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PhD Opportunity at ITFSI

PhD Project Title

Glancing angle deposition of ZnO nanostructured thin films for enhanced ultrasonic sensing and imaging applications


Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires (NWs) are considered a promising material for sensors due to properties such as high reactive surface, high chemical stability, bio-compatibility, piezoelectricity, ultraviolet light sensitivity, etc. However, their integration on conventional and non-conventional flexible substrates is still a challenge. Glancing angle deposition (GLAD) has emerged as an attractive solution to produce high crystal quality ZnO nanostructured thin films (required for ultrasonic generation). GLAD carried out in a plasma-assisted deposition system, allows to lower the deposition temperature, making the process compatible with non-conventional flexible/stretchable substrates (required for non-standard geometries in non-destructive testing, NDT). This project is an ambitious investigation, aiming to further explore GLAD potential by growing ZnO-NWs directly on flexible substrates and to investigate their ability to generate shear and surface acoustic waves through an object for NDT over long distances.


This PhD will focus on the fabrication of multi-sensing wearable patches primarily for medical application purposes. The GLAD method proposed in this project not only has the potential to grow nanostructures with exceptional properties (i.e. high sensitivity and compatibility to flexible substrates) but also to make a novel use of plasma-assisted deposition techniques, taking benefit of the large-area and uniformity characteristics of such deposition method. The PhD student will investigate the sensitivity of metal oxide nanostructures such as ZnO NWs grown by GLAD method to multiple environments, including temperature variations and different lights.

The research will also involve the design and modelling of NWs optoelectronic and piezoelectric properties as a function of their morphology and structure for achieving fast and efficient sensing of different light and temperature variations. In addition, the PhD student will investigate suitable approaches to utilize sensors to harvest energy thanks to the piezoelectricity properties of ZnO material. That will allow the development of partially or even fully energy autonomous multi-sensing devices for continuous health monitoring purposes.

The project will need a good knowledge base in material science and will involve plasma-assisted deposition and characterization of metal oxide nanostructures. Simulation using appropriate software such as CODE, COMSOL Multiphysics (or similar) will be used to predict optical and electromechanical properties of the nanostructures. Following performance validation by software simulation, the PhD student will be expected to design, build and test a multi-sensing prototype to substantiate the proposed outcome.

Based on above aims, the research objectives of this project are:

· GLAD of ZnO NWs on flexible substrates.

· Characterization multi-sensing properties of ZnO NWs (pressure and temperature).

· Large-area integration of ZnO-NWs on functional layouts.

· Completion a PhD and gain strong commercialisation skills with industry engagement.

This project will be supported by the excellent research environment at Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (TFSI) (academic host group) led by Prof. Desmond Gibson, at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS). TFSI has access to the state-of-the-art plasma deposition technologies, and has demonstrated a wide experience in GLAD of ZnO-NWs. Dr. Carlos Garcia will be the PhD supervisor in the academic host group. Further, the integration and characterisation of ZnO-NWs ultrasonic sensors will be carried out at Novosound Ltd (industry host group) -with a wide experience in the field of Ultrasonic Imaging and Sensing Devices- under the supervision of Dr. Kevin McAughey (Industry supervisor) and Dr. Dave Hughes (CTO of Novosound).

The proposed project adopts an innovative and multidisciplinary approach in providing highly sought-after effective solutions for NDT in markets such as Aerospace, Nuclear, Oil and Gas and Renewable Energies. This will have broad immediate impact whilst providing solutions in the broader ultrasonic device markets of healthcare and wearables. The PhD candidate will gain first-hand experience of the industry inside one of Scotland’s fastest growing Start-Ups and the challenges associated with launching new sensor technology.


The successful applicant will normally hold a minimum UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered.

The successful candidate should be able to demonstrate a solid educational background in material science, including basic knowledge on plasma and vacuum systems as well as materials characterization tools. The successful candidate should have strong self-motivation and dedicated passion for research, in addition to the willingness for team-working and the ability to deliver research outcomes to meet deadlines.

The following are also desirable:

• Experience of applied physics (sensors, imaging, optoelectronics) and material science

· Strong mathematical background

· Experience with MATLAB, Origin, COMSOL Multiphysics, CODE, …

· Practical skills in nanotechnology (clean-room fabrication, lithography, device characterization, …)

· Experience in publishing research outcomes in conferences and journals

Research Strategy and Research Profile

This project is part of the research activity of the following Research Groups:

Academic host: Institute of Thin Films Sensors and Imaging at University of the West of Scotland (UWS) – Paisley Campus (

Industry host: Novosound (

How to Apply

This project is available as a 3.5 years (42 months) full-time PhD study programme. Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying.

Applicants should complete the online Research Application Form, stating the Project Title and Reference Number (listed above).Please also attach to the online application, copies of academic qualifications (including IELTS if required), 2 references and any other relevant documentation.

Please send any enquiries regarding your application to

Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview. The key dates are as follow:

· Application closing date: 21/06/2019 (17:00 UK time)

· Interviews since: 01/07/2019

· Tentative incorporation date: 01/10/2019

For more information on How to apply and the online application form please go to

Funding Notes

CENSIS funds industrially relevant doctoral research activity that supports advancements in sensing, imaging and the Internet of Things and brings technology in these spaces closer to market.

In its second phase of activity (2018-2023), CENSIS support a portfolio of research activity via PhD and EngD (Engineering Doctorate) projects. All project applications were assessed by way of competition in an annual call. The next call will open in summer 2019. Find our more about the projects on our skills page and sign up to our newsletter for information on details of the next call.

A variety of scholarship packages including fully funded studentships and fees only scholarships are available to deserving UK/EU. The fully funded studentships are worth £19,513 per year for 3.5 years, subject to satisfactory progress. They cover payment of tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and an annual stipend of £15,146.

Full Supervisory Team Details

If you want to join us in this ambitious project and start your research career in a unique environment provided by the state-of-the-art facilities available at ITFSI and Novosound, send us your CV.

• Dr. Carlos Garcia (Lecturer in Physics at UWS and Academic Supervisor):

• Dr. Kevin McAughey (Industry Supervisor):

• Dr. Dave Hughes (CTO of Novosound):

• Prof. Des Gibson (Director of ITFSI):

About Institute of Thin Films Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI) The Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging (ITFSI) is a research institute at the University of the West of Scotland, founded by Professor Des Gibson September 2014. ITFSI specialises in thin films for various applications including medical devices, sensors, engineering, optics, electronic devices and photonics. A range of thin film technologies, leading to products including miniaturised spectrometers for gas sensing, ultrasonics, hyper-spectral imaging applications and durable infra-red optical coatings. More information on ITFSI capabilities can be found here.

About Novosound Novosound is a dynamic start-up company which is commercialising cutting edge research into innovative and disruptive technology. The thin film piezoelectric at the core of our technology allows us to build truly flexible arrays, produce repeatable high frequency focused wide-band probes and to create ultrasound probes capable of operating at temperatures over 350°C. However, our mission is to continue pushing the limits of ultrasonic imaging and measurement, and this PhD aims to further develop our core technology, allowing us to continue our journey of innovative disruption. More information on Novosound capabilities can be found here.


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