Solve global problems through material design

Do you want to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges? Have you got a background in engineering, chemistry, metallurgy, textile science, applied science or molecular modelling?

At the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) our research is uncovering cleaner, safer energy; tackling the war on waste; reducing the harmful impacts of industries on our environment; and potentially saving billions of dollars for the global economy.

We are always on the lookout for high-quality Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates who are curious problem solvers with a passion for research. Higher degrees by research are fee-free for domestic candidates.

By completing a higher degree by research at IFM, you will:

  • Unlock higher earning potential — Deakin postgraduates earn 36% higher salaries than undergraduates
  • New career opportunities — not available to those without an HDR degree
  • Attain skills valued by every employer — we’re the #1 ranked university in Australia for postgraduate employment
  • Become an expert in your field of work — we’re in the top 1% of universities for global research impact, meaning you’ll contribute to a field you’re passionate about
  • Access a globally connected research community — via our network of 500+ leading organisations across 65 countries
  • Access world-class facilities — enhancing your skills development
  • Study at a world-leading university — Deakin is ranked in the top 1% of universities globally

PhD candidates who receive a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship (DUPRS) get:

  • A stipend of $34,400 per annum tax exempt (2024 rate)
  • Full tuition fee waiver for up to 4 years
  • Relocation allowance (for students arriving from interstate or overseas) from $500 to $1,500 (for single to family)
  • And, for international students only, Single Overseas Student Health Cover policy for the duration of the student visa

Expression of Interest form

Available Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Scholarships

  • Deakin-Bayreuth Cotutelle - Hybrid spider silk/silkworm silk biomaterials

    Dr Ben Allardyce

    Research Topic 

    This exciting collaborative project between Deakin University and Bayreuth University (Germany) will explore new combinations of photo-crosslinkable silkworm silk and spider silk to produce hydrogel bioinks for live cell printing as well as other 3D printing technologies such as Digital Light Processing (DLP) printing. The unique properties of both silk varieties will be exploited to produce inks with tuneable mechanical properties and biodegradation rate to produce next generation materials for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. 

    We are offering a fully funded stipend for a PhD in materials engineering. The position is a cotutelle project between Deakin University (in Australia) and Bayreuth University (in Germany). The student will graduate with a PhD from both universities. The project is based at Deakin University Australia but will involve one year spent in Germany. 

    Skill requirement: 

    The candidate will ideally have a background in biomedical engineering, biochemistry or chemistry. A master’s degree in a relevant field is strongly recommended for entry to the Bayreuth program. 

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Physical-based battery system modelling

    Dr Fangfang Chen

    Research topic

    Multiscale computational models show growing significance in advancing battery technologies today. Those models are based on physical and chemical equations to link battery physical and electrochemical properties to its behaviour, which accelerates the development of new battery materials, designs and algorithms. This is a fast-growing area with a great space to explore. The current research conducted at IFM Deakin University predominantly embraces atomistic molecular modelling methods based on either quantum mechanics or Newton’s law. Those modelling tools have been used for battery materials design at the nanometre scale and smaller dimensions. However, there is a great gap here in Australia’s research landscape when it comes to the adoption and development of newly emergent physical-based models for the design the battery systems from the micrometre to millimetre scale, which could benefit both battery research and manufacturing.

    With the inauguration of the Battery Research Hub 2.0 and the fast development in battery prototyping technologies, our research has generated a generous amount of lab data that could be used as model parameters for physics-based battery system modelling. Different models have been developed in recent years, particularly for advancing lithium-ion battery technology, such as battery lifetime models, porous electrode models, thermal models, degradation models and so on. In this research, we will integrate and deploy pre-existing models in our research and aim to develop new models for future advanced batteries. This work will collaborate with Prof Alejandro A. Franco (The University of Picardy Jules Verne) whose team has unique expertise in physical-based modelling for battery systems (https://www.modeling-electrochemistry.com/research). The work also has a potential opportunity to collaborate with our existing industry partner Calix to develop real industry applications.

    Skill Requirements

    • A science degree in physics, material physics, or physical chemistry.
    • Proficiency in mathematics.
    • Proficiency in at least one coding skill, such as Python.
    • Experience with atomistic-based modeling, like molecular dynamics, is advantageous but not mandatory.

