Developing a Sum-Frequency Generation (SFG) experiment at the HiLUX facility to study water at interfaces of energy materials


The behaviour of water at interfaces plays a critical role in many sustainable energy systems. For example understanding how water interacts with the electrodes and transports through the polymer membranes of an electrolyser is important in enabling the development of new materials for green hydrogen production.

A challenge that exists is to be able to selectively probe the water at the interface of interest whilst in the presence of bulk water. IR-Visible Surface Sum Frequency (SFG) Generation Spectroscopy is an interface selective vibrational spectroscopy that can be applied to dynamic systems such as electrochemical devices. This PhD studentship will focus on developing a new SFG experiment as part of a £17M upgrade at the UK Central Laser Facility (, based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories, Oxfordshire.

The project will provide training and lead to the individual developing expertise in laser spectroscopy, specifically SFG spectroscopy, and electrochemistry. An initial focus will be instrument development and the HiLUX upgrade will provide a state-of-the-art platform to generate a leading facility that will be made available to UK and European users in the long-term. The studentship will then go onto examine electrocatalytic water splitting at metal oxide interfaces such as Iridium dioxide or iron based oxides. Further opportunities also exist to apply the SFG capabilities to water chemistry in bipolar membrane electrolysers which are gaining high levels of interest for both water splitting and carbon dioxide electrolysis. This project builds on the highly productive existing collaboration between the supervisory teams at the University of Liverpool and the UK Central Laser Facility in the study of electrified intefaces.1,2

The project is open to students with a minimum 2:1 (or equivalent) degree in Chemistry, Physics or other closely related disciplines. The studentship can be based at either Central Laser Facility or the University of Liverpool (agreement on location will be made at the interview stage), with regular travel to the partner institution occurring.

Applications should be made as soon as possible but no later than 10th April 2023 . Informal enquiries should be addressed to Professor Alex Cowan () and Dr Paul Donaldson () Please ensure you quote reference CCPR082 and project title in your online application form.


Open to UK applicants

Funding information

Funded studentship

The award will cover fees at the and an annual stipend at the EPSRC-DTP rate (currently £17,668 p.a.) for a period of 3.5 years



1. Nature Catalysis, 1(12), 952-959, 2018
2. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 139(39), 13791-13797, 2017