Skip to main content

Research Studentship in Engineering Science

Research Studentship in Engineering Science

Project: Advancing sustainable heterogenous catalysis with ultrasound and cavitation

3.5-year D.Phil. studentship 

Supervisors: Prof James Kwan

Sonochemistry harnesses the power of ultrasound to enable sustainable chemistry. Expansion and collapse of tiny microbubbles generated by the sound wave, a phenomenon known as acoustic cavitation, is used to create a miasma of atoms and molecules primed for reacting. Because ultrasound is a mechanical energy source, it has been put forward as an alternative and sustainable means to perform important chemical reactions used for wastewater treatment, advanced oxidation processes, and sonodynamic therapies, which impact our daily life.

Unfortunately, the ability to control acoustic cavitation for enhancement of specific chemical reactions remains elusive. Cavitation is stochastic and requires substantial acoustic intensities to nucleate the bubbles. Often, exogenous nuclei in the form of gas-core microparticles or gas-trapping solid nanoparticles are added to significantly reduce these energy requirements, and spatially control cavitation.

This project will seek to utilize acoustic energy and pre-existing nuclei to promote bubble collapses in the immediate vicinity of nano-scale catalytic materials, the end result being to more efficiently direct chemical reactions towards a desired product. The student will gain broad and extensive experience in physical acoustics, nanotechnology, surface chemistry, and heterogenous catalysis. Specifically, the project involves nanomaterial synthesis using various techniques (sol-gel, multi-phase precipitation, hydrothermal, etc.). These materials will be imaged with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and surface characterised by X-ray diffraction and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). The acoustic response from these materials will also be investigated by processing acoustic signals from the materials in search for signatures of cavitation noise emissions. Sonochemistry will be performed in a bespoke sonochemical reactor and the products will be analysed using a variety of chromatographic (GC-MS) and spectrometric (UV-Vis) techniques. The DPhil student has the opportunity to explore a range of heterogenous catalysis reactions, including, but not limited to, oxidation of sugars, ammonia chemistry, and methane activation. If successful, we will forge pathways that address the growing global imperative for sustainable chemistry.

Candidates will be considered in the November 2020 admissions field which has an application deadline of 13 November 2020 and, if the studentship is unfilled, in the January 2021 admissions field which has an application deadline of 22 January 2021.


This studentship is funded through the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership and is open to UK students (full award – fees plus stipend). Full details of the EPSRC eligibility requirements can be found here.

Award Value

Course fees are covered at the level set for UK students (c. £8290 p.a.) for the full liability i.e. three years. The stipend (tax-free maintenance grant) is c. £15285 p.a. for the first year, and at least this amount for a further two and a half years. 

There is very limited flexibility to support international students. If you are an international student and want to apply for this studentship please contact the supervisor to see whether the flexibility might be available for you.

Candidate Requirements

Prospective candidates will be judged according to how well they meet the following criteria:

  • A first-class honours degree in Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, or Materials Science
  • Excellent English written and spoken communication skills

The following skills are desirable but not essential:

  • Ability to program in Matlab
  • Experience in a wet lab (use of common chemistry lab equipment)
  • Taken courses in acoustics

Application Procedure

Informal enquiries are encouraged and should be addressed to Prof James Kwan (

Candidates must submit a graduate application form and are expected to meet the graduate admissions criteria.  Details are available on the course page of the University website.

Please quote 21ENGCH_JK in all correspondence and in your graduate application.

Application deadline: noon on 22 January 2021 (In line with the January admissions deadline, set by the University)

Start date: October 2021