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Surfaces, Microstructure and Fracture Group

Applications are sought for several fully-funded PhD studentships, to start in October 2015.


Applications are sought for several fully-funded PhD studentships.  The positions will be held in the SMF Fracture group at the Cavendish Laboratory (Dept. of Physics), University of Cambridge, to start in October 2015.


1. Effects of Nanostructure on Dynamic Fracture Mechanisms

Dynamic fracture is an important physical process that underpins the use of materials in many real-world applications (i.e. crack propagation and failure, before information is communicated through the complete system).  However, the effect of material nanostructure (both lattice and grain structure) on such events is not well understood; for example how inter-grain boundary strength and lattice anisotropy influence crack propagation and growth under tension.

The aim of this project is to identify and study correlations between material microstructure and dynamic fracture response at high strain rates.  In particular, it will likely include comparing polycrystalline metals with amorphous glasses. The project will involve careful experiments using a recently developed high-rate loading technique, supported by a range of diagnostic instrumentation (although we expect to develop a range of similar, complimentary tests at lower rates).

The project is part of a longstanding industrial collaboration, and will be performed in close co‑operation with related numerical modelling efforts (for example, in association with the Laboratory for Scientific Computing in the Cavendish).


2. Nanomechanics of Polycrystalline Diamond

Diamond is an immensely important material, both from fundamental and applied perspectives. It has exceptional mechanical characteristics as well as remarkable thermal and electrical properties, and is widely used in a variety of industries, from cutting to electronics.

The aim of this project is to gain fundamental understanding into the material degradation mechanisms that affect polycrystalline diamond (PCD), and particularly those that relate to complex industrial cutting environments.  It will involve developing laboratory scale physical models for processes such as impact, wear and thermal fatigue, then relating these to the underlying microstructure of the material, and the governing physical processes.  A wide variety of supporting diagnostics will be involved, likely including electron and atomic force microscopy, micro-tomography and various forms of spectroscopy.

The project will form part of an ongoing collaboration with a major industrial partner, and the candidate will benefit from the opportunity to work directly with them for a period of time.  Similarly, there will be scope to collaborate with numerical modelling groups.  This project will suit someone with a strong practical interest in materials physics, and its application to real-world problems.


3. Reaction Pathways in Energetic Materials

Understanding the response of energetic materials (e.g. explosives and propellants) to stimuli of various forms is both fundamental, and crucial to their use.  Despite having been used for decades, existing approaches to such ‘sensitivity characterisation’ (i.e. response to impact, friction or electrostatic discharge) are designed to give a rather crude ranking of sensitivity, compared to other ‘standard’ energetic materials.  However, we have recently established that certain new materials do not easily conform to such simple rankings, posing an important challenge for the field.

The aim of this project is to gain greater fundamental understanding of energetic initiation, and methods required to describe the process rigorously.  The approach will be to apply modern diagnostic techniques to follow reaction in much greater detail, in response to precise stimuli.  It is likely to include analysis of physical propagation using high speed photography, microscopy and micro-tomography, and assessing changes in chemical reaction using (for example) spectroscopy and radiography. 

The project is part of a longstanding industrial collaboration, and will primarily involve careful experiments and analysis, so will suit applicants with a strong experimental background.   It could also involve a range of supporting simulations (e.g. molecular dynamics or continuum modelling), depending on particular interests.


General Background

The SMF Fracture Group forms a close community with a long heritage of performing world class experiments in the area of materials physics, as described in more detail on our website: . The successful student will hold a degree in Physics, Materials Science, Engineering or a related subject. Specialist prior knowledge is welcome but not necessary and we anticipate applicants being graduates who are new to the area.

For enquiries and more information, please contact Dr Andrew Jardine ( in the first instance. Applications should be made through the University of Cambridge online application system (described at  There is no formal deadline, but applications should be received as soon as possible.