A student walking down a corridor of the Sydney Nano lab

Unique PhD opportunities

Accelerating careers to solve society’s greatest problems
Nanotechnology has the potential to address society’s greatest challenges. The Sydney Nano Grand Challenge Scholarships aim to develop future research leaders with a strong commitment to using technological development to create a lasting global impact.

The Sydney Nano Grand Challenges are visionary research initiatives, selected for their social, economic and scientific impact. These scholarships provide unique opportunities for the best and brightest PhD students to tackle these critical global challenges, and to receive world-class training and professional development to accelerate their careers.

Projects range from extracting clean drinking water from the air, creating circuits that interface with the brain, using quantum computers to predict new materials, ensuring the safety of nanomedicine, capturing carbon from the atmosphere, to building nanorobots that navigate the body to diagnose and treat disease.

Our scholars will form a dedicated team, working with world-class researchers and mentors, to create disruptive nanoscale technologies with a lasting social impact.

Investing in research leaders

  1. World-leading multidisciplinary research opportunities in nanoscience, with high quality supervision and access to cutting edge-facilities 
  2. Stipends from $32,000 - $40,000 per year, depending on project 
  3. Professional development through academic and industry mentoring programs  
  4. Intensive entrepreneurship training with a record of start-up success 
  5. Membership in the Sydney Nano community of scholars

Grand Challenge Research Areas

Vision: to capture enough water from the atmosphere to alleviate the effect of drought by providing water for consumption by humans and animals, and for irrigating plants.
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Vision: to build molecular nanorobots, self-assembled from biomolecules, to navigate the body to detect and treat early disease.
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Vision: to realise a new paradigm for restoring neural function through the convergence of neural biology and electrical stimulation with nanotechnology.
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Vision: to simulate any new material, from single atoms to fully functioning devices, incorporating quantum computing, multiscale simulation and machine learning.
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Vision: to establish transforming capabilities to effectively mitigate the risks and social concerns associated with the use of nanomaterials.
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Vision: to harness CO2 as a resource to manufacture fuels and chemicals as well as use sustainable energy technologies to replace traditional energy devices.
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How to apply

Step 1: indentify challenge area and project

Step 2: submit an expression of interest to the supervisory team by email, providing information on research experience and qualifications

Step 3: the supervisory team will contact applicants to discuss the project and the next steps to take

Step 4: once accepted by the supervisory team, a full application can be made for admission and RTP scholarship if eligible

Additional resources:

Applying for postgraduate study at the University of Sydney

Postgraduate research scholarships

International postgraduate research scholarships

Available Projects

Contact: Martijn De Sterke or Chiara Neto

Eligibility: has been accepted and received an RTP or equivalent scholarship

Stipend: $32,700 p.a. for 3 years

Overview: Maintaining a stable supply of drinking water in Australia is a continual challenge. For Australia, one of the driest continents, it is particularly important as drought affects entire communities and entire ecosystems. The millennium drought from the late 90's is estimated to have cost Australia $40 Billion. Existing technical solutions to water shortages are energy intensive, result in water wastage through evaporation, or are potentially environmentally damaging.

Harvesting water directly from the atmosphere is an increasingly popular alternative, which could provide an energy-effective and localised method of water capture, especially useful in remote communities where the local humidity is high.

Project 1. ACWA techno-economic feasibility

Contact: Dianne Wiley

Professor Dianne Wiley and her team in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Sydney is investigating the techno-economic feasibility and quality of water captured using our advanced nanomaterial surface. The team will identify and evaluate improvements in system design that enable low cost water capture as a means of addressing global water shortages.

Project 2. Nanostructured polymer coatings for atmospheric water condensation

Contact: Chiara Neto

In this PhD project, we aim to optimise the potential for the passive collection of atmospheric water using nanostructured polymer surfaces. These surfaces are designed to facilitate the nucleation of water droplets and also the roll-off of the formed droplets, so as to maximise the efficiency of water collection relative to flat surfaces. The ultimate goal is to design new water capture devices that can help us provide sustainable sources of water.

The project primarily involves performing experiments using a wide range of surface fabrication and characterisation techniques such as atomic force microscopy, contact angle goniometry, ellipsometry, and optical characterisation. The modification of solid surfaces using advanced surface coatings will be performed both in the lab and through external collaborations.

