Fully-funded PhD International Studentships in Laser Spectrometry Development for Carbon-14 Analysis

  • PHD
  • Tuition fees + £21,000 p.a. stipend
  • 31 May 2021


This is a fully-funded PhD opportunity based at NPL (London) that will investigate and establish laser spectrometry for measurement of radiocarbon in carbon dioxide and methane, relevant for environmental monitoring and drug discovery applications.

Project background

EPSRC iCASE PhD studentship in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory. The student's primary location will be at NPL's Teddington campus in London but linking to research taking place at the University of Edinburgh in the School of GeoSciences. A motivated, independent and enthusiastic candidate is sought for a fully-funded PhD in Physics/ Chemistry/Engineering/Medical Physics that will investigate and establish IR-absorption laser spectrometry for traceability of low-level measurements of radiocarbon in carbon dioxide and methane, relevant for environmental monitoring and drug discovery applications.

Carbon-14 is an ideal radioactive tracer for many processes. (1) As the UK transitions towards ’net zero carbon’, new and improved methods of verifying industrial emissions and atmospheric composition will be required. Atmospheric C-14 measurements allow for the estimation of the fossil-fuel fraction of CO2 and CH4. (2) C-14 as a tracer is vital for the rapid and cost-effective development of drugs, notably for the treatment of cancer. It is used in the early efficacy stage of drug development to understand how the human body will handle the drug in terms of the absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination (ADME).

The recent development of suitable IR-absorption laser spectrometers promises to bridge the sensitivity gap between the current techniques; liquid scintillation counting (LSC), which is labour-intensive, slow and insensitive, and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS), which requires £multi-million facilities.

The candidate will work in one or more of the following areas:

  • Work with an instrument manufacturer to develop a new laser spectrometer,
  • Develop pre-concentration and sample production stages fit for IR-absorption laser spectrometers,
  • Produce theoretical models of IR-absorption spectra of potential interferences with C-14,
  • Establish traceability to primary C-14 gas standards using Absolute Internal-Gas Proportional Counting.

Supervision will be through a team of scientists at the National Physical Laboratory and the School of GeoSciences: Dr Tim Arnold, Dr Caroline Dylag and Dr Steven Bell. The student will be based at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington. The student will receive a stipend of £21, 000 per annum.

Research questions

  1. What are the major sampling and measurement problems hindering our use of radiocarbon in drug discovery and atmospheric climate science?
  2. With respect to laser spectroscopy, what sample preparation is ideal for carbon-14 used as a tracer in drug development?
  3. Can a laser spectroscopic technique measuring carbon-14 be developed to compete with the precision of current analysis methods?


Year 1: Learn about existing techniques of measuring carbon-14, and how all the measurements are traced back to international standards. Design and carry out laboratory experiments to collect carbon-14 for AMS/laser spectroscopic analysis.

Years 1 and 2: Learn about the capabilities of a carbon-14 laser spectrometer and understand interferences with carbon-14.

Years 2 and 3: Work with instrument developers to design and build a carbon-14 laser spectrometer, and how the precision can compare to other techniques.

The University of Edinburgh
This is a scholarship by

The University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1582, is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's ancient universities.

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We are looking for a talented and highly motivated candidate holding (or close to completing) a master’s degree (or international equivalent) in Physics, Chemistry, Chemical Physics, Medical Physics or Engineering disciplines.

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The studentship will cover fees and 4 years of enhanced stipend (£21,000 per year)


The deadline for application is 31 May 2021, however candidates will be interviewed as applications are received and a suitable candidate will be appointed as soon as possible, so you are encouraged to submit an application early.

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