Non-thermal plasma as a chemical reagent: elucidating mechanism and exploring NTP for pharmaceutically relevant electroreductive reactions

Reference number: CCPR102


Chemistry depends on electrons, but we cannot yet fully control electrons to deliver precise reactivity. Controlled high-energy electron sources—such as non-thermal plasma (NTP)—could unlock new and selective chemical transformations, but little is known about these states of matter when mixed with reaction media.

We have developed a prototype plasma-microfluidic testing chip and a batch NTP reactor for benchmarking1 and used these to deliver rapid and efficient synthesis of imine macrocycles and metal-organic frameworks. Now, further research is needed to 1) develop the on-chip analysis methods needed to achieve the full potential of these exciting early results and 2) translate this into transformative control of chemical reactivity.

A key missing piece is mechanistic investigations; our prototype has the advantage of minimal evaporation and ready customisation to include analytical equipment. In this PhD, the student will be co-supervised by Prof Anna Slater (flow and supramolecular materials) and Dr Christophe Aissa (organic chemistry, University of Liverpool) and collaborate with Prof James Walsh (plasma physics, University of York), and Dr Timothy Easun (ultrafast vibrational spectroscopy, University of Birmingham) to:

  • elucidate the mechanism of the imine condensations that we have established proceed cleanly in 5 minutes under NTP conditions;
  • investigate the potential of NTP in electroreductive organic chemistry, focusing initially on reactions important for the pharma industry
  • develop methods to probe reaction rates (e.g., radical clock), and hence produce a framework by which NTP reactions can be mechanistically understood, benchmarked against photocatalytic and electrosynthetic methods, and optimized.

Full training in the required techniques will be provided, including reaction design and optimisation, microfluidic techniques, operation of the equipment, plasma generation, 3D printing and prototyping. Dr Aissa provides essential training in organic synthesis and radical chemistry necessary to extend the work to new fields. Opportunities to undertake research visits to UK and international plasma research labs are being developed as an important part of the PhD training.

This project follows on from work led by Patrycja Roszkowska, PhD researcher expected to graduate in summer 2024, and will suit a candidate who enjoys multidisciplinary science and is keen to learn new skills. An interest in equipment building and prototyping is an advantage, as is demonstrating an ability to communicate between disciplines and collaborate effectively. You will need a degree in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering

As part of the Slater group, you will join a vibrant and growing team focused on the use of enabling technology, such as flow, to control complex chemical processes. With projects in supramolecular synthesis, organic materials, non-thermal plasma, industry processes, automated optimization, and crystallisation, we are a multi-disciplinary group with expertise in chemical engineering, organic synthesis, porous materials, plasma physics, design-of-experiments methods, and automated and digital approaches. You will contribute fully to our group culture, which values working collaboratively and openly in a respectful and supportive environment, and join us in collectively sustaining and improving this environment.


For information on how to apply, visit the University's application portal. Please ensure you quote the project reference: CCPR102.