Graduate Project Areas

The following is a list of PhD Projects that are currently available in the PFPC. The list is far from exhaustive. If you do have a specific interest then please contact the individual supervisor/s listed under each topic to discuss these particular projects and others that may be available.


No projects available

Emulsion Behaviour

Project: Coalescence phenomena and liquid-liquid systems

We are seeking a PhD student to conduct a research project in the area of emulsion behaviour and coalescence phenomena. Applicants should have recently completed a degree in chemical engineering or chemistry with honours (H2A or H1).

This project investigates the interfacial forces between oil-water interfaces using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). AFM methods will be used to measure both static and hydrodynamic forces between two deformable interfaces (i.e. oil droplets). The affect of electrolytes, surfactants, (zwitterionic, anionic or cationic) and polymers in aqueous solutions on the interaction between droplets will be the focus of this investigation.

Emulsion systems are of great importance in areas such as: food technology, petroleum science, solvent extraction, chemical manufacturing and cosmetics. Understanding the interfacial forces is crucial in controlling the stability in these colloidal systems.

For more information about the project, please contact Professor Geoff Stevens.

For information on other projects available in this area please contact:
G Stevens, R Dagastine, D Chan, S Carnie

Project: Dynamic interactions in emulsions and ‘soft colloids’

Emulsions of one liquid dispersed in another are prevalent in materials processing in industries as varied as food processing and hydrometallurgy. At the same time “soft colloids” or solid particle with soft bio-films or polymeric coatings are common nanotechnology, advanced materials, and bio-technology applications. In all of these cases controlling and understanding the inter-droplet or inter-particle interactions on the scale of nanometers is crucial to process improvement and new developments. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through a collection of indirect methods to predict their behaviour. This project will study these interactions directly using a novel method employing atomic force microscopy to gain new insights into the interactions in theses systems. This approach will be coupled with complementary indirect methods to discern correlations between several types of molecular structures and the inter-droplet interaction forces in systems with clear industrial relevance.

The successful candidate will be a member of the Particulate Fluids Processing Centre, and will interact with staff and students in the Chemistry, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Applied Mathematics departments.

For more information please contact: Professor Ray Dagastine

Surfactant & Polymer Structure in Solution

Project: Controlling interaction in complex fluids with application to nanomaterial processing

Complex fluids are mixtures of polymers, particles and liquids that interact to form structure in the fluid imparting unique properties unlike bulk fluids. The size and interactions between there structures is on the scale of nanometers. Complex fluids are commonly the precursors in producing novel materials used in nanotechnology applications. Understanding and controlling the interactions of these particulate and polymer additives is crucial in advance materials development and processing. One class of polymers called polyelectrolytes, or polymers with individual charges on each monomer unit, exhibit structuring in fluids, which can be exploited to control particle interactions in complex fluids. The goal in this research is to better understand how polyelectrolytes mediate these interactions to illuminate new methods for material development or improve existing nano-material processing approaches. This project will employ a variety of sate of the art in force measurement techniques including optical tweezers and microscopy method called total internal reflection microscopy and atomic force microscopy.

The successful candidate will be a member of the Particulate Fluids Processing Centre, and will interact with staff and students across the Departments of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Mathematics & Statistics and the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne.

For more information please contact: Professor Ray Dagastine

Minerals - Processing & Materials

Project: Nanostructural characterisation of advanced geopolymeric materials

The search for an advanced construction material that will both match the durability of ancient concrete and lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions by the cement industry has stimulated interest in geopolymer technology in recent times.

Geopolymers are formed by the reaction of industrial waste materials (coal fly ash and/or metallurgical slags) or naturally-occuring reactive aluminosilicate materials with an alkaline solution, generating a product which performs comparably to Portland cement in many ways but with around an 80% reduction in Greenhouse emissions. The role of nanostructure in determining the physical properties of geopolymers is an area of much speculation, and which holds the key to the widespread utilisation of these materials as high-performance and low-cost ceramic matrices.

