A summer scholarship in the School of Chemistry offers a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to obtain experience in chemical research and provide an insight into what it's like working with well-established researchers in high quality research facilities including: NMR Spectroscopy, Mass Spectrometry, Vibrational and Optical Spectroscopy, X-ray Crystallography, Separations, Thermophysical Properties and High-Performance Computing.

Important dates

  • Applications open: Friday, 24 June 2016. application form
  • Applications close: Friday, 26 August 2016.
  • Offers made: Wednesday, 28 September 2016.
  • Deadline to accept offer: Wednesday, 12 October, 2016.


The program is open to both current University of Sydney students as well as students from other Australian Universities. Applicants must be enrolled on a full time basis and be in least their second or third year of their degree program (please see "Conditions of Award" below). A summer scholarships offers:-

  • the opportunity to undertake a research project over a period of six weeks.
  • supervision by well-established researchers.
  • excellent research facilities.
  • $506 per week in accordance with 2016 Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) rate, and may be eligible for an accommodation bursary of $250 per week for recipients who live outside the Sydney metropolitan area and who are not enrolled at a University in the Sydney metropolitan area.

Conditions of award

The purpose of the Division of Natural Sciences Summer Placement is to provide students with an opportunity to gain access to, and engage with academic staff and research projects over the summer holidays.

The placements will be awarded using the following conditions:

  1. Applicants will be required to submit an application form that can be downloaded from the Schools website.
  2. Applicants from the University of Sydney must be enrolled in a full time undergraduate degree and enrolled in or successfully completed CHEM2401/2911/2915 or CHEM2402/2912/2916. In exceptional circumstances, students who have enrolled in only one of the units above may also be considered.
  3. Applicants from other universities in Australia and New Zealand currently in 2nd or 3rd year of study are also eligible to apply.
  4. Applicants must be performing at credit level (AAM 65) or above to be considered for these scholarships.
  5. Applicants can only receive one Summer Scholarship per year.
  6. Students are to provide a brief summary of their experience to the School issuing their scholarship within one month of completing their project. This may be used with the recipient’s permission on the Faculty’s website to encourage other students who might be considering doing a Summer Research Scholarship.

How do I apply?

Please fill out an application form and ensure to add at least three projects in order of preference. Your application form can be either emailed, or submitted to Ms Dimetra Skondras-Silva by 4.00 pm on Friday, 26 August 2016. All applicants will be notified in writing of the result of their application. PLEASE NOTE THAT LATE APPLICATIONS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.

Contact person

Ms Dimetra Skondras-Silva
Chemistry Front Office
School of Chemistry, Building F11
The University of Sydney NSW 2006
T: +61 2 9351 4504

chemistry research projects

The following research projects are on offer:-

Developing molecular models for simulation studies of crystallization

Understanding the complex collective dynamics involved when a molecular liquid crystallize is of fundamental importance in controlling the properties of bulk materials (e.g. pharmaceuticals) and thin films. Alternatively, slowing crystallization down is essential if the goal is avoid freezing and form a glass-like solid.  Computer simulations provide a powerful tool for studying this phenomenon. The challenge is to develop chemically accurate models of molecules that remain simple enough that large (i.e. ~ 10 000 molecules) simulations can be run in a reasonable time. In this project, the student will work with group members to develop a model for the family of molecules that include biphenyl and the terphenyls that produce the correct crystal structure and reasonable liquid state properties like diffusion constants.

The project will involve working on a computer (no lab work) . Previous computer experience, while certainly useful, is not necessary.

Polymer nanostructures

The possibility to precisely engineer at the nanoscale enables the synthesis of materials with tailored chemical composition and physicochemical properties. Within this space, the modular synthesis of cylindrical polymer brushes provides a new and versatile class of materials that are very powerful in molecular templating and sensing, and which emerge as promising delivery vehicles in nanomedicine. In this project, you will use controlled radical polymerisation techniques to synthesise polymer nanostructures for therapeutic delivery to breast cancer cells.