This project is part of the larger multidisciplinary effort that underpins the Grand Challenge on ‘Advanced Capture of Water from the Atmosphere”. The successful candidate will work together with chemists, physicists, hydrologists, chemical engineers, plant physiologists, and design specialist to come up with a holistic solution for water collection.

Project 3. Optical properties of bubbly media

Contact: Martijn de Sterke and Boris Kuhlmey

We are looking for PhD students to conduct research in the context of the strongly interdisciplinary Advanced Capture of Water from the Atmosphere (ACWA) Grand Challenge from the University of Sydney Nano Institute. The student will conduct theoretical and numerical research on the optical properties of mixtures of a lightly absorbing uniform background medium that contains air bubbles. We are interested in the optical absorption and reflection of such media as the properties and dimensions of the constituent materials changes. The day–to–day supervision will be carried out by Prof. Martijn de Sterke and by A/Prof. Boris Kuhlmey from the School of Physics.

We are looking for students with an honours degree or equivalent in physics or applied mathematics who are interested in fundamental research in optics. Ideally the student has a good working knowledge of electromagnetism and an interest in simulations using supercomputers. The student is expected to be comfortable working in a multidisciplinary environment and to contribute to the general operations of Sydney Nano, for example through outreach activities.

Contact: Shelley Wickham or Anna Waterhouse

Eligibility: domestic students must apply for and receive an RTP or equivalent scholarship, international stipends may be available

Stipend: $38,000 p.a. for 3 years

Overview: Heart disease is one of the world’s biggest killers and current diagnostic methods are inadequate for early disease detection. Molecular-level changes in early heart disease occur on the nanoscale. We are building molecular nanorobots, autonomous and programmable nanomachines self-assembled from molecules, for early detection and intervention of disease. All projects are highly interdisciplinary and open to students from a broad range of backgrounds, including: chemistry, physics, biochemistry, pharmacology, biological and medical sciences, biomedical, materials, chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Project 1. Self-assembling DNA origami Nanorobots

In the emerging field of bottom-up nanotechnology, smart design of molecular interactions leads to the self-assembly of smaller building blocks into more complex structures. ‘DNA origami’ is a versatile method for folding strands of DNA into complex 3D nanostructures, which can be used to scaffold guest molecules such as proteins, lipids and drugs, with geometrical control and nanoscale feature size. Alongside structural elements, a range of dynamic and environmentally responsive elements can also be built from DNA. This project aims to use hierarchical assembly of DNA origami to build a core for our synthetic nanorobots, and to incorporate a range of multifunctional dynamic components.

Project 2. Nanorobot sensing in the body by MRI

Superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONS) have the the ability to act as smart non-toxic constrast agents for MRI. In this project nanorobots will be developed to detect specific molecular targets linked to early stage arthrescleroic lesions in blood vessels, and to interact with MRI and other medical imaging technologies.

Project 3. Hemocompatibility by design

There is no ‘one size fits all approach’ to biocompatibility. Compatibility is a systems property, and is only meaningful in reference to specific scale, function, material and location in the body. It is essential that our nanorobots are intrinsically compatible with blood, vasculature and the immune system. This project will investigate the hematological and immunological compatibility of nanomaterials and establish biomimetic solutions for nanorobot development and in vitro and in vivo models for nanorobot evaluation.

Contact: Gregg Suaning or Zdenka Kuncic

Eligibility: has been accepted and received an RTP or equivalent scholarship

Stipend: $32,700 p.a. for 3 years

Project 1. Neuromorphic nanowire synthetic synapses for restoring neural function

This project aims to build a neural interface comprised of electrically responsive nanowires that self-assemble to form a highly interconnected, complex network of synthetic synapses. This neuromorphic nanowire network will be developed for application to restoring critical communication pathways within the neural circuitry that have been damaged by injury or neurological disease.   

