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Understanding the structure of concentrated electrolytes in bulk and in confinement

Supervisor: Dr Alpha Lee with Professor Susan Perkin, University of Oxford

Understanding the structure of concentrated electrolytes is crucial to designing electroactive materials such as batteries and supercapacitors. This is a century-old field, but recent Surface Force Balance measurements have shown that the lengthscale and timescale of ion-ion interactions is quite different to those predicted by existing liquid state theories. For example, we showed that the lengthscale of electrostatic interactions increases with ion concentration and can be an order of magnitude larger than the ion diameter in concentrated electrolytes, the opposite what the conventional wisdom would predict.


The aim of this project is to provide a quantitative description of ion-ion interaction in a concentrated electrolyte. We will study the microscopic origin of timescale and lengthscale puzzles in concentrated electrolytes using atomistic modeling as well as developing analytical theories based on statistical physics. We will first focus on developing a theoretical understanding of electrolytes in the bulk, before studying electrolytes under confinement (such as in a supercapacitors) and under shear (which is important for tunable nanolubrication). 


This project is particularly timely because recent experimental advances spearheaded by our collaborator, Professor Susan Perkin, allow us to probe electrolytes nanoconfined and sheared between smooth graphene surfaces. The student will have the opportunity to interpret and design state-of-the-art experiments in collaboration with the Perkin group.