Robust superhydrophobic surfaces

Water repellence is important in many technological applications, such as for the design of self-cleaning and water-proof coatings, and for more efficient microfluidic devices. Nature offers fascinating examples of extreme water repellence, such as the surface of the lotus leaf, on which water flows and rolls-off easily, leaving the leaf dry and clean. In the lotus leaf, the hydrophobicity of the surface is enhanced by a special nano- and micro-scale roughness, which traps pockets of air, and leads to the beading up of water droplets. This effect leads to ‘super-hydrophobicity’, or extreme water repellence.


Chiroptical phenomena in photo-excited states (experimental project)

π-conjugated organic molecules possess alternate single and double bond character that provides for their tunable semiconducting and luminescent properties making them suitable for applications in organic light emitting diodes. The optical and electronic properties of these materials depend strongly on light-matter interactions; for example, the lifetime of and structural relaxation of the photoexcited molecule determines the emissive properties of the molecule. In this project, we will perform experiments to measure the optical phenomena from a chiral molecular system (also known as chiroptical phenomena) in its photoexcited state. Circularly polarized luminescence (CPL) is a method to measure difference in left and right circularly polarised light emission. Shape and magnitude of CPL will provide us with valuable information on the nature of excited states on the emission properties of the molecules.

Magnetic circular dichroism (experimental project)

Magnetic Circular Dichroism (MCD) is differential absorption of left and right circularly polarised under the influence of magnetic field. MCD can detect transitions, which are too weak to be detected via conventional CD. MCD is used to probe electronic energy levels of molecules and doesn’t require molecule to be chiral. The aim of this project is to experimentally examine electronic energy levels of chiral and achiral conjugated molecules and investigate the relationship between MCD and the natural optical activity. This fundamental work will enhance our understanding about the origin of MCD, which will be potentially useful for the study of biologically important systems containing metal centers.

Device physics of organic solar cells (theory and simulations project) 

π-conjugated polymers (CPs) are proven to be cheap, easily processible and flexible alternatives to silicon for sustainable energy applications like organic solar cells. Similar to photosynthesis, CPs funnel the absorbed sunlight to a reaction centre creating opposite free charges – electrons (-ve) and holes (+ve). These free charges must be transported to the respective electrodes and extracted to yield a flow of current in a solar cell. However, these opposite charges can also recombine before reaching the electrodes due to Columbic attraction between them resulting in a loss of current. This tussle between charge transport and recombination influences the device efficiency drastically. In this project, you will perform numerical simulations to (1) understand device physics of an organic solar cell, and (2) figure out strategies to reduce charge recombination thereby providing design rules for highly efficient solar cells.

Energy transfer on a single polymer chain (theory and simulations project) 

Structure-property relationships in conjugated polymer thin films underpin their optoelectronic properties such as energy and charge transport. These processes are ensemble average of individual processes, which are occurring at a nanoscale level. In comparison with thin films, where disorder is below the diffraction limit of light (approx. few 10s of nm), ensemble functional properties - such as emission of light - are very different from their single molecules. This project takes a numerical approach that involves solving master equation to simulate energy transfer in single chains of organic semiconducting polymers and determine efficiency of solar energy harvesting.

Synthesis and evaluation of novel tuberculosis or malarial drug candidates  

Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria represent two of the most deadly infectious diseases, responsible for two million deaths per year (one death every ten seconds).  Since the determination of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (cause of TB) and Plasmodium falciparum (cause of malaria) genome sequences, several viable drug targets have been elucidated.  This summer project will involve the synthesis of a small library of compounds that can be tested for their inhibitory properties against specific enzyme drug targets and against the causative agents of these infectious diseases. The goal of the project will be to develop a novel series of enzyme inhibitors that will serve as anti-tuberculosis and anti-malarial drug leads.

