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Automated Continuous-flow Platforms for Polymer discovery


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Project start date
Thursday 1 October 2020
Country eligibility
UK and EU
Competition funded
Dr Nicholas Warren
Additional supervisors
Prof Nik Kapur, Dr Olivier Cayre
School of Chemical and Process Engineering
Research groups/institutes
Colloid, polymer and crystallisation, Digital manufacturing and emerging technologies
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

The main objective of this industrially sponsored PhD is to configure an automated continuous-flow reactor platform capable of rapidly screening heterogeneous polymerisation formulations. This includes working towards an &lsquo;artificially intelligent&rsquo; reactor which can self-optimise to produce polymers within defined specification. It presents a unique opportunity to acquire a multidisciplinary skill-set encompassing chemical engineering, polymer chemistry, colloid science and automation (including machine learning). The industrial focus also provides an opportunity to work with a company at the forefront of polymer manufacturing. The project will involve working closely with an industrial sponsor who anticipate these platforms will bring considerable cost-savings and accelerate the discovery and development of new products. The end goal will be an &lsquo;artificially intelligent&rsquo; reactor which can self-optimise to produce polymers by free radical emulsion polymerisation within defined specification. It presents a unique opportunity to acquire a multidisciplinary skill-set encompassing chemical engineering (including fluid dynamics), polymer chemistry, colloid science and automation (including machine learning). The ideal candidate will hold a Masters in Chemical Engineering (or equivalent), and a desire to work at the interface between academic research and industry.

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<h5>Background</h5> <p>Compared to batch chemistry, continuous-flow chemistry is widely regarded as a safer, more cost effective and efficient method of chemical synthesis. In the context of product development, a continuous process also offers a means of significantly streamlining the development of a product. For example, a screen on the effect of reagent concentration can be conducted by simply changing flow-rates and collecting samples at steady-state thus removing the need to configure separate reaction vessels and therefore minimises operator time. Screening of commercial polymerisation recipes has been identified as a process which could potentially benefit from a continuous process, but there exist numerous technical challenges which have thus far prevented wide utility in the polymer industry.</p> <p>Within an academic environment, we have used continuous-flow chemistry to successfully polymerise monomers by radical polymerisations in both <a href="!divAbstract">homogeneous and heterogeneous systems</a>. In both cases, it was possible to achieve good control over the reaction despite the effects of the residence time distribution (RTD). &nbsp;Furthermore, we have used sophisticated <a href="!divAbstract">online monitoring</a> to characterise the process in real time.</p> <p>This project approaches the concept from an industrial perspective, and will involve design and evaluation of continuous-flow reactor technologies for conducting various industrially relevant polymerisation formulations. This will include modification of existing reactors as well as exploring new reactor designs which are tailored specifically to our system. Following this, the aim is to develop an automated process using a fully computer-controlled system. This will involve exploring the application of state-of-the-art online analysis including flow-NMR and small-angle x-ray scattering. It is anticipated that the reactors will be programmed using a bespoke MATLAB reactor control interface, which will be based on our existing platform. Finally, the project will move towards making the reactor platforms &lsquo;intelligent&rsquo; systems by incorporating machine learning algorithms which will recognise trends in data from the online analysis and how it relates to conditions then feedback to optimise conditions to achieve a product with defined characteristics.</p> <p>The project will also involve a placement at the company&rsquo;s research and development laboratories where any new technologies will be implemented for developing potential polymer products.</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is&nbsp;&ldquo;Automated Continuous-flow Platforms for Polymer discovery&rdquo;&nbsp;as well as&nbsp;<a href="">Dr Nicholas Warren</a>&nbsp;, <a href="">Dr Olivier Cayre</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href="">Prof Nikil Kapur</a>&nbsp;your proposed supervisor.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>We welcome applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.</em></p>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>UK/EU&nbsp;- Funding at UK Research Council level for&nbsp;CASE Studentships paying Home/EU fees (&pound;4,600 in&nbsp;Session 2020/21), together with a maintenance grant paid at standard Research Council rates (&pound;15,009 in Session 2019/20). Funding is awarded on a competitive basis.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information regarding the application procedure, please contact Doctoral College Admissions<br /> e: <a href=""></a>, t: +44 (0)113 343 5057</p> <p>For further information regarding the project, please contact Dr Nicholas Warren<br /> e: <a href=""></a>, t: +44 (0)113 343 4609.</p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>