PhD-student: Designing stable thermal voxels for a novel type of catalytic reactor

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The Hybrid Nanosystems group at NWO-Institute AMOLF is looking for a PhD candidate to design metal nanoparticle geometries that can withstand intense laser excitation without changing morphology. The project is part of the national CATLight consortium, which aims at designing and fabricating a completely new catalytic reactor for gas-phase catalysis solely based on light excitation. The consortium combines expertise in nanophotonics, spectroscopy and catalysis and consists of academic (AMOLF, Utrecht University) and industrial (BASF, Delmic, DENSSolutions, ExxonMobil, Shell, Toyota Motor Europe) partners.

This PhD project contributes to the novel reactor by developing metal nanoparticles (NPs) with high thermal stability. Plasmonic metal NPs are known to reach high temperatures from resonant light absorption. Embedded in a chemical reactor, these nanostructures and their heat generation define “thermal voxels”, i.e. small volumes with tailored temperature profiles from external optical excitation. However, long-term spatio-temporal temperature control with plasmonic nanoparticles has not been demonstrated. The main challenge is the thermal stability of the metal NPs. For example, anisotropic gold nanoparticles reshape towards their thermodynamically stable shape at hundreds of degrees below their bulk melting temperature. Particle reshaping may even be enhanced under catalytic conditions. In this project, you will therefore design plasmonic nano-heaters for highest temperature stability in realistic reactor conditions while minimizing the input energy use using electromagnetic and heat diffusion simulations. You will experimentally realise these nano-heaters and measure the achieved temperatures using electron microscopy and/or optical nanothermometry techniques under direct excitation. Finally, you will develop a toolbox for assessing the stability of the nanoheaters in-situ under realistic atmospheric conditions and tackle their respective stability challenges by performing novel in-situ electron microscopy experiments under light excitation. With this project, you will contribute to a more sustainable future as the novel catalytic reactor design has the potential to replace current techniques based on burning fossil fuels.

This project will be in close collaboration with the other consortium partners, and you will be part of all consortium activities such as symposia, workshops, and mutual visits. In particular, this PhD position is co-supervised by Dr. Freddy Rabouw from Utrecht University.

About the group

You will perform this research in the Hybrid Nanosystems research group headed by Wiebke Albrecht at AMOLF. The Hybrid Nanosystems group combines single-particle optical and advanced electron microscopy to answer fundamental questions about the complex interaction between different classes of nanomaterials. We also explore new architectures for creating functional and smart hybrid nanosystems.

AMOLF performs leading research on the fundamental physics and design foundations of natural and man-made complex matter, with research in 3 interconnected themes: sustainable energy materials, information in matter, and autonomous matter. AMOLF leverages these insights to create novel functional materials, and to find solutions to societal challenges in renewable energy, green ICT, and health care. AMOLF is one of the NWO-I national research institutes located at the Amsterdam Science Park, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. It has approximately 130 scientists and a total size of ca. 200 employees. Furthermore, it hosts the Amsterdam NanolabNL clean room, which is part of the national NanoLabNL cleanroom network. See also


We are looking for a highly motivated candidate with a background in physics, chemistry or related fields and strong social, organizational and communication skills as well as an interest in plasmonics. Excellent verbal and written English skills are essential. You will need to meet the requirements for an MSc-degree, to ensure eligibility for a Dutch PhD examination.

Terms of employment

The position is intended as full-time (40 hours / week, 12 months / year) appointment in the service of the Netherlands Foundation of Scientific Research Institutes (NWO-I) for the duration of four years, with a starting salary of gross € 2,590 per month and a range of employment benefits. After successful completion of the PhD research a PhD degree will be granted at at a Dutch University. Several courses are offered, specially developed for PhD-students. AMOLF assists any new foreign PhD-student with housing and visa applications and compensates their transport costs and furnishing expenses.

Contact info

Dr. Wiebke Albrecht
Group leader: Hybrid Nanosystems
Phone: +31 (0)20-754 7100

You can respond to this vacancy online via the button below.
Please annex your:
–  Resume;
–  Motivation on why you want to join the group (max. 1 page).

It is important to us to know why you want to join our team. This means that we will only consider your application if it entails your motivation letter.

Applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis and as soon as an excellent match is made, the position will be filled.

Online screening may be part of the selection.

AMOLF is highly committed to an inclusive and diverse work environment. Hence, we greatly encourage candidates from any personal background and perspective to apply.

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About the employer

AMOLF carries out fundamental physics with an open eye for applications. The researchers work closely with universities, institutes, and companies.

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