Bio-Inspired Approaches to Functional Nanocomposites


Contact Professor Fiona Meldrum to discuss this project further informally.

Project description

This project will develop a novel, experimentally straightforward and highly scalable assembly-based strategy for the generation of functional inorganic nanocomposites. Nanocomposites are an exciting new class of materials, where the ability to engineer compositions, structures and properties at the nanoscale and mesoscale promises the possibility of creating new functionalities. Taking inspiration from the remarkable composite materials that are biominerals, we have pioneered a novel “occlusion strategy” to create a new class of materials – single crystals containing embedded nanoparticles – using polymer-functional nanoparticles as simple crystal growth additives. Control over the surface functionality of the nanoparticles enables us to programme their encapsulation and distribution within the host crystal lattice and therefore tune the physical properties of the nanocomposites. To date we have created composite single crystals comprising calcite (CaCO3) crystals containing polymer particles and polymer-coated Fe3O4 (magnetic) and Au (coloured) nanoparticles. Recent results have shown that it can be extended to other host crystals to create ZnO/ Fe3O4 nanocomposites.

We will now develop our fabrication strategy to identify commercially-available organic additives that can be used to drive efficient nanoparticle occlusion. These will be used to incorporate a range of nanoparticles, varying from functional inorganic nanoparticles to emulsion particles, within a variety of host crystals. Particular goals of the project will be to target nanocomposites with photocatalytic properties and nanocomposites for controlled release. Photocatalysts will be created by the occlusion of metal nanoparticles within functional single crystals, while controlled release systems will be generated by encapsulating structures such as gel particles, emulsions and vesicles. The structures and compositions of the composite crystals will be characterised using techniques such as electron microscopy and thermogravimetric analysis, and the mechanism of occlusion using liquid cell AFM. Finally, the physical properties of the composite crystals will be determined, enabling us to link structure with properties.

This project will give experience in crystal growth techniques, photocatalysis and controlled-release studies, and a wide range of analytical methods including scanning and transmission electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, Raman microscopy, atomic force microscopy and IR spectroscopy. 

Entry requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with or expecting a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2:1), and/or a Master's degree in a relevant subject.

How to apply

Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the university's website. Please state clearly in the research information section that the PhD you wish to be considered for is the 'Bio-Inspired Approaches to Functional Nanocomposites’ as well as Professor Fiona Meldrum as your proposed supervisor.

If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University’s minimum English Language requirements.

We welcome scholarship applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates.  All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.