Study level



Vacation research experience scheme


Science and Engineering Faculty

School of Chemistry and Physics

Topic status

We're looking for students to study this topic.


Professor Stephen Blanksby
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Infrastructure)/Principal Research Fellow (Mass Spectrometry)
Division / Faculty
Division of Research and Innovation

External supervisors

  • Prof. Adam Trevitt, University of Wollongong
  • Prof. Evan Bieske, University of Melbourne
  • Dr. Gabriel da Silva, University of Melbourne


Air pollution is set to become the major environmental cause of premature death. In Australia, airborne smoke particles from anthropogenic and natural sources, including bushfires, present a particular risk to the population’s health. Despite its national importance, the fundamental chemical transformation of hot gases released during combustion to soot particles is poorly understood. In the absence of a chemical model for these gas-phase reactions it is challenging to predict or control the composition and concentration of particles released into the atmosphere from engines, power stations and bushfires.

This project will use state-of-the-art instrumentation to identify and characterise transient free radicals generated during combustion and assign key reaction steps in the conversion of hot gases to particles and soot. By mapping the steps of these reactions, computational models will be constructed that can predict the extent of particle formation under different conditions and, ultimately, inform strategy and policy toward improved air quality.

Research activities

Soot formation occurs via a complex network of chemical reactions leading from simple gases to macromolecular aggregates. Despite being central to our understanding of extreme environments ranging from engines, to bushfires and interstellar clouds, the critical steps and intermediates in these reactions are poorly described. This project will deploy advanced mass spectrometry and laser-based methods to generate, isolate and interrogate gas phase free radical intermediates and elucidate their role in molecular weight growth processes. Through these chemical insights, advanced kinetic models will be developed supporting prediction, and ultimately control, of soot particle composition and concentration.


The expected project outcomes include:

  • a new understanding of gas phase radical reactions and intermediates to inform molecular-level modelsfor molecular weight growth in gaseous environments (including combustion systems, planetaryatmospheres and circumstellar gas clouds)
  • an innovative new instrumentation to enable observation of ion-molecule reactions at elevated temperaturesand pressures with potential spin-off application in analytical spectrometry
  • cooperation between Australian scholars and international experts including access to uniqueinstrumentation
  • cultivation of national capacity in the mechanistic understanding of soot-forming chemistry to informpublic discourse and policy development
  • early-career scientists trained to an international standard in advanced mass spectrometry- and laser-based technologies to supply the increasing demand from the Australian technology sector.

Skills and experience

Students with an interest in atmospheric chemistry and a background in instrumentation will find this project rewarding.


You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.

Annual scholarship round



Contact the supervisor for more information.