Ferroelectric – photocatalyst nanocomposites for enhanced solar fuel generation

Queen Mary University of London

About the Project

This PhD studentship is an exciting opportunity to develop and study through a range of advanced techniques a new type of material system for the generation of solar fuels through artificial photosynthesis using photoelectrochemical (PEC) conversion.

This studentship forms part of a 5-year project in Dr Joe Briscoe’s group funded by the European Research Council (ERC). The project aims to develop new routes to high efficiency solar energy conversion – both for PVs and photoelectrochemistry (PEC) for solar fuels – by producing nanocomposite thin films of ferroelectric and photoactive materials. Ferroelectrics contain a permanent electric dipole and have been shown to convert sunlight to electricity via a mechanism known as the bulk photovoltaic effect (BPVE). This differs from the mechanism in conventional PVs, and therefore is not subject to the same efficiency limits. In the project ferroelectric nanostructures will be developed that demonstrate a BPVE, which will then be coupled to high efficiency light absorbers to form a new type of solar energy device, aiming to make low-cost and high-efficiency solar energy devices for the future.

In this PhD project, the successful candidate will study the electronic and opto-electronic properties of a range of nanostructured and nanocomposite ferroelectric thin films for PEC applications, with a particular focus on the use of transient spectroscopy techniques. The aim of the project will be to build greater understanding of how ferroelectric polarisation interacts with photoexcited charge-carrier dynamics, such as carrier separation and charge transfer. In particular, it will study the coupling of the ferroelectric polarisation to integrated photocatalysts in the nanocomposite films. The PhD project will be co-supervised by Prof James Durrant at Imperial College London, drawing on Prof Durrant’s substantial expertise in semiconductor photophysics and photochemistry. The successful candidate will have access to the wide range of facilities in Prof Durrant’s lab for transient laser spectroscopy and spectroscopy of PEC materials. The project will also involve characterisation of the materials using techniques such as X-ray diffraction, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, as well as using a brand-new, dedicated atomic force microscope (with piezoresponse force microscopy and photoconductive AFM) in Dr Briscoe’s lab.

The successful candidate will join a team of eight PhD students and four postdoctoral researchers working in Dr Briscoe’s group, including a dedicated team of three postdocs and two other PhD students on the ERC project. Dr Briscoe’s research is focused on developing thin films and nanostructured materials for renewable energy applications, including photovoltaics (PVs), photoelectrocatalysis (PEC) and piezoelectric energy harvesting.

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours bachelor’s degree in Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science, or related subjects. Experience or knowledge of functional materials or devices such as semiconductors, ferroelectrics or piezoelectrics, or photocatalysis would be desirable. A master’s degree is also desirable.

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College, which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial research support. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop the skills and attributes needed to manage research and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

This PhD project is therefore an exciting opportunity to be involved in the forefront of development of the next generation of renewable energy technology that could lead to new routes to sustainable solar fuel synthesis in the future. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop skills in thin film and nanostructure deposition, device fabrication and testing, and nanoscale characterisation and measurements. They will also benefit from involvement in the research groups of both Dr Briscoe and Prof Durrant, and exposure to the cutting-edge research environments at Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London.


Funded bySEMS


  • The minimum requirement for this studentship opportunity is a good honours degree (minimum 2(i) honours or equivalent) or MSc/MRes in a relevant discipline.
  • If English is not your first language, you will require a valid English certificate equivalent to IELTS 6.5+ overall with a minimum score of 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in all sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking).
  • Candidates are expected to start in September (Semester 1).


For informal enquiries about this opportunity, please contact Joe BRISCOE.


Start an application for this studentship and for entry onto the PhD Materials Science full-time programme (Semester 1 / September start):

Start an application for this studentship and for entry onto the PhD Materials Science full-time programme (September start):


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