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Sustainable Recycling of Aircraft Aluminium Alloys Using Direct Strip Casting

    Dr Lu Jiang

    Research topic

    Background:
    For decades, aluminium has been the material of choice for those in the aviation and aerospace sectors, owing to its unique blend of lightweight, strength, and ease of work. As the aviation industry gears up for an expected retirement of about 17,000 aircraft by 2030, the urgency for a sustainable and efficient recycling method for aircraft aluminium alloys becomes undeniable. This recycling arena not only offers a lucrative market potential but also boasts a striking reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 95% compared to the production of virgin aluminium. However, challenges persist. The accumulation of impurity elements in the recycling process often renders many aircraft non-recyclable. Consequently, they are relegated to vast desert graveyards or ‘downcycled’ into lower-value products. This situation embodies both a significant environmental concern and a substantial loss of economic opportunity.

    Project Aim:
    The crux of this PhD research revolves around direct strip casting (DSC) – a revolutionary technique in the aluminium recycling arena. DSC has emerged as a potential remedy for the challenges faced in conventional recycling, as it processes molten aluminium directly into sheets, curbing the formation of detrimental intermetallics. A primary challenge lies in understanding the role of scrap-related impurities in aircraft aluminium alloys produced by direct strip casting. Therefore, the principal goal of this PhD project is to fully understand the effects of scrap-related impurities on the microstructure and mechanical properties of aircraft aluminium alloys produced by direct strip casting.

    The specific objectives are:

    • Impurity Impact on Microstructure: Quantify the effect of impurities on the strip-cast microstructure.
    • Precipitation Behaviour Analysis: Understand the effect of impurities on the precipitation behaviour in strip-cast aircraft aluminium alloys.
    • Strengthening Mechanisms Elucidation: Understand the strengthening mechanisms involved and develop an analytical strengthening model.

    Skill Requirements

    • Background in materials science and engineering.
    • Strong familiarity with metals and alloys and their processing.
    • Demonstrated interest in the field of metals and alloys.

    Additional qualifications that would be advantageous:

    • Exposure and training in electron microscopy.
    • Experience with atom probe tomography is a plus.

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Development of Bio-PAN based carbon Fibres

    Professor Minoo Naebe

    Research topic

    In recent years, there has been significant research on the chemical conversion of renewable materials such as propionic acid, glutamic acid, and 3-hydroxypropionic acid into acrylonitrile as sustainable alternatives to traditional petrochemical-based routes. The exploring renewable feedstocks for acrylonitrile production presents a promising avenue for sustainable and environmentally friendly carbon fiber manufacturing. The conversion of these renewable chemicals to acrylonitrile offers potential routes that can contribute to reducing the reliance on petrochemical resources and mitigating environmental impacts leading to sustainable carbon fibre production.

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Smart MXene Textiles for Simultaneous Energy Harvesting and Sensing Applications

    Dr Jizhen Zhang

    Research topic

    This research project aims to pioneer the development of smart MXene textiles capable of efficient energy harvesting from body movement and the environment, alongside seamless integration of high-resolution real-time bio-signal sensing capabilities. By incorporating MXenes into textiles, we will address current challenges in energy yield and bio-signal resolution, leading to advancements in wearable technology and sustainable energy solutions.

    Objectives

    Energy Harvesting: Develop strategies for efficient energy harvesting using MXene-integrated textiles, exploring piezoelectric, triboelectric, and photovoltaic mechanisms to capture energy from mechanical vibrations and sunlight.

    Sensing Capability: Integrate sensors onto the MXene textiles for real-time monitoring of environmental parameters, such as temperature, humidity, and strain.

    Energy-Sensing Synergy: Investigate how the simultaneous energy harvesting process affects the sensing capabilities of the textile, and optimize the design to achieve a synergistic balance between energy generation and sensing performance.

    Skill Requirements

    Candidates who are passionate about advancing the frontiers of wearable technology, energy harvesting, and sensing are encouraged to apply.

    Preferred special skills and expertise:

    Materials Science and Engineering: Candidates should have a strong background in materials science and engineering, with a focus on functional materials such as MXenes. Understanding the properties, synthesis methods, and integration techniques of MXenes into textiles is essential.

    Energy Harvesting Expertise: Proficiency in energy harvesting mechanisms, including piezoelectric, triboelectric, and photovoltaic processes, will be valuable for optimizing energy conversion efficiency from body movement and ambient sources.

    Sensor Development: Experience in sensor design, fabrication, and integration is important to develop high-resolution bio-signal sensing capabilities within the textiles. Knowledge of bioelectronics and signal processing is a plus.

    Although special skills and expertise are preferred, the following criteria are deemed critical in the selection process:

    Communication Skills: Strong written and verbal communication skills are essential for presenting research findings, collaborating with team members.

    Innovation and Creativity: Candidates should be innovative thinkers, capable of proposing novel solutions to challenges in energy harvesting, sensing integration, and wearable technology.

