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Neutron Scattering in Confined and Sheared Geometries:

Applications to Biological Lubrication

4-Year PhD Position


Thin soft matter films are ubiquitous and, from ‘smart’ nano-materials through to bio-lubrication, for many of these films, it is of high importance how they respond to a mechanical force. Moreover, in order to understand, predict and tune this response, it is necessary to understand the structural changes behind it. However, going beyond measurements of forces and measuring the near surface structures has been a challenge for a number of decades.

Recently, an approach offering an answer to these challenges has been developed, utilising the high-resolution, penetrating power of neutron scattering techniques. In this setup, one of the rigid surface was replaced by a flexible membrane that can conform to long range waviness or bend around any entrained dust. This has been successfully used in a number of investigations on the structure of soft matter systems under confinement e.g., for poly-electrolyte multilayers and polymer brushes. More recently, the field of study has expanded in to biological systems, where some initial work has just been successfully completed studying the lubricating properties of model articulating cartilage systems. When combined with NR, the particular strength of the setup is in its ability to separate thickness, hydration and density changes in soft and biological films as a function of applied pressure. Information inaccessible with any other combination of techniques.

The scope of this project will be to develop the next generation of this technique, allowing the extraction of structural data under more bio-chemically relevant conditions.


In this PhD project, the candidate will develop a tribometer for the study of thin films that could be integrated into three possible neutron instrument geometries:

  1. Neutron Reflectometry to provide high-resolution structural information perpendicular to the substrate surface. 

  2. Grazing-Incidence-Small Angle Neutron Scattering (GI-SANS) to provide information on in-plane ordering near the surface. 

  3. SANS in transmission to provide information on ordering and particle size distribution averaged across the entire films.


The developed confinement cell will be used to study the mechanisms underlying biological lubrication, focussed particularly on mucus, the viscous fluid that protects most surfaces of the body.


The successful delivery of this project has far-reaching industrial applications, in (amongst others) the pharmaceutical, medical and petrochemical industries, which the candidate will be able to develop towards their own research interests.


The student will join this exciting multi-national, interdisciplinary project, co-supervised by Dr. Javier Sotres (Malmö University, Sweden) and Dr. Rob Barker (University of Kent, U.K.) and will be performed in close collaboration with scientists at two neutron facilities: Dr. Becky Welbourn at ISIS (UK) and Dr. Andrew Jackson at the European Spallation Source (Sweden). Indeed, while the student will be based and enrolled at Malmö University, it is expected that ~4 months/year will be spent in the UK, particularly at the ISIS neutron source. Offering a unique opportunity to experience working at an world-leading international research facility.


If you are an interested and motivated candidate, with a background in Biophysics, Engineering, Chemistry or Physics, please send us an email and we'd be excited to discuss the project further with you.


26000 SEK per month (before tax) for 4 years.

Significant additional funding will be provided to cover living expenses in the U.K.


To be negotiated - September/October 2017.

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