Mar. Drugs 2013, 11(7), 2382-2397; ChemMedChem. 2010, 5, 1067; Chem. Commun. 2011,47, 5166; ChemMedChem. 2012, 7, 1031

Synthesis of glycopeptides as cancer vaccine and diagnostic candidates 

Over 50% of all proteins in our bodies are glycosylated, however, a rational explanation of why nature expends so much energy to decorate our proteins with carbohydrates is largely unknown. In cancer cells there is a significant increase in the expression of a number of glycoproteins (glycosylated proteins), which is combined with incomplete carbohydrtate assembly.  This aberrant glycosylation results in the exposure of additional peptide epitopes, which therefore become accessible to the immune system.  The aim of this project will use a combination of solution and solid phase peptide synthesis to synthesise defined glycopeptide segments of a number of cancer-associated cell-surface glycoproteins (one target compound is shown below). The synthetic glycopeptides will be used to generate tumour-selective immunostimulating antigens followed by evaluation as cancer vaccines.

Chem. Eur. J. 2012, 18(51), 16540-16548; Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2011, 50, 1635-1639; Chem. Commun. 2010, 46, 6249-6251.

Selective detection of anions using peptide derived sensors

Anions are ubiquitous and they have major roles in a wide range of chemical, biological and environmental processes. The ability to discriminate between anions in real time will lead to many potential applications but particularly in medical diagnostics and devices. The aim of this project is to design sensors for a variety of target anions that are suitable for use in biological systems. This will involve the design and synthesis of a number of small peptide based anion receptors and subsequent measurement of their anion selectivity using numerous techniques (NMR, UV/Vis absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy).

Light-activated MOFs for CO2 capture

The development of more efficient processes for carbon dioxide (CO2) capture is considered a key to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions implicated in global warming. Highly porous three-dimensional solids known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) have enormous potential for use as CO2 capture materials. Recently, methodologies for the postsynthetic covalent functionalisation of MOFs have opened up fascinating prospects for building complexity into the pores. This project will involve the synthesis of materials as “photoswitchable molecular sieves” in which light can be used to modulate the size and polarity of the pores. The structural and physical characteristics of the materials will be interrogated using novel techniques to probe the light-activated gas permeation properties. The ultimate goal is the realisation of economically-viable materials which can be readily integrated into industrial platforms.

Photoactive control of self-assembled materials  

We are interested in creating smart forms of soft matter that respond to changes in their environment or a deliberate external stimulus. Because they are in dynamic equilibrium, self-assembled phases can change their structure and properties rapidly when stimulated by light. However photoactive surfactants are prohibitively expensive for most applications. In this project you will examine the effect of photoisomerization of small molecules that co-assemble with surfactants on the structure and properties of foams and viscoelastic structures.

Nanostructured ionogels 

Ionic liquids (ILs) are salts that are molten at or near room temperature. As salts, they are highly conducting, but also have negligible vapour pressures and thus do not evaporate. ILs have been shown to be extraordinary solvents for many classes of molecules, including polymers and surfactants. During this project you will prepare and investigate the properties of novel gels comprised of polymers and surfactants co-assembled in ionic liquid solvents.

Undergraduate laboratory development  

The undergraduate laboratory program has undergone considerable change in the past few years, and there is an ongoing project to introduce more research-directed and investigative exercises. In this project, you will help in the development of new experiments for the undergraduate laboratory by testing new experiments and identifying aspects that can be improved.