    Join us on this journey to redefine textiles and shape the future of energy harvesting and sensing with smart MXene textiles. Your contributions will play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between materials innovation and real-world applications.

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Microplastics - dyes-cocktails for identification methods development

    Dr Alessandra Sutti

    Research topic

    This project aims to develop a simple method (low processing requirements) to stain microplastics in a differential way using fluorescent dye cocktails, to use fluorescence microscopy as an all-in-one tool for microplastics recognition and identification in environmental samples. The project aims to provide faster and more accesible methods to identify and characterise microplastics, especially in the smaller size range (<200 micron), where other methods fail.

    Microplastics are emerging anthropogenic pollutants that affect ecosystems in a complex way. For instance, they offer a fertile substrate for some microbial species that are otherwise found in small numbers, causing local biological and chemical imbalance.

    While their presence is known to be widespread, the composition of microplastics in the environment appears to vary geographically and temporally and so does their microbiological impact. Knowing which microplastics are where is important to understand their complex bio-impact.

    There is still little knowledge on the geo-temporal distribution of microplastics in terms of composition. While the techniques to identify microplastics advance rapidly, the methods used to identify microplastics’ composition still involve extensive processing (strong oxidising conditions, teflon filtration) and take advantage of equipment such as FT-IR microscopes, which are surface-targeting techniques, thus very sensitive to surface contamination. These methods also are limited to the larger microplastics, being often “”blind”” to smaller microplastics (e.g. textile fibres and textile coating debris) which have been demonstrated to be significantly more abundant by number and of greater concern from a toxicity perspective. From an environmental forensics perspective, the current techniques are also very prone to contamination. This project ultimately aims to simplify sample processing and identification to minimise contamination and to increase knowledge gathering.

    Fluorescence microscopy has been used widely to highlight microplastics in samples, albeit mostly in a binary manner (as in “”is this plastic? Y/N””), after extensive sample processing. Fluorescence microscopy has also been combined with FT-IR to provide more identification power for microplastics harnessing the solvatochromic effect (fluorescence colour change depending on the plastic). These early results indicate that solvatochromic and diffential dye uptake methods may be suitable for accelerating sample analysis. Many fluorescent dyes are available in the market, but only a few have been tested in the literature.

    This project will fill this knowledge gap, by including a range of inexpensive dyes. It will investigate the interactions between fluorescent dyes and their cocktails and microplastics of selected composition. It is hypothesised that the solvatochromic effect and differential dye uptake will provide sufficient differences in the fluorescence signal to facilitate microplastics identification in unknown samples. The project will test the concept and evaluate technique sensitivity and specificity (composition) also in environmental samples. If successful, this project will provide a faster and more accessible way to identify microplastics by composition, analyse material waste streams including textile waste generated in handling and washing textiles and monitor microplastics exposure with the final aim of influencing policy (standards development, etc.). A potential outcome of this project is the identification of plastic-type-specific dye mixtures for use in targeted analysis. Broader impact could be foreseen in accelerating materials identification

    Skill Requirements

    • Chemistry or biochemistry background

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Sustainable Critical Minerals Recovery through Electrochemical Separation

    Dr Anthony Somers

    Research topic

    Critical minerals for the rapidly increasing renewable energy market are in high demand. Most of this demand is currently being met by primary mining production, however, waste streams such as spent batteries and permanent magnets or mining operation tailings are being targeted to supplement supply. The revaluing of such waste streams is seen as essential to both meet demand for these minerals and maximise the sustainability of the industry and has become a key expectation. To economically extract the desired minerals from these streams hydrometallurgy methods are predominantly used, which can be chemically and energy intensive. Production steps often rely on large pH changes, or thermal swings for separation, which can use toxic reagents, be energy intensive and generate secondary waste streams.

    Electrochemical separation techniques, such as Capacitive De-Ionisation (CDI), use a potential difference to concentrate a particular species at an electrode and hence separate it from the stream. By reversing the polarisation a concentrated stream is then recovered. Such a step could replace typical recovery methods in hydrometallurgy, which often use the addition of chemicals to a leachate to separate through precipitation and filtration. CDI has proven to be efficient and scalable for applications such as desalination or heavy metal removal from water. It has also been shown that by manipulating an appropriate speciation in the leachate, relatively small potentials can result in high selectivity, thus minimising unwanted side reactions such as water splitting and improving efficiency. Furthermore, the use of onsite renewable energy can be used to directly supply the electrical energy, thus increasing sustainability. The effectiveness of CDI can be enhanced by using ion selective membranes and functionalised electrode coatings, such as poly(vinylferrocene).

