis, and N2-activation. As a woman PI, she wants to help addressing the diversity in STEM subjects. Dr Gibson is a Research Fellow at the School of Chemistry working in heterogeneous catalysis. Her goal is to make processes more efficient and selective often reducing the use of aftertreatment or harsh chemicals and reducing energy consumption, which all have positive impacts for the environment, by characterising the catalysts as they react using X-ray and spectroscopic techniques. You will not just be working with Drs Gibson and Nadal, though-you will be working in a friendly group of researchers working on Chemistry, Engineering and Robotics.

Supervisors: Dr Laia Vila-Nadal and Dr Emma Gibson

  • Using experimental actinide chemistry to solve technical challenges in spent fuel and nuclear material management within the NDA Group.

Electricity generation using Nuclear Power is key to the delivery of a permanent transition to low carbon and renewable energy sources and achieving Net Zero. Nuclear fuel reprocessing separates the valuable uranium (U) and plutonium (Pu) material from the waste fission products. After six decades of commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing at Sellafield, the UK has the largest inventory of separated civilian Pu worldwide. This inventory is in the form of actinide oxide powders (AnO2 where An = U, Pu; or mixtures of An = MOx). The AnO2 are chemically reactive towards atmospheric gases and the products of water and air radiolysis, resulting in the production and consumption of reactive gas mixtures, and changes to material properties over time.

This PhD project will use a combination of synthetic actinide chemistry and heterogeneous catalysis to deliver the experimental data urgently needed for retreatment, storage, and future disposition of the UK’s spent fuel and nuclear material.

This PhD has an ambitious scope of work, including synthesis, reactivity, and advanced spectroscopy. AnO2 reactivity occurs at the solid-gas interface like heterogeneous catalysis by uranium oxides (ACS Catalysis 2019, 9 ,4719). Actinide oxide nanoparticles (AnO2-NP) will be synthesised from molecular precursors, in which key properties e.g. surface area and morphology can be varied. Catalysis reactor technology will be used to probe and quantify reactivity of AnO2-NP with water/air radiolysis products (also mixtures of gases, and effects of temperature, pressure, and radiation). Gaseous products will be monitored by an in-line mass spectrometer and the AnO2-NP solids characterised pre- and post-reaction by standard techniques (BET, PXRD, TGA, Raman, elemental composition, GC). Experimental work at Glasgow University has been carefully designed in collaboration to generate data directly comparable to ongoing industrial work. Therefore, delivering the data to bridge the knowledge gap between model and real systems, and to draw out the physical constants needed to establish the structure-property relationships. Additionally, advanced spectroscopic techniques will be employed and developed to gain insight into surface adsorbed species, and NP characterisation e.g. using vibrational spectroscopy (IR and Raman) as well as Inelastic Neutron Scattering (INS) at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source or X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy at the Diamond Light Source.

Supervisors: Dr Joy Farnaby and Dr Emma Gibson

  • Structure/activity relationships in heterogeneously catalysed selective hydrogenation reactions of relevance to agri-chemical production chains

As the global population continues to increase, food security is playing an increasingly important role in national and international sustainability strategies. Syngenta is a world-wide organisation that specialises in crop protection via application of innovative technologies encompassing various areas of biology and chemistry [1]. At the Jeallot’s Hill International Research Centre (Berkshire, UK) the Process Studies Group are interested in understanding heterogeneous catalytic processes for the large-scale production of agri-chemical intermediates. One transformation of interest involves the application of heterogeneous catalysis to selectively hydrogenate aromatic nitrile molecules to primary amines. A representative example is illustrated below.

a chemical diagram example of a benzonitrile hydrogenation reaction

A recently completed Ph.D. project, concentrating on the kinetics and hydrodynamics of nitrile hydrogenation, has enabled a catalyst specification to be defined that supports high amine selectivity and extended catalyst lifetimes [2-4]. A follow-on Ph.D. project is available for commencement in October 2022 that represents a further collaboration between Syngenta and the University of Glasgow. The new project will build on the previous work by developing a mechanistic understanding of the principal surface-mediated processes responsible for sustained product yields for a series of nitrile hydrogenations relevant to large-scale agri-chemical production. Most of the work will be performed in modern laboratories housed within the School of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow. In addition, each year, the student will be expected to spend a 1-2 week placement at the Company’s research centre.

The project is ideally suited to high-calibre graduates in Chemistry, Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and/or Chemical Physics, providing a training in surface chemistry and heterogeneous catalysis research. A tax-free stipend of ca. £15,840 p.a. for 3.5 years is provided alongside the payment of all University fees. Eligibility is restricted to UK citizens and EU nationals holding pre-settled status only.

2. L. McMillan et al., Journal of Molecular Catalysis A: Chemical, 411 (2016) 239.
3. M.I. McAllister et al., Organic Process Research and Development, 23 (2019) 977.
4. M.I. McAllister et al., RSC Advances, 8 (2018) 29392.

Supervisor: Professor David Lennon