Highly Reactive Metal Oxides through Biomineralization-Driven Defect Formation

Metal oxide nanomaterials have a wide utility in catalysis, ranging from support materials to active catalytic materials in a variety of applications. One strategy for improving catalytic reactivity in metal oxides is through the formation of oxygen defects. The removal of oxygen atoms results in under-coordinated metal centers that have greater reactivity than their idealized counterparts. While several strategies for imparting detects in the metal oxides are available, these strategies are often energy intensive and may not be translatable across metal oxides.
To circumvent these issues, we propose employing biomineralization strategies, which mimic metal oxide formation found throughout nature. In our preliminary work, we have discovered that protamine, a small peptide with a high arginine content, is capable precipitating numerous metal oxides that exhibit under-coordinated metal centers. The synthesis of these materials is straightforward and environmentally friendly, only requiring a water-soluble metal precursor, protamine (waste product from the fishery industry), and water of appropriate pH. Upon addition of the requisite components, metal oxide nanoparticles are formed instantly.
A current PhD opportunity is available in the broadly in the area of biomineralized metal oxide nanoparticles and their catalytic applications. Prospective students will be charged with performing synthesis and catalytic testing of these materials. Catalytic applications can include (electro)catalytic oxidation reactions, organophosphate hydrolysis and thermal catalysis. Understanding structure/function relationships and characterizing oxygen-defect density will be crucial, and thus an interested student will learn state of the art characterization methods.

International candidates need to obtain a Master degree in materials science, chemistry, or chemical engineering; however outstanding 4th year undergraduate students with relevant research experience are encouraged to apply. Local candidates should ideally possess a 1st class honours degree in chemistry, chemical engineering or materials science; however holders of high level 2nd class honours degree with competent research experience are encouraged to apply.
For further information regarding the project and application process, please contact Professor Jason Scott (jason.scott@unsw.edu.au) and Dr. Nicholas Bedford (n.bedford@unsw.edu.au).