chemistry summer scholarships

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.


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
  • $488 per week and may be eligible for an accommodation bursary of $250 per week.

Important dates

  • Applications open: 25 June 2014
  • Applications close: 4pm, Friday 29 August 2014
  • Offers made: 30 September 2014
  • Deadline to accept offer: 14 October 2014

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.
  2. Applicants from the University of Sydney must be enrolled in a full time undergraduate degree and enrolled or successfully completed CHEM2401/2911/2915 and CHEM2402/2912/2916. In addition the applicant must be intending to proceed into Senior Chemistry at the University of Sydney. In exceptional circumstances, students who have completed 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 placements.
  5. Applicants can only receive one Summer Scholarship per year.
  6. The placement shall be awarded on the basis of academic merit.
  7. The placement shall be awarded by the Dean of the relevant Faculty within the Division of Natural Sciences, on the recommendation of the appropriate Head of School.
  8. If a recipient is enrolled at a university other than the University of Sydney and lives outside of the Sydney Metropolitan Area, they will be offered additional funds of up to $250 per week to cover accommodation/travel expenses.

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, 29 August 2014. 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:-

Selective detection of sulfate ions using colorimetric indicator peptides

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 colourimetric indicator peptides for SO42-ions 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). 


Monitoring cellular redox state by fluorescence

Variations in biological redox state can lead to a range of diseases including hypertension and diabetes. To date, only a few small molecule fluorescent redox sensors have been developed, but they haven’t seen much use in biological studies. In this project, we will investigate how we can link fluorophores to redox-sensitive groups to develop new redox sensors. After preparing a number of different compounds, we will investigate how changes in structure affect fluorescence properties and redox behaviour. This project will involve synthesis, fluorescence spectroscopy, electrochemistry and biological studies.


Interface properties using surface plasmon resonances  

When light generates a surface wave in an electron cloud after coupling via an evanescent field. This project will look at correlating shifts in the surface plasmon resonance with the surface properties onto which Au is deposited. Controlled surface roughness using UV lasers will be explored.


Self-assembly of metamaterials

This project will focus on self-assembling wires and structures by combining metal nanoparticles with silica and using convective self-assembly.


Micropatterned surfaces for water capture  

Maintaining   a   stable   supply   of   drinking   water   in   Australia   is   a   continual challenge. Existing technical solutions to water shortages include the building of dam  infrastructures,  desalination  plants, and  waste-­‐water  recycling   plants, methods   which   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 areas where the humidity is high. 

In this summer project, we will fabricate micro-­patterned surfaces obtained  by dewetting  of  bilayers  of thin  polymer  films,  and  characterize  their  ability  to condense water from the atmosphere.  


  1. Thickett,    S.    C.;    Harris,    A.;    Neto,    C.,    Langmuir    2010,    26,    (20),    15989-­‐15999.    DOI: 10.1021/la103078k  
  2. Thickett,    S.   C.;   Neto,   C.;   Harris,    A.   T.,   Adv.   Mat.   2011,    23,   (32),   3718-­‐3722.    DOI: 10.1002/adma.201100290
Robust superhydrophobic surfaces 

Water repellency 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.

In this project we aim to fabricate artificial superhydrophobic surfaces using polymer layers. In this project we will combine experimental procedures already established in the group toproduce new surfaces that are mechanically and thermodynamically robust.



Responsive nanoparticles for medical sensing

We are building sensors for metal ions (Eur. J. Inorg. Chem. 2012, 2012, 5611 [link]; Chem. Eur. J. 2011, 17, 2850 [link]) and biological molecules (ChemBioChem 2013, 14, 224 [link]; Chem. Open 2013, 2, 99 [link]) for applications in biology and medicine. 

The overall aim of this project is to develop bright, responsive sensors that selectively detect metal ions in cellular environments, and thus create new sensors to monitor cellular changes associated with cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Specific current aims include linking sensors to fluorescent nanoparticles known as quantum dots, and broadening the range of metal ions that we can detect with these systems.

The project is multidisciplinary, and will involve a combination of the following: i) synthesising small molecules that fluoresce in response to the presence of metal ions, ii) attaching these compounds to quantum dots or nanofibres, and iii) analyzing the optical behaviour of these systems using absorbance and fluorescence spectroscopy.


Device physics of organic solar cells

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.

Probing structure-property relationships of conducting polymers

π-conjugated polymers (CPs), also known as conducting polymers, are large organic molecules with alternate single and double bond character that provide for their semiconducting properties. CPs are proven to be cheap, easily processible and flexible alternatives to silicon for sustainable energy applications like thin film solar cells and light emitting diodes. However, the optical and electronic properties of CPs depend strongly on the polymer structure organization within the film. Structure-property relationships in CPs are very complicated and not well understood. Circular Dichroism spectroscopy has been used to study molecular organization of chiral materials by measuring difference in absorbance of left- and right- circularly polarised light. In this project, you will experimentally study structure-property relationships of chiral analogues of CPs using Circular Dichroism spectroscopy and characterize their organization in thin films.