Rehabilitation of cholesterol

The molecule cholesterol generally gets a very bad press, mostly because it is recognized to be a major contributor to heart disease. However, the plasma membranes of all of our cells naturally contain up to 50 mol% cholesterol and we actually produce it in our bodies via a biosynthetic pathway. Therefore, cholesterol must be there for some good reason. However, in spite of more than 100 years of research the reason is still a mystery. Help us to find the reason and give cholesterol a good name for once. The hypothesis we are investigating is that cholesterol is crucial to the activity of the Na+,K+-ATPase, the ion pump which controls, among other things, the volume of all of our cells. Experimental measurements will involve the replacement of cholesterol in natural membranes containing the Na+,K+-ATPase with various cholesterol derivatives and assaying the effects they have on enzyme activity. In parallel experiments, the effects of cholesterol and its derivatives on a variety of membrane properties, such as fluidity, surface tension and dipole potential will be determined to elucidate which membrane properties are crucial in determining Na+,K+-ATPase function.

Supramolecular sensing materials

Discrete supramolecular materials are visually appealing and also show advanced functionalities in for example, catalysis and magnetism. New discrete materials will be prepared with electronic switching properties and the structure and magnetic properties investigated.

Interaction potentials for gases in porous materials

Because of their extremely large surface areas, crystalline microporous materials, such as metal-organic framework (MOF) and covalent organic framework (COF) materials, are used in many gas adsorption applications. Physisorption can be used to both separate and purify gas mixtures and to store gases such as hydrogen, H2, and methane, CH4. For example:

(i) MOF-177 has been shown to reversibly uptake 7.5 wt % H2 at 77 K and 9 MPa. For practical use, however, H2 must be stored at temperatures close to room temperature, where MOF materials store approximately 0.5 wt % H2. The reduction in H2 storage capacity with temperature is a consequence of low H2 binding enthalpies (typically 3-7 kJ/mol); for practical room temperature H2 storage binding enthalpies of H2 to MOF materials need to be increased to 15–45 kJ/mol.

(ii) The use of MOF materials for CH4 storage applications is much more promising. Compressed natural gas (CH4) is currently used in vehicles at pressures up to 248 bar whereas a copper-based MOF material, PCN-14, has been shown to uptake 230 v/v at CH4 35 bar and 290 K. Theoretical simulations suggest a number of novel COF materials may exhibit similar CH4 uptake behaviour.

(iii) The largest current single CO2 emission sources are power stations, with approximately 15% of the emitted gas being CO2. Separating CO2 from the flue gases is a significant challenge with the magnesium analogue of MOF-74 being found to uptake approximately 35 wt% CO2 at room temperature and 1 atm.

In gas storage applications, uptake is influenced by the physical characteristics of the pores, pore size, pore volume and surface area as well as the chemical characteristics of the crystal and the adsorbent molecule. What makes COF and MOF materials so attractive from a materials design standpoint is that they are made by reticular synthesis, that is, rigid secondary linker molecules are judiciously used to create ordered network structures. Changing the size and chemical nature of these linking molecules leads to tunable pore sizes and chemical properties.

Any accurate theoretical calculation of gas adsorption in COF and MOF materials requires both a chemically accurate description of the material and of the adsorbed gas molecules as well as an accurate model for the adsorption process itself and the interactions between adsorbent molecules. For adsorption of H2 quantum effects are known to be extremely important and to persist up to room temperature. We have recently developed new quantum methods appropriate to the H2 adsorbed within MOF-5 at 0 K. In this project we will extend our theoretical formalism to gas adsorption in other non-conducting COF or MOF materials.

Probing the cause of multiple sclerosis 

There is growing evidence to support the hypotheses that the majority of neurodegenerative diseases may be initiated by a combination of pollutant-induced damage to neurons in the locus ceruleus (LC) and dietary factors, such as sugar intake.  In the first ever study of this type, we undertook elemental maps from frozen brain sections of patients who had suffered multiple sclerosis to show at least 50% have Hg in specific neurons in the LC and all have a range of heavy metals.  This project aims to use chemometrics to mine the information-rich images to learn more about how these metals and others, such as Fe and Cu may have contributed to the disease.

Are microparticles released from cancer and normal cells key players in disease pathology? 

