ERC funded dual doctorate PhD position (KU Leuven / DESY)

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


August 20, 2021


ERC funded dual doctorate PhD position (KU Leuven / DESY)

(ref. BAP-2021-600)

Last modification : Thursday, July 15, 2021

You will be part of the WATUSO research team of the ERC avanced grant of prof. Johan A. Martens and will be integrated into the research NMR team of NMRCoRe at KU Leuven. NMRCORE is the KU Leuven based NMR infrastructure hub of the international Center for Molcecular Water Science (CMWS@DESY). NMRCoRe, hosting the PhD candidate is also part of the COK-cat (Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis-Characterization and Application Team) division at KU Leuven. COK-CAT is internationally known for its unique combination of fundamental and applied research in porous functional materials, specifically in the fields of catalysis, adsorptive separation, water, energy, environment, as well as food & health science and technology. Specific fields of expertise are porous materials science. This PhD position specifically aims at the development of a NMR/X-ray/DRS characterisation platform dedicated to providing in situ access to all facets of structure, dynamics and interface behavior of water confined in porous hosts. Such advanced in situ multidiagnostic platform would be unique on a global scale.


WATUSO: Water as a tuneable solvent is an ERC funded project aiming at modulating water solvent properties by confinement. Water is the sustainable solvent of excellence but its high polarity limits the solubility of non-polar compounds. Confinement of water in hydrophobic pores alters its hydrogen bonding structure and related properties such as dielectric constant and solvation power. Whether this special state of confined water can be rendered useful in chemical processes is hitherto underexplored. The original idea of this WATUSO is to modulate water solvent properties through hydrophobic nano- confinement. Pressure is applied to force a heterogeneous mixture of poorly soluble molecules and water into hydrophobic nanopores of host material where the lowered polarity of water enhances dissolution. Decompression after reaction causes expulsion of the solution from the pores and spontaneous demixing of reaction products as water returns to its normal polar state. Temporary dissolution enhancement during confinement is expected to be advantageous to chemical reaction and molecular storage.

Development of dedicated hydrophobic nanoporous materials and research methodologies providing in situ characterization of confined water, solutes and host material using NMR, EIS, DRS, X-ray and neutron scattering under static and dynamic conditions are key aspects of this project.

Unprecedented control in time and space over H2O solvation properties in a WATUSO system will enable new technologies with major scientific and societal impact. WATUSO will lead to new insights in water research and deliver new multi-diagnostic characterization tools. WATUSO could revolutionize chemical manufacturing and gas storage and the concept could spill over to many more solvent-based processes. WATUSO will contribute significantly to a greener, more sustainable chemical industry.


■ You hold a Master degree in physics or can demonstrate relevant experience

■ You have experience in solid state NMR or dielectric relaxation spectroscopy or are comitted to acquire that knowledge.

■ You exhibit a natural affinity for data analysis and scientific programming

■ You can demonstrate experience in scientific programming (Python, Matlab, etc.) and data analysis

■ Advanced electronic and RF circuit analysis does not hold secrets for you

■ You have experience in modelling circuits with COMSOL or can demonstrate a clear motivation to learn this

■ You are a team player

■ You fluent in english, both orally and written

■ Taking initiative comes natural to you

■ You can demonstrate thorough knowledge of Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint

■ Knowledge of Sharepoint is a plus

■ You are used to work with MatLab, Comsol or Igor Pro

■ Preferably Topspin (v 3.x en 4.x) nor DMFIT hold secrets for you


We are offering a PhD position in an intellectually challenging environment of young and dynamic researchers.

You will partly perform your research at KU Leuven (Leuven, Belgium) and partly at DESY (Hamburg, Germany), spending about 50 pct of your time at both facilities.


Questions concerning the research aspects of this profile can be adressed to Dr. Eric Breynaert (

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

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