An opportunity is available to undertake a fully-funded PhD in the synthesis of energetic materials. The project, in collaboration with AWE, will explore novel materials and methods with the objective of developing new tools for the formulation of explosives. Read more Read less


Plasticisers are commonly added to explosive formulations to improve the mechanical properties and safety profile of the product. Energetic plasticisers are of particular interest due to the increase in performance available when compared with inert alternatives. A number of plasticisers remain in use due to historical reasons, despite problems such as hazardous production processes, poor performance, toxicity, or instability. These considerations lead to an urgent need for both improved production routes and alternative plasticisers.

Several in-service formulations contain a plasticiser which suffers from many of the drawbacks listed above. It is manufactured using batch nitration methodology under forcing conditions with a large inventory of material. The synthesis of this material using more modern flow chemistry approaches is therefore of interest to reduce the level of process risk and improve product quality.  Whilst this material is required for current formulations, its high toxicity (currently on the REACH list), migratory propensity, low oxygen balance and potential instability make it a key candidate for replacement in future formulations. This project will look at both alternative synthesis methods for the plasticiser as well as alternative known and novel materials for its direct replacement.

The project will consist of the development of scalable flow chemistry routes to both known energetic plasticisers and novel plasticisers for explosive formulations. In addition to the synthetic research carried out, plasticisers produced during the project will be characterised and evaluated for their suitability as additives. This will include assessment of their energetic output, ageing and migration studies, and the hazard properties and performance of binder formulations.

While applicants are required to possess a sound understanding of synthetic chemistry and strong practical laboratory skills, training in equipment use and the synthesis and handling of energetic materials will be provided. It is expected that the real-world applicability of the topic, coupled with the freedom to investigate a variety of molecular targets, will afford opportunities to publish results in high-impact journals and present at industrial and academic conferences. 

Cranfield Defence and Security (CDS) provide unique educational opportunities to the Defence and security sectors of both public and private sector organisations.

Based at the UK Defence Academy at Shrivenham in Oxfordshire and at Cranfield University Bedfordshire, CDS is the academic provider to the UK Ministry of Defence for postgraduate education at the Defence Academy, training in engineering, science, acquisition, management and leadership.

At a glance

  • Application deadline30 Jun 2021
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start date04 Oct 2021
  • Duration of award3 years
  • EligibilityUK
  • Reference numberCDS016


Main supervisor - Dr Ian Wilson

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in chemistry or related discipline.

Good interpersonal and communication (oral and written in English) skills are also required.


This is a fully funded studentship. The cost of the PhD programme, including tuition fees, will be met jointly by AWE and Cranfield University. The student will receive a standard bursary (approximately £16,000 per annum tax free*). The PhD is expected to last three years.             

* To be eligible for this funding, applicants must be a UK national and have been resident in the UK for the last five years.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

If you are eligible to apply for this research studentship, please complete the online application form.   Please quote the following title and reference number: PhD in Novel plasticisers for energetic formulations- CDS016. In addition to the application form, please attach a covering or motivational letter.

For further information contact us today:

CDS Admissions Office