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 3rd January 2024). See below for a project offered within our group.

We also welcome enquiries from prospective graduate students who either have their own source of funding or who may be eligible to apply for scholarships (e.g. see funding opportunties at

Discovery of new sustainable permanent magnets for electric motors and generators

School of Physics, Engineering and Technology

Supervisors: Prof Keith McKenna, Dr S Cavill and Dr Xing Zhao

High-performance permanent magnets are needed for electric motors and generators which are essential for the decarbonisation of transport (land, sea and air) and energy generation (>25% of UK electricity comes from wind-turbines). Discovered in the 1980s, alloys of rare-earth metals (e.g., Nd–Fe–B and Sm–Co) remain the best performing materials with high saturation magnetization (Ms), Curie temperature (Tc) and magnetic anisotropy (Ku). However, the scarcity and environmentally-restricted nature of rare-earth metals, coupled with difficulties in recycling and rapidly growing global demand (~18% pa) means we are facing a significant sustainability challenge.

The aim of this project is to identify and develop urgently-needed sustainable alternatives to rare-earth magnets which combine high-performance with earth-abundance. For example, Fe–N based materials have recently emerged as a promising contender but challenges over stability, manufacturability and optimisation of composition remain.

In this project you will deploy density functional theory (DFT) and DFT-trained machine-learning (ML) potentials to exploring a wider earth-abundant materials design space and screen prospective materials for desirable magnetic properties. Strategies to boost their performance (such as doping) and nanostructuring will also be investigated. High-quality thin-films of promising materials will be prepared by pulsed-laser deposition (PLD) and characterised structurally and magnetically. Through iterative feedback approaches to optimise material properties will be investigated and multi-physics simulations will be used to model prospective performance in devices.

The studentship 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.

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

This will be based at the University of York.

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:

Applicants must apply via the University’s online application system at 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 Septembber 2024 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 3 January 2024.

Funding Notes

The studentship is offered by the Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Materials for Net Zero (SusMat0). This PhD studentship will cover the tuition fee at the home rate (£4,712 in 2023/24), an annual stipend at the standard research council rate for a period of up to 3.5 years (£18,622 in 2023/24) and a research training and support grant (RTSG). A limited number of full studentships are available for exceptional candidates of any nationality; International applicants are therefore also welcome to apply. Please refer to UKRI website for full eligibility criteria.