Prof Frank Vollmer

University of Exeter, Living Systems Institute

Exeter EX4 4QD, United Kingdom

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Nanochemistry - Functional ‘Smart’ Nanoparticles and their Sensing Applications - PhD Funded



Owing to their small size (normally in the range of 1 – 100 nm), nanoparticles exhibit unique physico-chemical properties, which are different from those of bulk materials, and that can be used to construct novel and improved sensing devices; in particular, optical sensors and biosensors. Only recently, nanoparticle based optical sensors have been developed that are now capable of detecting even single small molecules and their reactions. The application of nanoparticle-based sensors in single-molecule biosensing opens up a range of interesting fundamental studies and applications. For example, the next generation of bioanalytical devices will be based on ‘smart’ nanoparticles to analyse biological and environmental samples at the single molecule level.

We are interested in developing nanoparticle-based single molecule sensors by controlling synthesis of the nanoparticles. Our goal is to synthesize nanoparticles with specific chemical and optical properties. Examples for this are nanoparticles that respond to light at a certain wavelength and that catalyse chemical reactions. The nanoparticle chemistry combined with single-molecule sensitivity of the nanoparticle sensors gives us an eye into the nanoworld. Our laboratory uses this ‘eye’ to observe chemistry and chemical reactions not accessible with traditional analytical chemistry tools. With our single-molecule nanoparticle sensors we are able to understand mechanisms of catalysis. We can control chemical reactions with light. We explore surface-based reactions and their mechanisms, especially those that have been obfuscated by the use of traditional analysis techniques.

Your Project


You will develop nanoparticle chemistries to tailor the capabilities of ‘smart’ single-molecule sensor devices. You will develop synthetic strategies to control nanoparticle size, shape and composition. You will develop surface chemistries to modify the nanoparticle surface. You will then apply the nanoparticles as sensors to explore catalysis, surface chemistry, electrochemistry and biochemistry, all at the single-molecule level. Your nanoparticles will provide you with an ‘eye’ into the nanoworld to explore the nanochemistry of various molecules. You will study various reactions and their mechanisms which all have high relevance in Nature and technology. At the single-molecule level, you will study reaction mechanisms which have been hidden from analysis, such as the disulphide exchange reaction. Disulfide exchange reaction controls the redox potential in cells and it is also the basis for molecular devices, such as molecular walkers and molecular machines.You will also develop applications based on your nanosensors. An example for this are portable health and environmental monitors and smart dust sensors. You will work as part of a larger team in Prof Vollmer’s group which is composed of chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists.

What we are looking for


An enthusiastic chemist with background in inorganic and organic chemistry. Successful candidates ideally have some experience with one of the following colloidal chemistry, nanoparticles synthesis, surface chemistry, electrochemistry or physical chemistry.