View the range of scholarships available to students in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.

Master Thesis or Postgraduate student research project

PhD positions available

PhD position available: Activating Substrates for Chemical Synthesis with Reactive Aluminium Reagents


Two fully funded studentships are available to work with Prof Martyn Coles and A/Prof Robin Fulton at Victoria University of Wellington. The projects involve synthetic inorganic chemistry to develop new chemical reagents based on the recently discovered class of aluminyl anions.[1] Emphasis will be placed on exploring the reactivity of these species with small molecules to convert low value chemical feedstocks to useful building blocks for chemical synthesis.


Chemical reagents based on aluminium have traditionally exploited the electron deficiency of this main group metal, which activates substrate molecules by accepting electrons (i.e. Lewis acid). Recent research in our group has isolated a new class of anionic Al(I) compound, referred to as the aluminyl anions [Al(L)] (where L is a dianionic chelating ligand). In contrast to the previously established mode of reactivity, the aluminium centre in these species has an associated lone-pair of electrons and has demonstrated nucleophilic characteristics (i.e. can activate substrates as a Lewis base).

The project will explore the chemical reactivity of these novel compounds for the activation of small molecules. The aim is to understand how these reagents interact with different functional groups, and how this will enable further chemistry to take place at the substrate. Ultimately we will develop compounds that can be used to elaborate readily available chemical feedstocks (e.g. CO2, CO, alkenes etc.) to generate more complex molecules that can be used in chemical synthesis.

The development of bimetallic systems in which the aluminium centre is bonded to another metal M will form a separate component of this work. The synergistic reactivity of the resulting Al–M bonds will also be tested towards the activation and derivatization of small molecules.

Research environment

You will work with both Prof Coles and A/Prof Fulton during all aspects of this project. The lab is fully equipped for the synthesis and manipulation of air-sensitive chemicals and reagents, including inert atmosphere gloveboxes and vacuum lines. Analysis of the compounds and reactions will utilize the state-of-the art NMR facility at VUW (including multinuclear NMR, 2-D experiments, variable temperature reaction monitoring) and X-ray diffraction.

The project incorporates an active collaboration with Dr Claire McMullin (University of Bath, UK), who will support the synthetic work with computational analysis of new compounds and reaction pathways.


A good undergraduate degree (4-year BSc with 1st or 2:1 honours), MSc or postgraduate diploma in Chemistry with experience in synthesis. You must be highly motivated and able to work as part of a team. Full training will be given in all aspects of the project.


For further information or to apply please email a cover letter (including a referee that can be contacted for a reference) and CV to

[1]    Hicks, J.; Vasko, P.; Goicoechea, J. M.; Aldridge, S., "The Aluminyl Anion: A New Generation of Aluminium Nucleophile", Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2021, 60, 1702-1713.

PhD position available: Wood-derived graphite for Li-ion batteries


A fully funded studentship is available to work with Dr. Kim McKelvey at Victoria University of Wellington and CarbonScape ( The project will use advanced characterisation techniques to quantify the performance of graphite Li-ion anodes synthesised using CarbonScape’s patented thermo-catalytic graphitization process.


Li-ion batteries power almost all modern mobile devices, and battery performance is key to the advancement of these technologies. CarbonScape, a New Zealand-based company, have developed a new synthesis method to form high-quality synthetic graphite from widely available biomass char. Interestingly, the properties of the synthetic graphite can be tailored through optimisation of the synthesis process. However, a detailed understanding of how the synthesis process effects the performance of the synthetic graphite as a Li-ion anode is needed. This project aims to measure the performance of CarbonScape’s synthetic graphite as an Li-ion anode and quantify how the graphite synthesis process influences anode performance.

Research environment

You will work in a close collaboration with both Dr. Kim McKelvey and CarbonScape. You will be part of a supportive research group in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences (, as well as the research effort of Blenheim-based CarbonScape. Research will be primarily undertaken at Victoria University of Wellington’s Kelburn campus, with samples synthesised at CarbonScape’s test facility in Blenheim. The School of Chemical and Physical Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington offers a vibrant research community with world class research facilities. You will have opportunities to interact with other research groups within Victoria, New Zealand, and internationally. You will have the opportunity to attend and present at national and international conferences.


Good degree (4-year BSc (1st or 2:1 honours), MSc, or postgraduate diploma) in Chemistry, Physics, Nanoscience, or related subject. You must be highly motivated and able to work as part of a team. Full training will be given in all aspects of the project.


For further information or to apply please email a cover letter and CV to

PhD position available: Ultrafast spectroscopy of rapid exciton diffusion in fused ring electron acceptors

The development of organic photovoltaics has long been guided by the idea that excitons – bound electron-hole pairs created by light absorption – can only diffuse over 5-10 nm. Undoubtedly true for thousands of materials, this idea led to the bulk heterojunction morphology to balance light absorption with exciton harvesting. We recently discovered remarkably rapid exciton diffusion in a new class of record-breaking organic semiconductors called fused-ring electron acceptors [1]. By applying unique ultrafast optical spectroscopy measurements to a series of these materials, we will learn how exciton diffusion coefficients relate to molecular structure and spectroscopic properties. Informed by exciton dynamics measurements and crystal structures of these materials, we will build numerical models to predict exciton diffusion lengths from simple input parameters, and thereby accelerate the discovery of materials whose exciton diffusion lengths approach their light absorption lengths.

