Photothermal catalysis under pulsed illumination

Photothermal catalysis under pulsed illumination

Published Deadline Location
7 Sep 8 Oct Amsterdam

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Do you want to tackle fundamental questions related to how catalysts promote chemical reactions under pulsed light and rapidly changing temperatures? Would you like to join an enthusiastic and diverse group of scientists studying photoconversion materi...

Job description

The project
Heterogeneous catalysis is at the heart of numerous industrial processes, providing pathways for the sustainable production of chemicals, fuels, and materials. However, traditional catalytic approaches often face limitations in terms of energy consumption and selectivity. The emerging field of dynamic catalysis presents a transformative solution by subjecting nanomaterial catalysts to rapidly changing temperatures and local reaction conditions at sub-second timescale.[1–3]

In this project, we will explore an especially promising avenue for dynamic catalysis which combines plasmonic photothermal catalysts and pulsed light. By employing fs-ns pulsed illumination, we can efficiently convert light energy into high localized temperatures, initiating catalytic reactions that were previously impractical or inefficient under conventional conditions. This novel approach opens up possibilities for controlling reaction selectivity, increasing reaction rates, and reducing energy consumption.

The primary objective of this research project is to advance the fundamental understanding of pulsed photothermal catalysis and its application in various chemical and energy conversion processes. You will have the unique opportunity to contribute to groundbreaking research that can transform the landscape of catalysis and clean energy technologies.
  1. A. Baldi, & S. H. C. Askes. Pulsed Photothermal Heterogeneous Catalysis. ACS Catal. 2023, 13, 3419.
  2. M. Shetty et al. The Catalytic Mechanics of Dynamic Surfaces: Stimulating Methods for Promoting Catalytic Resonance. ACS Catal. 2020, 10, 12666.
  3. Q. Dong et al. Programmable heating and quenching for efficient thermochemical synthesis. Nature 2022, 605, 470.

Your responsibilities
  • Investigating the design and fabrication of novel photocatalytic nanomaterials and nanoparticle arrays with desired optical and heat-transfer properties, tailored for pulsed illumination
  • Unraveling and optimizing the chemical kinetics of photothermal catalytic reactions under pulsed illumination through operando spectroscopic and computational analyses
  • Initiate and lead complementary research collaborations with internal and external partners
  • Disseminate your research through peer-reviewed journals and poster/oral contributions at (inter)national conferences
  • Act as daily supervisor of bachelor and master students during their internships and as teaching assistant to different courses (~10% of the overall PhD time)


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)


  • Master’s degree in physics, physical chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, or a closely related field
  • A desirable candidate will have demonstrable experience with, or motivation to learn:
    • Carrying out physical experiments in catalysis and nanophotonics
    • Nanofabrication and characterization
    • Building optical microscopy and/or spectroscopy setups
    • Using computational tools (such as Python, MatLab, Lumerical FDTD, or COMSOL Multiphysics) and data analysis software
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills in English are very important
  • You have a team-player mentality and a kind attitude

Conditions of employment

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,541 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,539 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for at least 0.8 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a total duration of 4 years.
Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • discounts on collective insurances (healthcare- and car insurance);
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 31,000 students. We employ over 5,000 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Faculty of Science
Working at the Faculty of Science means working together with students, PhD candidates and scientists who are focused on their discipline, yet also have a broad view of the world. We are proud of the collegial working environment within the faculty, which is characterised by an ambitious and pragmatic attitude with commitment to the bigger picture. At the Faculty of Science, scientists and students work on fundamental and complex social issues for a sustainable and healthy future. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to malnutrition, from genetics to pharmaceuticals and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research cover the full breadth of the natural sciences. Scientific teaching and research is highly experimental, technical, computational and interdisciplinary in nature. This is why we collaborate extensively with leading research institutes and industry. The faculty has over 11,000 students studying across 40 educational programmes and employs over 1,600 staff spread over 10 scientific departments, making us the largest science faculty in the Netherlands.

About our section
The successful applicant will be appointed as a PhD student in the group of Dr. Sven Askes, which is part of the PhotoConversion Materials (PCM) section in the department of Physics and Astronomy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (see

The PCM section is a highly interdisciplinary team, working at the interface of physics, chemistry, and materials science to understand fundamental mechanisms of light-matter interaction for light-energy conversion and optical sensing. We host in-house simulation, fabrication, and spectroscopic characterization tools, with great technical research support. Additionally, we have regular access to the nanofabrication and nanocharacterization tools at the AMOLF Nanolab.

By joining our PCM section, you will become part of a diverse group of people, with different scientific backgrounds, nationalities, and expertise. Our aim is to create an inclusive environment that cherishes our diverse backgrounds, leading to groundbreaking science.

By the end of your PhD, you will have become an independent scientist, capable of working effectively in a team, and with excellent communication skills. We take great pride in the growth and development of our students: previous PhD students in our group have won several awards for their scientific achievements and for their communication skills and have immediately secured several jobs offers after graduation.


  • PhD
  • 30.4—38 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 16037


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)

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