MSc by Research Projects in Chemistry

Discover the exciting Chemistry Postgraduate opportunities at Kent, starting this September.

At the University of Kent our a dynamic Chemistry research community produces innovative and interdisciplinary research. Our work has application in many industries, including renewable energy, medicine and security.

Our Chemistry research is delivered across two groups within the Division of Natural Sciences. Below is a list of current self-funded Research Masters projects available within each listed group. We also offer PhD projects – some with funding options. Please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like to talk about an area not listed or have any questions about studying with us.

Supramolecular Interfacial and Synthetic Chemistry

 

Materials for Energy and Electronics

The group includes research to help develop new materials to enable the novel technologies in a sustainable fashion.
There is an ever-increasing need to develop new materials to enable the novel technologies required by modern society in a sustainable fashion. The Materials for Energy and Electronics (MEE) group has a broad range of expertise in developing materials key for such applications. This includes creation of new materials, physical property investigation and developing the understanding of their atomic, magnetic and electronic structures, crucial to optimising their properties.

Heritage and Forensic Science

Supervisor: Multiple potential supervisors across the MEE Group with efforts led by Dr Donna Arnold, Co-director of the Centre for Heritage

Understanding the history of our cultural heritage as well at its preservation is critical if we are to be able to protect artefacts for the future. Identifying materials present as a result of the artefact, its storage, it proximity to other materials and/or recovery are crucial to develop remedial processes or optimise protective display environments. Likewise, identifying materials present in trace evidence are important for comparison and being able to weigh up evidential value. These projects look to utilise complementary techniques such as x-ray diffraction, electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy to understand cultural heritage artefacts and trace evidence with forensic value.

The search for new ferrotoroidal materials

Supervisor: Dr Donna Arnold

Multiferroic materials (those with electric ang magnetic ordering) continue to attract extensive research attention due to their potential in next generation devices particularly higher power, lower energy electronic devices. However, generation of these materials is not without challenges primarily as a result of difficulties trying to incorporate magnetic and electrically active ions into a single phase. One class of materials which offers real promise in this area are ferrotoroidal materials which simultaneously show electric ordering arising as a result of toroidal order of magnetic spins. Projects will look to provide a deeper understanding of ferrotoroidicty through the synthesis and characterisation of new ferrotoroidal materials.

Antiferroelectric materials for energy storage

Supervisor: Dr Donna Arnold

Energy storage materials remain at the forefront of tackling climate change. In order to continue to move towards a carbon neutral society we need a variety of energy storage systems that can operate and store energy in different ways to meet the variety of needs. Antiferroelectric materials exhibit and antiparallel ordering of the electric dipole and offer enhanced storage capacities with smaller losses in comparison with other types of electric order. However, our understanding of what drives antiferroelectric order and how to optimise it is still lacking. Projects in this area will look to develop new antiferroelectric materials (synthesis and characterisation) and crucially look to bridge the gap between discovery and optimisation providing new insight into these materials.

Understanding novel magnetic topographies in geometrically frustrated materials

Supervisor: Dr Donna Arnold

Frustration in magnetic materials occurs when the underlying crystal structure is incompatible with supporting antiferromagnetic (antiparallel) spin order. Often in these materials exotic magnetic behaviour can be realised alongside exciting quantum phenomena. We have been looking to understand how to synthesise materials with new magnetic topographies and to understand the role these play in promoting particular magnetic orders. Projects in this area will look at the synthesis and characterisation of new magnetic materials with the aim of continuing to understand the compositional flexibility in these materials and develop new understanding.

Titania-based aerogels for environmental remediation

Supervisor: Professor Anna Corrias

The aim of this project is to design highly efficient and non-toxic titania-based aerogels for cost effective water remediation. Aerogels, which are sponge-like materials, with up to 98% of their total volume being air (hence the name), are very well suited because of their intrinsic adsorption properties. The aerogels developed in this project will combine superhydrophobic properties with photo-catalytic activity provided by titania to easily degrade pollutants in waste waters. The project involves the use of sol-gel to synthetise the aerogels, a multi-technique approach to characterise them in detail and photo-catalysis tests.

Functional functional materials by design

Supervisor: Professor Mark A. Green

The synthesis and characterization of new functional materials is vital for future development. Our research program focusses on new electronic and energy such as new solar, battery and magnetic materials. Global warming is dangerously high and radical energy changes are required. The sun generates enough energy to provide the world with all its power demands many times over. We develop new cheap and efficient photovoltaic perovskite materials for solar applications. We synthesis and characterise new Magnetic Materials that are used extensively in electronic applications and are key for the development of quantum computing.