We are seeking a highly motivated person with an excellent academic record and a good understanding of physical chemistry or experimental physics. Experience in optics and spectroscopy research is considered favourably. Applicants should have a chemistry or physics degree equivalent to the 4-year BSc (Honours) degree in New Zealand, with 1st class Honours, or an MSc or postgraduate Diploma. Candidates should satisfy the requirements for admission as a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington [2].

The scholarship provides a generous non-taxed stipend of NZ$27,500 per annum plus the PhD tuition fee for three years.

To apply, please send a CV, academic record, and the names and contact details of two referees to: with “PhD exciton” in the subject line.


[1]        Chandrabose et al, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, 141, 6922-6929.

PhD scholarship in Next generation optical-based magnetic sensors using magnetochromic composites

History and purpose

A fully funded PhD scholarship in Physics/Engineering is available for research into developing a new class of magnetochromic composites for fibre-optics based magnetic field sensors. The successful candidate will join the world leading Robinson Research Institute [1] at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), Lower Hutt, New Zealand.

The candidate will undertake materials preparation using solid-state chemistry, thin film fabrication, and ion-implantation, as well as assist in the setting up of a magneto-optical test rig on the Quantum Design physical property measurement system (PPMS). The materials will be characterised and studied by x-ray diffraction, magnetic force microscopy (MFM), SEM, TEM, magnetometer, and physical property measurement system (PPMS). Access to additional resources is available through the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology [2] where both supervisors are investigators.

This PhD project is part of a newly funded New Zealand Marsden research programme on ‘Next generation magneto-piezochromic composites for optically based intelligent magnetic field sensing’, which involves researchers from Victoria University of Wellington, GNS Science, and the University of Boudreaux.  The successful candidate will have the opportunity to contribute to the fundamental understanding of the intrinsic properties that enable the magneto-piezochromic effect (similar to a magnetoelectric effect) plus investigate ways to optimize the stress-strain transfer between the magnetostrictive and piezochromic phases. There is also the opportunity for the candidate to travel abroad to attend international conferences and work with researchers from other parts of New Zealand. We will also consider an MSc project on the same proposed work for a suitable candidate.


Applicants should have a relevant degree equivalent to the 4-year Physics/Engineering (Honours) degree in New Zealand, with 1st class Honours, or an MSc or postgraduate Diploma with high grades. We are seeking a highly motivated person with an excellent academic record, a good understanding of materials science/physics, and able to work well in a team. Candidates should satisfy the requirements for admission as a PhD candidate at Victoria University and applicants should ensure that they can satisfy the English language requirements [3].

Total value and tenure

The successful applicant will receive a stipend of $27,500 per annum for 3 years, as well as payment of all university tuition fees. For a Masters student that will be $17K scholarship plus fees (New Zealand resident rates) for one year.

How to apply

Please send an email to Prof. Grant Williams ( and Dr. Shen Chong ( with PhD scholarship in “Next generation optical-based magnetic sensors using magnetochromic composites” in the subject line. Please include the following information,

  • A full curriculum vitae, including your university transcripts,
  • A statement detailing why you are interested in this project
  • The names of at least two people who are prepared to act as referees,
  • Evidence of your English language ability,
  • Your expected starting date.



Light and chirality at the nanoscale: T-matrix modelling of particles & molecules

Full-time PhD position, funded for 3 years, or MSc project

Chiral materials naturally respond with a slight asymmetry to left or right circularly-polarised light, and the minute difference in spectroscopic signals can be exploited to trace back precious 3D structural information at the nanoscale, such as the relative orientation of molecular groups. Until very recently the weakness of chiroptical effects had restricted their study and application to bulk samples such as highly-concentrated chemical solutions. Artificial chiral nanostructures have now opened remarkable new perspectives at the nanoscale in this emerging branch of nano-optics, enabling greater control over light and its interaction with chiral matter. Crucially, the deliberate spatial arrangement of metallic particles can shape the intrinsic chirality of local electromagnetic fields, introducing a new degree of freedom in the design and engineering of all chiroptical spectroscopy techniques. Such artificial structures are also expected to yield entirely new responses, not present in natural systems. These intriguing predictions are not yet fully understood and better theoretical tools are needed, as well as the exploration of a wide range of possible structures.

Our project is to explore theoretically the interaction of circularly-polarised light with chiral nanostructures, in particular those comprised of strongly resonant metal nanoparticles, with overarching goal to enhance the weak signals hindering structure-sensitive spectroscopies such as circular dichroism, fluorescence and Raman optical activity. Specifically, we will use and extend the superposition T-matrix framework, which provides a rigorous solution of the Maxwell equations for multiple scattering of light by systems of particles. Our implementation is documented at http://nano-optics., and provides the starting point for this project.


The successful candidate will have a solid background in general physics, particularly in modern optics, electromagnetism, and spectroscopy. The project also requires strong computational and mathematical skills. We are seeking a highly motivated student with a genuine passion for scientific research.

How to apply

For further information please contact: Dr Baptiste Auguié 

Dodd-Walls Centre (AI), MacDiarmid Institute (AI)