Postgraduate research opportunities

The birth of crystals: new understanding of nucleation by localised triggering and direct measurement

We will develop an innovative technique to study crystal nucleation, using an optical tweezer to generate a localized shear flow in a crystallizing solution, thus triggering nucleation in a known position enabling direct measurement of the growing nucleus.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


28 February 2021


3 years


Candidates should be strongly motivated to undertake multidisciplinary research in a highly collaborative environment. You should have or be about to obtain a good degree (at least 2.1) in chemical engineering, physics or a related subject, with excellent laboratory, data analysis and communication skills. Experience in optics, crystallization processes and/or computational data analysis would be an advantage.

Project Details

Despite being ubiquitous in manufacturing processes and in nature, crystal nucleation—the ‘birth’ of the ‘first’ crystal during the transition from liquid or solution to solid—remains a fundamental scientific puzzle. From water ice forming in the refrigerator, to manufacturing pharmaceutical vaccines and medicines, nucleation of the crystal phase is the key first step. The problem is that nucleation occurs randomly (with a probability determined by temperature or solute concentration), making direct observation of a single event—being in the right place at the right time—a major challenge and key barrier to better fundamental understanding.

In this project we will develop an innovative technique using an optical tweezer to generate a localized shear flow in a crystallizing solution, thus triggering nucleation in a known, directly observable position. We will then use light scattering to measure the structure and shape of the growing nucleus, interpreted through refining computational models of the nucleus against the measured data.

This challenging project will bring the phd candidate excellent research experience across crystallization processes, cutting-edge optical control and measurement, and data analysis using computational modelling.

In addition to undertaking cutting edge research, students are also registered for the postgraduate certificate in researcher development (pgcert), which is a supplementary qualification that develops a student’s skills, networks and career prospects.

Funding Details

The project is fully funded for Home UK/EU fees + stipend). 


Contact us

James Weir Building, 75 Montrose Street, Glasgow, G1 1XJ

How to apply

Apply for this project here – please quote the project title in your application.

During the application you'll be asked for the following information and evidence uploaded to the application:

  • your full contact details
  • transcripts and certificates of all degrees
  • proof of English language proficiency if you are not from a majority English-speaking country as recognised by UKVI
  • two references, one of which must be academic. Please see our guidance on referees
  • funding or scholarship information
  • international students must declare any previous UK study

By filling these details out as fully as possible, you'll avoid any delay to your application being processed by the University.

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