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Disentangling the Chiral Clutter: Optically Enhanced Rotational Spectroscopy. (CDT in Metamaterials, PhD in Physics)

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The University of Exeter’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship.

Chiral molecules are distinct from their mirror image; much like a human hand. These handed molecules play a vital role in many biological functions. However, the handed properties of chiral molecules are difficult to determine, and the information that conventional chiral spectroscopy can provide is minimal and always incomplete. For example, standard techniques such as circular dichroism cannot measure oriented properties of molecules (only rotational averages), cannot resolve molecular mixtures and provides sensitivity only for samples with one handed molecule in excess. As a result, academic and industry labs invest much time, effort and money in developing asymmetric synthesis routes to chirally pure samples, while running many sequential characterisation techniques to obtain even only fragmented and patchy information about the molecules they are synthesising or studying.

In this project, you will be at the heart of a collaborative project aiming to develop the next generation analytical measurement tools for chiral molecules. Working with colleagues from the University of Glasgow, this project will develop a completely new measurement approach, one capable of resolving chiral molecular properties even in the most challenging of circumstance, e.g. determining anisotropic properties of molecular mixtures, and even resolving an equal mixture of right and left handed molecules. The general approach relies on femtosecond pulsed lasers, which can provide electromagnetic fields orders of magnitude larger than by using continuous wave lasers. Using these intense fields, one can manipulate the rotational energy levels of molecules depending on the precise molecular polarisability. Measuring these rotational shifts provides the missing piece of the puzzle: the information required to determine the complete chiral structure of a molecule. Detailed molecular modelling has revealed the feasibility of this approach, and the project here will develop the capability in experimental measurement, and with it a major step change in molecular characterisation and drug development.

Applicants must have a working knowledge of optics, and have taken modules in optics and/or electromagnetism during their undergraduate degree. Proficiency in programming using Python, Matlab or Labview would also be helpful.

Cohort-based training in the CDT in Metamaterials:

You will be part of the Centre for Metamaterials Research and Innovation and join its doctoral training programme, the Centre for Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2).

Since 2014, XM2 was and is home to more than 100 PhD students (~55 active, ~50 graduates) and their individual research projects, embedded in strong academic groups and supervisor teams.

The PhD students learn together in targeted courses, self-driven activity groups, and events with exposure to industry to gain scientific background knowledge beyond their areas of expertise, and to equip themselves with transferable professional skills such as creative thinking, project management, and leadership.

To date, our graduates went on to careers in academia and industry, and started to act as role models for the next generation of researchers.

We believe in the benefits of a cohort model that fosters knowledge exchange and peer support to prevent isolation.

Contact the student advisory group if you’d like to learn more about the CDT from your potential new peers!

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September 2022
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