    This project will investigate the integration of electrochemical and hydrometallurgical separation to improve process sustainability for the recovery of REEs from tailings. Tailings typically have low concentrations of these REEs, particularly with high valent state ions such as REE and thus CDI can be particularly useful. The project will explore the effects of the leaching speciation and electrode functionalisation on the efficiency of electrochemical REE separation. The laboratories at IFM Burwood are well setup for such research, with extensive electrochemistry capabilities and supervisors Somers and Kar have the required skills and experience in electrochemistry, chemistry and characterisation, along with a history of successful student supervision.

    A current series of industrial projects to develop an at-scale, serial and multi-stream processing plant for the recovery of critical materials from legacy mine tailings is being undertaken. This industry project is required to be at a relatively high TRL level, thus is based mostly on proven hydrometallurgy techniques. The electrochemical separation project proposed here represents an important opportunity to undertake more fundamental research that could contribute to the project, as for example one modular stream within the process. Successful outcomes would contribute to future funding opportunities, but also make a wider impact on the sustainable and sovereign processing of critical minerals in Australia.

    Skill Requirements

    • A chemistry or materials background is desirable.

    Submit an Expression of Interest

  • Towards an effective small-scale test to replace full-scale burst test for energy transmission pipeline

    Dr Jingsi Jiao

    Fracture control is an ever-green topic for the pipeline industry owing to pipeline operation’s high internal pressure. One major concern for the decision makers of pipeline designs is that limited confidence has been built from existing database that clearly demonstrates the ‘newly’ designed line pipe steels could provide the same safety level as thicker traditional steel grades.

    Line pipe steel’s ability to resist fracture is a critical design factor that plays a centric role for governing the operational safety of a pipeline (regardless of if it is for natural gas, hydrogen, or CO2). Full Scale Burst Test (FSBT) is the most reliable testing method to evaluate the fracture toughness. However, FSBT is extremely expensive (million USD per test); and therefore, cannot be conducted on a regular basis for new line pipe steel products. The existing small/lab-scale tests, serve as test alternatives, failed to correlate to Full-Scale fracture propagation behaviours.

    A novel small-scale test (Omega) was proposed by our research group and was found to be more advantageous than established methods. In the latest work, we reported that Omega is an independent material parameter to the fracture speed, and it robustly describes steady-state fracture propagation that was observed in FSBTs. Although the industrial applicability of Omega has been experimentally examined over a wide range of line pipe steels, its reported correlation to Full Scale fracture behavior is yet to be systematically analyzed and confirmed, with correlating the existing data collections to the proposed new tests using Baosteel steel products. The high-level objective of this project is to develop a Small-Scale test that can establish correlations for Baosteel line pipe products to its Full-Scale fracture performance without performing expensive Full Scale Burst Tests.

    Skill Requirements

    Background in materials science and engineering is desirable

    Submit an Expression of Interest

Frequently asked questions – Completing a PhD at IFM

  • What degrees are available?

  • Can I get a scholarship?

    Australian Government and Deakin funded scholarships are available to help pay for course fees and living costs, and a number of our projects come with externally funded scholarships. Our current project and scholarship opportunities can be found here (filter by level of study to ‘Higher Degrees Research’).

    Learn more about Higher Degrees by Research (HDR) at Deakin including entry requirements, here.

  • How do I apply?

    If you are interested in becoming a HDR candidate with IFM, please complete our Expression of Interest form.

    Want to learn more about your potential supervisors? Check the about us page.

  • How long will it take?

    At Deakin, students are expected to complete their PhD in three years (full-time study). However, because life happens and research does not always go to plan, some people need a little longer. When you enrol, your maximum candidature date is set at four years (full-time study).

  • Can you complete a PhD in less time?

    The minimum period of candidature for a PhD is two years. However, it is very uncommon due to the volume and quality of work required to satisfy the requirements of the degree. It takes time to become an expert in your field after all!

    If you are looking to undertake a similar program in just two years, consider a Master by Research at IFM (in Engineering or Science) instead. Completing a Master can be a great way to expand your research skills before committing to a PhD. It is also possible to transfer from a Master to a PhD during your candidature.

  • How is the degree examined?

    The length of a standard PhD thesis (or dissertation) at Deakin is around 80,000 words. At IFM we also require students to complete an oral examination (similar to a defence, or Viva voce in other countries) usually completed over Zoom.

  • What is PhD Xtra

    Deakin students benefit from an individual learning plan and additional training opportunities as part of the PhD Xtra program.

Hear from our PhD candidates

Contact

Dr Zoe Smith - Senior HDR Support Coordinator ifm-hdr-admin@deakin.edu.au