Supramolecular PFAS Detection

Finding Forever Chemicals Fast: Supramolecular Hosts for Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances

Degree type


Closing date

29 October 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore

About the research project

Perfluoroalkyl substances are a group of potentially harmful molecules that have been widely used in firefighting foams, cookware, water resistant clothing, and food packaging. These compounds do not degrade readily, and have a tendency to bioaccumulate.Most of the general public has been exposed to PFAS, and concerningly, high concentrations of these molecules are being found in soil and water sources. PFAS exposure has been associated with a number of cancers, and been linked to low birth weight and diminished organ function. The established methods to identify PFAS are costly and time consuming, requiring large laboratory instrumentation for detection and quantification, and taking days to weeks to obtain results. The work of the Kilah group has identified molecular structures that are able to instantly change colour in the presence of PFAS pollutants, allowing for the rapid and user friendly detection of PFAS at real world concentrations in soil and water. The detection of these pollutants is facilitated by supramolecular interactions between our coloured hosts and the perfluorinated guests. In this project, the candidate will syntheses supramolecular structures that incorporate recognition groups to further explore the detection of PFAS.

The project will commence with the synthesis of these new compounds using established organic and inorganic synthesis techniques. The newly prepared and isolated molecules will be characterised by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, UV-Visible Spectroscopy, Mass Spectrometry, and X-ray crystallography. These molecules will then be applied to the challenge of binding and responding to a range of PFAS pollutants under a number of real world conditions. These investigations will use UV/Visible spectrophotometry and fluorescence spectroscopy to investigate the strength of the binding interactions between the prepared compounds and PFAS.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Nathan Kilah


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


The project is open to domestic (Australian and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from international applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements and the following additional eligibility criteria specific to this project:

  • Research must be undertaken on a full-time basis
  • Applicants should already have been awarded a First Class Honours degree or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • A background in synthetic inorganic or organic chemistry
  • Demonstrated research experience
  • A strong intrinsic motivation to complete a PhD
  • Evidence of self directed learning/research
  • The ability to work independently and as part of a team

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Experience in structural characterisation techniques including NMR, IR and MS
  • Experience in UV-Visible and/or fluorescence spectroscopy

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select the project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Nathan Kilah, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including contact details of two referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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