Developing low dimensional transition metal frameworks for efficient cryogenic cooling

Supervisor: Dr Paul Saines

Cooling to temperatures below 20 K is key for quantum computing, medical imaging and liquefaction for the hydrogen economy. Magnetocalorics offer an efficient solid-state method for such cryogenic cooling, via an entropically drive process driven by cycled magnetic fields; magnetocalorics offer a replacement for increasingly scarce and expensive liquid helium. We have recently shown that frameworks with ferromagnetic lanthanide chains with weaker coupling between them via polyatomic ligands are promising magnetocalorics. We will explore frameworks incorporating 3d metals into similar 1D structures to develop more sustainable magnetocalorics. It will provide training in coordination framework synthesis, crystal structure analysis and magnetic property characterisation.

Diversifying the chemistry of hybrid perovskites for clean energy

Supervisor: Dr Paul Saines

There is tremendous interest in ABX3 hybrid perovskites, that combine inorganic and organic components into a single structure, for energy harvesting. They can host a wide range of monovalent molecular building blocks but this restricts them to only having A+ and B2+ cations. This reduces the chemical diversity of hybrids compared to inorganic perovskites, which plays a key role in the latter’s myriad applications. Recently we have realised hybrid perovskites that combine monovalent and divalent organic ligands, offering a route to optimise them for sensing and harvesting waste mechanical energy. We will explore new perovskites with other charge combinations to further optimise them.

Metal-organic frameworks for cathodes for alkali-metal batteries

Supervisor: Dr Paul Saines

We are heavily dependent on Li-ion batteries for storing clean energy creating a need for new cathode materials that both enhance capacity and cyclability but also allow us to replace Li with cheaper, more abundant alkali metals. The redox properties of oxalate ligands has been recently shown to lead to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) cathodes with enhanced cyclability and capacity. This should be enhanced by the increased conjugation in related ligands so we will exploit the underexplored chemistry of fumarate frameworks combining alkali and transition metals for new cathode materials. The project will provide training in MOF synthesis, structural characterisation and battery preparation/testing.

LATP glass-ceramic electrolytes to advance battery technology for a low carbon future

Supervisor: Dr. Gavin Mountjoy

Batteries are essential for consistent supply of electricity from renewable sources, and for electric vehicles.  Using solid electrolytes in batteries improves safety and sustainability by removing organics.  Introducing glass in the solid electrolyte lowers the working temperature which reduces energy expenditure and enables more applications.  This project will focus on lithium alumino-titano-phosphate (LATP) glass-ceramics with promising Li ion conductivity.  The literature on lithium-air batteries, solid electrolytes, and LATP will be reviewed.  LATP will be synthesized, and Li ion conductivity will be measured.  Molecular dynamics (MD) modelling will be used to simulate the Li ion conductivity in LATP.

Induction effect in Polyanion compounds used in energy storage cathodes

Supervisor: Dr Maria Alfredsson

Current research on cathode materials in Li-ion batteries is too a large degree focused on nickel manganese oxides with variable content of cobalt (Co) to achieve voltages above 4V. From an environmental aspect Co is an unwanted element. In this project you will combine computational chemistry with machine learning to identify alternative materials as potential cathodes in Li-ion batteries. One type of materials, polyanionic compounds, will form the basis of this study varying the cations and anions in the structure.

Aqueous Batteries reaching above 2 V

Supervisor: Dr Maria Alfredsson

Batteries running on water as opposed to organic solvents struggle to work at a voltage above 1.7V as the water breaks down. In this project you will be challenged to find novel chemistry solutions to develop and design aqueous batteries, which can be used in healthcare devices. The battery need to work above 2V, required to power the sensors used to monitor the patient. Another aim of the project is to identify materials that comply with the above criteria, while being biocompatible, as well as biodegradable or recyclable.

Printed batteries for health care devices and sensors

Supervisor: Dr Maria Alfredsson

In our search for energy storage solutions with higher capacity, voltage and safety, much research has focussed on finding alternative electrode materials, which contain active material; binders; carbon additives etc. However, the common binder, polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF), is a non-polar molecule, requiring the use of an organic solvent, N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), recently added to the restricted substances list. Aqueous soluble binders, replacing PVDF, can lead to improved battery performance and introduce safer manufacturing solutions. These batteries can be applied to sensors for healthcare and environmental monitoring. The aim of this project is to develop aqueous inks for flexible printed energy storage solutions in light-weight flexible batteries.

