The prevention of surface contamination is an issue of tremendous global importance, relevant to a wide range of different areas. This includes; healthcare, construction, infrastructure, transport, in addition to chemical, and biological industries. Biological surface contamination can increase the risk of spreading infectious diseases via surface transfer, but overgrowth (biofilms) can also cause irreversible surface damage. Whereas, chemical contamination can be accompanied with numerous consequences; ranging from surface damage/functional property loss, to aesthetic depreciation. Contamination prevention is generally always favoured, as successful removal of biological/chemical build-up can be extremely challenging.
The research will seek to develop specifically engineered surface coatings, aimed to alleviate the need for continual cleaning, resurfacing, or de-icing in these demanding environments. Superhydrophobic materials are one class of material that will be investigated. These materials are highly water repellent, whereby water forms spherical droplets with very low adhesion, that roll across the surface upon contact – and demonstrate self-cleaning, antimicrobial, and anti-icing properties. The major challenges (listed below) which limit their current application, stem from inherent surface characteristics; (i) high surface roughnesses, and (ii) inherently water repellent surface chemistries.High surface roughnesses (on the nano/micro-scale), means that most of these materials can be physically fragile. Their hydrophobic surface chemistries have found important application in oil-water separation, but contamination can result from exposure to components with mixed hydrophobicities (e.g. surfactants). Biological contamination can be prevented using superhydrophobic materials, however factors affecting the level of contamination (e.g. cell-surface interaction, and the presence of biological conditioning films) need to be explored in additional detail. Whilst our work in this area has been informative, many outstanding research questions remain, requiring further attention:
- Specific contamination protection. How can the upper limit of contamination prevention be reached for known application or environment?
- Approaches for generalised protection.What are the surface properties required for comprehensive protection? (e.g.; multi-species biological adhesion / surfactant chemical staining / icephobic performance over a range of temperatures)
- Robustness challenges. What are the real-world tolerances for even the most physically robust contamination prevention materials?
High throughput automated formulation will provide a platform for generating an array of functional materials – accelerating materials fabrication and optimisation. Film coating techniques will be used to functionalise vulnerable surfaces. In addition to the characterisation of their functionality, real-world applicability will be ensured by environmental and robustness testing. The materials characterisation will encompass; electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, in addition to other standard techniques (FTIR/UV-Vis).
The successful candidate should have, or expect to have, an Honours Degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Materials, Engineering, or a related subject.
A general knowledge of experimental materials science is essential. Experience in surface coatings and/or microbiology is desirable but not necessary.
Please note this application will remain open until the position is filled.
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Open to students worldwide
There is no funding attached to this project, it is for self-funded students only.
Highly qualified non-EU nationals with BSc or MSc degrees from top universities worldwide may be eligible for a full tuition waiver.