Synthesis of a WO3 photoanode for the application of photoelectrochemical water splitting

Of the renewable energy sources, solar hydrogen obtained from the photocatalytic water-splitting reaction is potentially the most abundant and sustainable energy vector, as water is both fuel precursor and combustion product. Nevertheless, the overall solar energy conversion efficiency for this reaction system is still far from being practical. The aim of the project is to synthesize different structural WO3 photoanodes and study their photoelectrochemical activity, and then to further relate this activity to the structure establishing the structure-activity functions.

In this project the summer student will go proceed through three basic training elements in materials research: the synthesis, the characterization and the application of photoactive materials. This will help the students to develop an appreciation of the nanoscience and research.

Achievements for the students:

  1. The students will be able to learn how to synthesize nanomaterials using classical nanotechnology, such as sol-gel and hard/soft templates methodologies.
  2. The students will be able to understand the basic and important characterization technologies in nanoscience, such as scanning electron microscope and  transmission electron microscopy. With these experiences, the students can obtain an in-depth understanding of the nanoscience.
  3. The students will be able to learn how to use solar light simulator systems, electrochemical systems and assemble them into a photoelectrochemical system. At this step, the students will be able to learn how to collect, analysis and process data.

Details of the project:

  1. Synthesize different structural WO3 photoanodes by modifying the developed strategies of the lab.  (a) Replace HNO3 with other acids, such as H2SO4, HCl, etc.;  (b) Add surfactants, chelating ions, salts to tune the structure;  (c) Add ionic liquids to tune the structure.
  2. Characterize the photoelectrochemical water splitting activity.
  3. Characterize the interesting WO3 photoanodes with nanotechnology characterizations.
  4. Prepare a final report or presentation.
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.


Smart self-assembling surfactants

We are interested in creating smart, switchable, micelles, emulsions, foams and lyotropic liquid crystal phases that respond to changes in their environment. Because they are in dynamic equilibrium, these self-assembled phases can change their structure and properties when stimulated by light, by heat, or by chemical agents. In this project you will synthesise a new responsive surfactant and characterise its self-assembly and response to external stimuli.  


Thermodynamics of ionic liquid solvents

Ionic liquids - salts that melt at or near room temperature - have the remarkable ability to dissolve many normally "difficult" solutes ranging from simple functionalised aliphatic and aromatic systems to cellulose. This gives them immense potential to be used in many chemical synthesis and processing applications. In this project you will measure the distribution or partitioning of solutes between ionic liquids and molecular solvents to extract the free energies of solvation of various functional groups, and use this to build a model to predict solubility in ionic liquids.  


Ruthenium anti-cancer drugs 

New ruthenium anti-cancer drugs have shown considerable promise in preclinical and clinical trials for the treatment of both Pt-resistant cancers and metastatic cancers.  These drugs are pro-drugs, which means the active forms are not those that are administered but rather metabolites and protein adducts are the active forms. Our research is aimed at understanding the mechanisms of action of these pro-drugs in order to target the drugs more effectively and ultimately to design new drugs.  The current project will involve studies of the reactivities of these pro-drugs with a variety of blood proteins and target proteins that are crucial to understand their biological activities.  The research will involve a range of chemical and biochemical assays to elucidate the nature of these biological pathways.

Simulations of molecular liquids 

How does a molecule's shape determine how it packs with its neighbours in a liquid? How does this local liquid packing influence how a molecule moves and rotates? In this project a student will use standard simulation programs to explore the role of molecular shapein liquid using selected shapes identified in recent studies of molecular crystals.

Shear melting of a crystal

In previous work, we found that a crystal could be melted at a temperature below its freezing point if we subjected it to a flowing liquid. The result is quite fundamental with applications in technology and geology but we still don't understand how this shear melting works. In this project a student will use a simple model of the crystal and the shearing liquid in conjunction with computer simulations to explore the stability of the crystal surface to a flowing liquid. 


Assembly of nanorods at interfaces for solar energy applications 

Among the barriers to making cheaper solar cells is the high cost of the single 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 fluid-solid) affect the self-assembly of nanorods using a model that we have recently developed and implemented. This will yield design rules that can be used by experimental collaborators to make desired assemblies in the laboratory for testing in solar cells.


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.

Radical COFs and MOFs”: from microporous conductors to gas separations materials

The realisation of electronically conducting microporous materials is one of the most highly sought after (yet poorly developed) goals in the field. This project involves the design and synthesis of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs) based on redox-active ligands which exhibit stable radical states that can be generated using chemical, electrical or light stimuli. Solid-state electrochemistry and a novel in situ spectroelectrochemical technique developed in our laboratory will be employed to investigate the electronic and conductivity properties. The opportunities for advances at a fundamental and applied level are immense, with potential applications ranging from new battery materials, to lightweight sensors, and new materials for energy-efficient gas separations using Electrical Swing Adsorption (ESA).

This project involves a range of techniques including synthesis (organic synthesis of ligands and inorganic synthesis of metal complexes and materials), structural characterisation (single crystal and powder X-ray diffraction, solution and solid state NMR, gas sorption analysis, thermogravimetric analysis, SEM) and physical characterisation (solution and solid state UV/Vis/NIR spectroscopy, electrochemistry, spectroelectrochemistry, EPR, 4-point probe conductivity measurements).