Thermal and shock processing of planetary analogue materials

Supervisor: Dr Jon Tandy

Most planetary bodies experience large fluctuations in their temperature, harsh cosmic irradiation and crater forming impacts. Understanding the chemical and mineralogical modification of planetary materials by thermal and impact (shock) processing is therefore crucial for the interpretation of samples retrieved by current and future space missions. A suite of analytical techniques (XRD, SEM-EDS, Raman spectroscopy, AES and XRF) will therefore be used to characterise thermal and shock processed planetary analogue materials. Temperature variation will be mimicked using a cryogenic cold finger under high vacuum, with shock processing achieved using a light gas gun to simulate hypervelocity projectile impacts of meteoroids.

Raman Scattering Detection of substances used in sport doping

Supervisory Team: Dr Donna Arnold and James Hopker

The standard protocol for detecting doping in competitive sports often takes several days to perform in a laboratory-based environment and requires complex procedures and expensive equipment. However, the portable nature of RAMAN technology, which has been extensively used in a law enforcement environment, provides an opportunity to take measurements in the field rather than a laboratory environment. Therefore, RAMAN technology provides the potential for both a rapid and field adaptable method for drug detection in a sports environment. Surface-enhanced RAMAN spectroscopy (SERS) is a form of vibrational spectroscopy that can identify analyte substances uniquely. It provides direct structural information about target molecules in solid or solution form and identifies qualitative differences between similar samples. SERS has also been used for quantitative analysis of drugs in mixtures in complex biological samples (e.g. blood and urine). This project aims to apply SERS to detect drugs associated with sports related doping.

Supramolecular Interfacial and Synthetic Chemistry: Using chemistry to tackle challenges in society, technology and healthcare.

The SISC group are a team of chemists based at the University of Kent focused on molecular chemistry and its applications. Their work underpins fundamental advances and applied technologies that transcend classical disciplinary barriers. Composed of nine independent research groups, SISC provides a collaborative environment based upon synthetic, supramolecular, interfacial, macromolecular, biomolecular, redox, and materials chemistry. Their research interests, facilities, techniques, and applications overlap on many fronts and target areas of influence are biomedical science, sustainability, sensing, and soft materials.

Old Elements, New Tricks: Main Group Catalysis:

Supervisor: E. R. Clark Group

Phosphorus, Silicon, Boron, and Aluminium are commonly regarded as sources of useful, specific, and selective reagents for simple organic transformations like the Wittig reaction. By using methods borrowed from transition metal catalysis and coordination chemistry, postgraduate research projects offered in the Clark group focus on exploring the wider range of reactivity they can exhibit, from extreme chemical inertness to catalytic activity rivalling the platinum group metals. Crucially, they are all cheap, earth-abundant elements, and so we investigate them as more economically and environmentally sound alternatives to heavy metal catalysts and reagents, whilst also teasing out fundamental new chemistry and reactions along the way.

Spray-Painting and Ink-Jet Printing for Smart Packaging

Supervisor: H. J. Shepherd Group

Each year, billions of pounds worth of food and medicines are needlessly wasted after passing sell-by dates. If it was possible to detect which items were still usable, much of this wastage could be prevented. The aim of this project is to use spray-painting or ink-jet printing of reagents to synthesise sensor molecules that can report on the condition of the item in-situ. In the long term, these sensors can be incorporated directly into packaging on a large-scale to reduce waste. The project will involve initial testing of simple reactions under mild conditions, followed by optimisation of the printing or painting process. Characterisation of the molecules and their colour-changing ability in the presence of various stimuli will be performed using a variety of microscopy and spectroscopic techniques.

Smart Co-Crystals

Supervisor: H. J. Shepherd Group

The ability to economically produce materials with useful properties is a defining factor in the pace of technological innovation. The materials we rely on to construct and power the latest technologies must become more efficient, more reliable, and less expensive. While refining the properties of traditional materials can fulfil these requirements to a point, eventually we must seek new “smart” materials that can push the fundamental boundaries beyond those of existing systems. This project involves making smart molecules that can switch their colour, structure and magnetic properties in response to various stimuli including light, temperature and pressure. Applications include displays, sensors devices and soft robotics. The search for these new materials will be via co-crystallisation of smart materials with additional molecules that can improve their properties. Characterisation will be performed in the solid state via X-ray diffraction, spectroscopy and microscopy techniques.

