University of Exeter funding: Nanochemistry - Functional ‘Smart

Nanochemistry - Functional ‘Smart’ Nanoparticles and their Sensing Applications - PhD Funded Ref: 3841

About the award


Academic Supervisors

  • Prof Frank Vollmer, Living Systems Institute, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter.
  • Dr Gema Cabello

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in April 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the Living Systems Institute in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus, Exeter.

Location: Living Systems Institute, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Streatham Campus, Exeter.

Owing to their small size (normally in the range of 1 – 100 nm), nanoparticles exhibit unique physico-chemical properties, which are different from those of bulk materials, and that can be used to construct novel and improved sensing devices; in particular, optical sensors and biosensors. Only recently, nanoparticle based optical sensors have been developed that are now capable of detecting even single small molecules and their reactions (1). The application of nanoparticle-based sensors in single-molecule biosensing opens up a range of interesting fundamental studies and applications. For example, the next generation of bioanalytical devices will be based on ‘smart’ nanoparticles to analyse biological and environmental samples at the single molecule level. For more information visit

We are interested in developing nanoparticle-based single molecule sensors by controlling synthesis of the nanoparticles. Our goal is to synthesize nanoparticles with specific chemical and optical properties. Examples for this are nanoparticles that respond to light at a certain wavelength and that catalyse chemical reactions. The nanoparticle chemistry combined with single-molecule sensitivity of the nanoparticle sensors gives us an eye into the nanoworld. Our laboratory uses this ‘eye’ to observe chemistry and chemical reactions not accessible with traditional analytical chemistry tools. With our single-molecule nanoparticle sensors we are able to understand mechanisms of catalysis. We can control chemical reactions with light. We explore surface-based reactions and their mechanisms, especially those that have been obfuscated by the use of traditional analysis techniques.

Your project:

You will develop nanoparticle chemistries to tailor the capabilities of ‘smart’ single-molecule sensor devices. You will develop synthetic strategies to control nanoparticle size, shape and composition. You will develop surface chemistries to modify the nanoparticle surface. You will then apply the nanoparticles as sensors to explore catalysis, surface chemistry, electrochemistry and biochemistry, all at the single-molecule level. Your nanoparticles will provide you with an ‘eye’ into the nanoworld to explore the nanochemistry of various molecules. You will study various reactions and their mechanisms which all have high relevance in Nature and technology. At the single-molecule level, you will study reaction mechanisms which have been hidden from analysis, such as the disulphide exchange reaction. Disulfide exchange reaction controls the redox potential in cells and it is also the basis for molecular devices, such as molecular walkers and molecular machines.You will also develop applications based on your nanosensors. An example for this are portable health and environmental monitors and smart dust sensors. You will work as part of a larger team in Prof Vollmer’s group which is composed of chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists.

What we are looking for: An enthusiastic chemist with background in inorganic and organic chemistry. Successful candidates ideally have some experience with one of the following colloidal chemistry, nanoparticles synthesis, surface chemistry, electrochemistry or physical chemistry.


Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5  in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents:CV

• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. Please ask your referees to email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number, or upload them with your application.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on February 17th 2020.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus the following weeks.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150. Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor Prof Frank Vollmer,


Application deadline:17th February 2020
Duration of award:per year
Contact: STEMM PGR Admissions