Contact: Ivan Kassal or Lamiae Azizi

Eligibility: has been accepted and received an RTP or equivalent scholarship

Stipend: $40,000 p.a. from 1 July 2019 until 31 Dec 2020, with possibility of extension depending on funding

Project 1. Quantum computing for materials discovery

The properties of many materials are determined by quantum-mechanical interactions at the tiniest scales, which are difficult to simulate on ordinary computers. By contrast, quantum effects can be easily simulated on quantum computers, making materials science the killer app for quantum computers. This project spans from the development of new algorithms to their implementation on existing small-scale quantum computers at the University of Sydney.

Project 2. Multiscale materials modelling

The number of atoms in a macroscopic object is enormous, making it impossible to precisely describe every detail of a functioning device. Multiscale modelling is about building bridges between simulation techniques at different length scales, from the subatomic to the macroscopic. This project will develop new approaches for connecting simulations at different levels of complexity to show how the function of materials, such as photovoltaics or heterogeneous catalysts, emerges from interactions across vastly different length scales.

Project 3. Machine learning for materials science

Even if we could model any material, the space of all possible candidate materials for a particular application exceeds the number of atoms in the universe, making it impossible to simulate them all and choose the best. This project will use the latest in artificial intelligence to make sense of the wealth of data accumulated through our simulations. Machine learning models will be trained on materials that successfully perform a particular function in order efficiently identify promising new candidates from the vast space of possibilities.

Contact: Wojtek Chrzanowski or Elizabeth New

Eligibility: has been accepted and received an RTP or equivalent scholarship

Stipend: contact for details

Project 1: High-throughput, machine learning-supported assessment of health & safety impacts of engineered nanomaterials 

Nanoparticles are key components of many products including food, cosmetics, sunscreen, pharmaceuticals and batteries. Human and environmental exposure to nanoparticles is therefore inevitable, but much remains to be learnt about the potential toxicity of nanoparticles. The effects of nanoparticles on cells remains far from understood. With the increasing number of nanomaterials in consumer products it is critical to develop models for high throughput screening of toxicity. Such models will underpin subsequent development of machine learning algorithms to predict the safety of nanomaterials. We are looking for enthusiastic researchers to join a multi-disciplinary team to investigate potential and health & safety impacts of engineered nanomaterials. The main objective of the research is to develop new classes of fluorescent assays, and organ-on-chip-based high-throughput models for safety and toxicity screening, which then will set the basis for machine learning algorithms. This project will also identify the mechanisms linking nanomaterial physicochemical properties to biological and hazardous outcomes in tissue culture cells (in vitro) and in animal models (in vivo).

Project 2: Nano-based approaches to multidrug resistance 

Bacterial infections and multidrug resistance have become one of the biggest challenges in modern medicine. We are at the verge of an ‘antibiotic resistance apocalypse’, so the search for new, effective antimicrobial materials is thus critically important to protect our health. Nanomaterials, through their unique physico-chemical properties, offer attractive solution to this global problem. However, it is necessary to ensure that new nanomaterials are nontoxic and safe. Since nanomaterials have only recently emerged, some testing protocols needs to be updated or developed to account for still not fully elucidated properties of nanomaterials.

We are looking for a candidate to join a multidisciplinary team to develop infection-on-a-chip models for high throughput testing of safety, efficacy and toxicity of antimicrobial materials. Secondly, a deep understanding of nanomaterials interactions with cells and bacteria will guide the development of new classes of antimicrobial materials, which are not only effective but most importantly safe to humans and environment. It is expected that this project will develop new safe-by-design antimicrobial nanomaterials.

Project 3: Nanoparticles and People: Consumer Behaviour and Regulatory Frameworks 

Nanotechnology involves materials at the atomic or ‘nano’ scale; a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nano-metres thick. Nanoparticles are key components of many products including food, cosmetics, sunscreen, pharmaceuticals and batteries. The benefits of this technology are many, but the impact of this technology on people is unknown and there is virtually no research on how exposed consumers are to nanoparticles. We are looking for a candidate to join this cross-faculty project (Business School, Medicine and Health, Chemistry, Engineering) which aims to fill this research gap. The findings from this project will have significant impact in the policy and regulatory sphere, contributing significantly to the nano-people-regulatory interface.

Contact: Jun Huang or Catherine Stampfl

Eligibility: has been accepted and received an RTP or equivalent scholarship

Stipend: contact for details