Finally! Building a toolkit to establish small molecule – biological membrane interactions

Supervisor: J. R. Hiscock Group

Billions of pounds a year are invested into the development of new drugs however, most of these innovations never make it into the clinic. For the majority of those small molecule drugs developed, their targeted site of action is on the inside of the cell, and for most of these molecules this means that they must diffuse through the cell membrane. However, there is no suite of early, high through-put tools accessible to the average chemist to allow us to establish at an early stage if a molecule can do this. Can you help change this?

A next-generation anticancer therapy

Supervisor: J. R. Hiscock Group

Supramolecular Self-associating amphiphiles are a molecular platform technology, that can be tailored to selectively interact with different biological membranes, including that of cancer cells. To date we have shown certain members of the SSA family to increase the efficacy of cisplatin (a traditional anticancer treatment) against both brain cancer and ovarian cancer cell lines, we now want to see what else we can discover and move towards use within the clinic. Can you help us to do this?

A next-generation antimicrobial therapy

Supervisor: J. R. Hiscock Group

Supramolecular Self-associating amphiphiles are a molecular platform technology, that can be tailored to selectively interact with different biological membranes, including that of bacterial cells. Working in collaboration with UKHSA (formally Public Health England), we have elucidated the antimicrobial activity of > 50 SSAs against both clinically relevant MRSA (methicillin resist staphylococcus aureus) and E. coli. In addition, we have shown this molecular technology able to increase the efficacy of traditional antimicrobials towards these bacteria. However, we now want to move this technology into treating ESKAPE pathogen infections. Are you up for the challenge?

Following Life’s Blueprint for Sequenced Polymers

Supervisor: C. J. Serpell Group

The secrets of life are written in the sequences of polymers: nucleic acids and proteins. These biopolymers are capable of storing information, catalysing reactions with absolute selectivity, and creating materials of exceptional strength and resilience. It is supramolecular chemistry – non-covalent interactions such as hydrogen bonding, π-stacking, and the hydrophobic effect – which translate monomer sequence into function and activity.
The Serpell lab are following this blueprint in chemistry, by using automated phosphoramidite synthesis to produce sequence-defined, non-natural polymers which are capable of programmed folding, molecular recognition, and biological function. This project will involve synthesis of new monomers and their incorporation into sequenced polymers, and study of the effects of sequence upon their supramolecular chemistry, aiming to get closer to the behaviour of proteins and DNA, and with the possibility of exploring medicinal potential in biological studies.

DNA and Peptide Nanotechnology: Competition or Cooperation?

Supervisor: C. J. Serpell Group

Biology generates emergent structural complexity through the indirect interaction of competing and/or complementary self-assembly regimes such as protein folding, mineral microcrystallisation, and lipid aggregation. In contrast, conventional chemical self-assembly focuses on just one type of organisation at a time.
DNA and peptides have both proved powerful tools for self-assembled nanostructures, and the Serpell lab has been combining their properties to create new levels of structural complexity. This project will involve making new DNA-peptide conjugates and studying their self-assembly, either working together or in conflict, into new and unusual nanostructures. Collaborations with the University of Vienna, and with Biosciences at Kent are part of this project.

Small Molecule the Size of a Large Molecule

Supervisor: C. J. Serpell Group

Large biological molecules such as antibodies and oligonucleotides are increasingly important medicines, compared to classical synthetic ‘small molecule’ drugs, frequently outperforming in terms of side effects and ability to address difficult biochemical targets. However, biologics are limited to certain chemical motifs and, since they are recognised by the body, can have problems such as degradation and immunogenicity. Large synthetic molecules could combine the chemical versatility of small molecules with the best of biologics. However, precise large molecules are hard to design.
This project will involve creating a DNA-encoded library of perfectly sequenced synthetic polymers, which will then be screened against challenging proteins relating cancer. The DNA will then be sequenced to decode the identity of the active molecule, which will then be synthesised in high purity for biological testing.

 

Criteria

Open to Home and Overseas (including EU) students.

If you are applying as an overseas student (this includes EU nationals), Kent will waive the difference between the Home and Overseas fees.

Successful candidates will demonstrate academic excellence and outstanding research potential.

Applicants should have, or expect to obtain, a first or upper second-class honours degree in a relevant subject, and ideally a Master’s degree or equivalent.

Be aware that additional research costs of £750 are attached to the projects.

How to apply

When applying students should follow the University of Kent’s online application process. As part of the process, students should include the following:

· Explain reasons for study/outline research proposal (please speak with the academic leading the project you wish to apply for)

· Provide details/evidence of qualifications

· Provide two academic references

· Provide other personal information and supporting documentation..

Further information and how to apply online for Postgraduate Research degrees can be found by visiting the Postgraduate Courses Page for the University of Kent.

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