McKenna Materials Modelling Group

PhD studentship opportunities

Fully funded studentships now available within the University of York Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Materials for Net Zero (deadline for applications 1st May 2023):

Crack-tolerant materials for next-generation photovoltaics

School of Physics, Engineering and Technology

Supervisors: Prof Keith McKenna and Dr Mahmoud Dhimish

Solar photovoltaics (PVs) now account for close to 4% of global electricity generation, with installed capacity growing almost exponentially. Cracks in PV panels caused by mishandling during installation or mechanical stress are ubiquitous but poorly understood problems impacting the performance and sustainability of PV technology. Recently we have highlighted the role of cracks and associated bond breaking in the formation of hotspots, accelerated efficiency degradation and panel failure in current-generation crystalline silicon panels [1]. However, the effects of cracks in prospective next-generation PV materials are so far unexplored.

Polycrystalline chalcogenide and halide perovskite solar absorbers are strong candidates for next-generation PV devices that will support the sustainable growth of capacity. Intriguingly, our recent materials modelling investigations have shown that many of these materials are intrinsically more robust against the rupture of bonds (for example, at surfaces and grain boundaries) than silicon [2,3]. Could some of these materials therefore be more tolerant to mechanically induced cracks? This project aims to investigate this question through predictive materials modelling and complementary experimental device characterisation to help identify the most promising crack-tolerant PV materials.

In this project, density functional theory will be employed to investigate the effect of crack formation on electronic properties in a range of PV materials (Si, CdTe, Sb2Se3 and halide perovskites). The interaction of the exposed crack with adjacent layers in the device and the external environment (in case the encapsulation fails) will also be explored. Complementary experimental investigations will be carried out on PV devices (provided by collaborators) using mechanical bending to initiate crack formation together with structural, electrical, electro/photo-luminescence, and thermal-imaging characterisation.

This project is offered by the Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Materials for Net Zero (SusMat0). SusMat0 is focused on the development of sustainable materials for advanced energy-related technologies key to achieving the target of net zero carbon emissions. It includes research on materials for energy generation/storage technologies (for example solar cells, batteries), devices with improved energy efficiency (for example OLEDs, memories, power electronics) and technologies for synthesising chemicals using renewable energy. As a member of a cohort of students you will receive training in core chemistry, physics and engineering approaches relevant to cross-disciplinary sustainable materials research. We aim to produce well-rounded scientists, equipped and empowered to engage effectively with each other.

[1] M.Dhimish et al., Sci. Rep. 11, 23961 (2021)

[2] K.McKenna, ACS Energy Lett. 3, 2663 (2018)

[3] K.McKenna, Adv. Electron. Mater. 7, 2000908 (2021)

If you have any enquiries, please email Professor Keith McKenna (

Academic entry requirements

You should have, or expect to obtain, the equivalent to a UK integrated Masters degree at 2:1 or above or an MSc/MRes in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering or a related discipline. We will also consider applicants with a Masters in a closely related field, applicants who have relevant industry experience, and applicants with a BSc at 2:1 or above where sufficient relevant experience can be demonstrated.

How to apply

Please read the application guidance first so that you understand the various steps in the application process: To apply, please select the PhD in Physics for October 2023 entry.

On the postgraduate application form, please select 'CDT in Sustainable Materials for Net Zero' as your source of funding. You do not need to provide a research proposal, just enter the name of the project you wish to apply for. The deadline for applications is Monday 1 May 2023.