The basis of the proposed project is the fundamental nanostructural exploration of the relationships between zeolites, traditional cements and geopolymers, with a view towards optimisation of a geopolymer synthesis process. The proposed work forms part of an extensive research effort, and will make use of the new experimental facilities at the Australian Synchrotron and the OPAL Reactor to conduct X-ray and neutron-based characterisation of geopolymers and related materials. The specific nature of a particular PhD project could be designed by taking the background and aptitude of the candidate into account. For example, it is possible to design a project with a more engineering focus, or with more emphasis on inorganic chemistry and mechanisms. International collaboration is also a large part of the work of our research group, and opportunities to spend time working overseas may become avaiable through the course of the project.

The successful candidate will be a member of the Particulate Fluids Processing Centre, and will interact with staff and students across the Departments of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Mathematics & Statistics and the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne.

For more information please contact: The Geopolymer and Mineral Processing Group

Controlled Porous Materials

Project: Biomaterials and devices for soft tissue engineering

The Tissue Engineering Group in the Particulate Fluids Processing Centre conducts research into tissue engineering and biomaterials, with a particular focus on techniques for growth of three-dimensional soft tissues. We have developed techniques for the production of biodegradable polymer constructs including hydrogels, porous scaffolds with tailored morphology for cell growth and microspheres for bioactive molecule delivery. We have expertise in fabrication, surface modification and physicochemical characterisation of biological tissues and biomaterials, encapsulation and release of biomolecules and in vitro testing of biomaterials. Our research involves collaborations with engineers, surgeons, cell biologists and mathematicians and includes both in vitro and in vivo studies of the developed biomaterial constructs. We have well-established collaborations with researchers at the O’Brien Institute, the Australian Tissue Engineering Centre and the Department of Physiology.

We are seeking PhD students interested in this field to work on topics including:

  • development of tailored biomolecule delivery vehicles for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine;
  • optimising biomaterial construct design for soft tissue engineering;
  • quantifying the mechanics of soft tissues and exploring the potential of mechanotransduction in their regeneration.

Applicants should have an honours (H2A or H1) degree in Chemical Engineering or a related discipline. Experience in the biological sciences would be an advantage. Strong interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to work in a multidisciplinary team are also vital.

For more information please contact Associate Professor Andrea O’Connor.

Project: Development of nanoporous materials for bioseparations

We are seeking a PhD student to commence a project on the development of nanoporous materials for bioseparations. Applicants should have recently completed a degree in Chemical Engineering or Chemistry with honours (H2A or H1).

The successful applicant would join a team of researchers in the Particulate Fluids Processing Centre across the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the School of Chemistry, at the University of Melbourne. This research is developing new high performance adsorbents for bioprocess engineering based on templated nanoporous silica materials. It will lead to significant advances in advanced materials and adsorbent technology, downstream processing for the biotechnology industries, and understanding of tailoring interactions used for difficult bioseparations. It will have important benefits for processes involving protein purification, such as bioplasma processing, food and wine processing. The new adsorbents will lead to reductions in the costs, energy usage and waste generation of Australian industries.

For more information please contact Associate Professor Andrea O’Connor.

Project: Remediation of contaminated sites in cold regions (Antarctica)

Since 2004, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Particulate Fluids Processing Centre have operated collaborative projects for the remediation of contaminated sites on the Antarctic continent and sub-Antarctic Islands. Currently, there is a need to manage and treat meltwater that may contain high hydrocarbon and/or nutrient concentrations prior to release of that water to the environment. This water originates from on-going remediation activities such as: biopiles, tests pits, excavations or fuel storage tank bunding. To achieve this objective, a water treatment facility constructed to treat heavy metal contaminated meltwater during the Thala Valley Tip Site remediation program will be retrofitted during the 2015/16 field season on site at Casey Station, Antarctica.

We are currently looking for suitable PhD students to contribute to this project specifically related to biologically activated carbon filters and ion exchange processes, or identification and optimisation of coagulants and flocculants for hydrocarbon contaminants in remote environments.

Candidates should have vailability to travel to Casey Station, Antarctica from November 2015 – February 2016.

For more information about the project, please contact Dr Kathryn Mumford or Professor Geoff Stevens.