Microparticles (MPs) are microvesicles within the size of 100 nm to one micron that contain RNA, DNA, proteins and lipids and are released from all human cells and function to control cell-cell signaling under normal conditions, however, under disease conditions the number and composition of microparticles released changes and these “disease microparticles” act like human viruses to infect and damage healthy cells or promote cancers.  The aim of this project is to use biospectroscopies to probe differences in biochemical content in disease vs normal MPs and to examine how they change the biochemistry of target cells.

Synthesis, characterisation and biological activities of Cr(V) complexes: Implications for chromium dietary supplements and the mechanisms of Cr-induced cancers 

We have obtained increasing evidence that carcinogenic Cr(VI) and Cr(V) species are generated in vivo from commonly consumed chromium dietary supplements (taken alone or because it is present in most multi-vitamin tablets).  It is believed that such Cr(V) species are responsible for both Cr induced cancers and also the potential toxicity of chromium supplements that has resulted in considerable media coverage of our research.  Recently we have determined methods to synthesise such Cr(V) species with biomolecules and this project involves studies on the synthesis, characterisations and biological activities of such species.

Understanding the mechanism of action of a new tuberculosis drug

We have recently discovered an unusual compound with potency against drug-resistant tuberculosis (J. Med. Chem 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00432). These compounds are unlike any others in development for the treatment of this terrible disease, but could be an important advance in the fight against growing antimicrobial resistance. We need to synthesise several organic compounds (and their metal complexes) over the summer in order to probe the mechanism of action of these drug candidates, for which we have exciting preliminary data. Working with collaborators in the Charles Perkins Centre and at The University of Queensland, your project will be the synthesis of new molecules in high purity ready for biological evaluation.

Assembly of nanorods at interfaces for solar energy applications x 2 projects

Among the barriers to making solar cells cheaper and more efficient is the high energy cost of the crystalline silicon and vapor deposition methods commonly used today. One possible solution is to print solar cells using an ink of semiconducting nanoparticles. In this project you will explore how interfaces (fluid-fluid and liquid-solid) affect the self-assembly of nanorods using models that we have recently developed. This will yield design rules that can be used by experimental collaborators to make desired assemblies in the laboratory for testing in solar cells.


Probing the fate of metal-based anticancer agents in tumour cells

Platinum anticancer agents are used in the treatment of 50% of all cancers while cobalt(III) complexes are increasingly being explored for the delivery of organic anticancer agents. Understanding how metal-based drugs interact with tumour cells is crucial to designing more effective treatments. This computational project will use X-ray fluorescence microscopy data to map the oxidation state and ligand sphere of platinum and cobalt drugs in tumour cells and spheroids. This information will reveal which cellular organelles the drug is targeting and whether the it undergoes reduction or ligand exchange.

  1. Renfrew, A., Bryce, N., Hambley, T. (2013), Chemical Science, 4, 3731-3739.
  2. Zhang, J., Bryce, N., Lanzirotti, A., Chen, C., Paterson, D., De Jonge, M., Howard, D., Hambley, T. (2012), Metallomics, 4, 1209-1217.
Crystal structure enumeration and ground state identification 

We have developed a method of searching through all possible crystals for low energy structures, and have just got it working in 3d.  Crystal structure prediction has lots of real world applications like pharmaceutical polymorphism and phase diagram prediction, but would also be a huge complement to simulation studies of liquids and glasses, where researchers often study  systems for which they have no idea what the ground state is.  In this project we will determine the low energy states of a range of model potentials and attempt to predict their resistance to melting.

P2X7R ligands as novel antidepressants

Activation of P2X7receptors (P2X7R) by ATP stimulates the release of interleukin-1b (IL-1b) inducing behavioural changes that resemble depression. It is hypothesised that blockade of P2X7Rs might result in antidepressant-like properties. This project will determine the ability of P2X7R molecules developed by our group to inhibit the P2X7R ligands as novel antidepressantsR and reduce IL-1b levels.