Summer Vacation Research Scholarships

Summer vacation scholarships are funded by the School of Chemistry and the Faculty of Science. Full details of available projects and supervisors can be found in the list below.

To apply, please see the UNSW Scholarships website.


List of projects in Chemistry available for Summer vacation scholarships 2017-2018


Excitonic interactions for solar energy

Prof. Timothy Schmidt, School of Chemistry, Email:

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science (ACEx) is investigating how excitons - the quantized electronic excitation of matter - can be manipulated to bring about more efficient solar energy harvesting. We have projects available in photochemical upconversion, joining photons together, and singlet fission, where we split photons in two. Many of these experiments will use sophisticated lasers with pulses lasting less than a millionth or a millionth of a second.

Sound exciting? Join ACEx!

Computational chemistry and biomolecular simulations

Dr. Junming Ho, School of Chemistry, Email:

In the Mechanisms and Modelling group (MMG), we develop and use quantum chemical calculations as a computational microscope to glimpse into the mechanisms of important (bio)chemical processes. These insights can help guide experiments, and also lead to the design of more efficient catalysts and enzymes. The MMG has a strong interest in catalysis, physical organic chemistry and modelling solvent effects. 

If you like to find out more about what computational chemistry can do (or cannot do!), we invite you to join us this summer to work on several of our exciting ongoing projects:

  • Large-scale prediction of equilibrium acidities of organocatalysts


  • Developing QSAR models to accelerate the discovery of new catalysts and drug molecule

Activity = a1.HB + a2.Steric + a3.logP + ………

 No background in computational chemistry is assumed as training will be provided. We welcome informal enquiries from prospective students.

New scaffolds for growing neurons: An insight into Alzheimer’s

 Dr Adam Martin, School of Chemistry, Tel: 9385 4660, Email:

Currently, there are no known treatments which can reverse the progression of dementias such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. A key to overcoming this limitation is understanding changes in the brain at the early stages of dementia, so that diagnostic tests and treatments can be developed.

I work on peptide hydrogel scaffolds which can be used to support the growth of neuronal cells. In this summer project, you will work with me on developing novel peptides which form hydrogels and can be used to support different populations of neuronal cells (i.e. diseased neurons). This project will allow you to experience chemical synthesis, hydrogel characterisation, fluorescence microscopy and neuronal cell culture techniques.

Molecules, Stars, Cameras and Diatomic Molecules

Dr Laura K. McKemmish, School of Chemistry, email:

In the McKemmish group, I am offering three different summer projects suitable for students with different backgrounds and interests.

These two projects are expected to contribute to future scientific publications, with students who perform strongly invited to become co-authors.

- Molecular Data for Astrophysics of Cool Stars and Hot Jupiter Exoplanets: Exploring unusual molecules with complex spectroscopy of relevance to finding habitable exoplanets around red dwarfs.

- Updating A Highly Cited Reference Database: Contributing significantly to pre-populating a new online database on diatomic molecular constants using exising online data

 The final project is an excellent opportunity to interact with UNSW researchers to learn more about their potential Honours and PhD topics.

- UNSWChemistry FilmMakers: Producing YouTube videos on research within Chemistry department including interviews and filmed experiments.

 For more details on all three projects, please see Laura's webpage.


Molecular Switching Materials

Dr. Suzanne Neville, School of Chemistry, Tel: 9385 4752, email:

In this project, you will have the opportunity to design, synthesize and explore the characteristics of novel molecular switching materials.

Molecular switching materials can be reversibly shifted between at least two different states with distinct properties by the application of external input energy (e.g., mechanical, magnetic, electrical, optical etc.). The spin crossover phenomenon, which is accessible in certain transition metal complexes, is an elegant example of molecular switching. In this project we will use temperature variation to induce the switching and study the transition using variable temperature X-ray diffraction and magnetic measurements. The ultimate goal is to use this structure-function information to rationally design spin crossover materials with optimal working conditions.  

Laser Chemistry and Spectroscopy

Prof. Scott Kable, School of Chemistry,  Phone:  9385 4713, e-mail: 

In my group, we use lasers to initiate chemical reactions and laser-based spectroscopic methods to probe what happens.  In broad terms, we discover new molecules this way, and undercover new pathways that molecules use to evolve from reactant to product. 

The project on offer this summer is part of a campaign to solve the problem that existing models of the atmosphere cannot predict the amount of H2 found in the atmosphere. The observed concentration exceeds the model values by 100%.  Literature suggests that there are unknown photolytic sources of H2.  This year, we observed for the first time the H2 is produced from some aldehydes when they are irradiated with ultraviolet light.  The yield is small, but there are a wide variety of aldehydes in the atmosphere.

In this project you will investigate H2 production from a new aldehyde.  The project can take up to two summer research students.  One student will work with a PhD student to measure H2 products after photolysis using laser spectroscopy and ion imaging. This will provide definitive proof that H2 is a photolytic product, but not how important it is (the quantum yield).  The other student will work a different PhD student detecting the co-fragment of H2 elimination and thereby determine the quantum yield using laser photolysis and FTIR detection.

 The specifics of the project will be decided by discussion.  The projects would suit student who have completed CHEM2011 (Physical Chemistry), or an equivalent physics course in quantum mechanics.  The photo below is the FTIR lab with laser operating.

Discovery of new organo-catalysts: greener ways to promote chemical reactions

Dr. Vinh Nguyen, School of Chemistry,  Tel: 9385 6167, e-mail:

Nguyen’s group has several summer projects focusing on the development of novel organocatalytic methods and applications of those in synthesis of bioactive molecules. Organocatalysis, chemical processes catalyzed by small non-metallic organic compounds, has recently emerged as one of the most promising fields in organic chemistry. It can be employed in diverse synthetic cascade sequences to quickly construct complex bonds, stereocenters and polycyclic frameworks. Organocatalysts are less expensive, more stable and exhibit superior solubility in both organic and aqueous solutions compared to organometallic/bioorganic analogues. Most importantly, organocatalysis generally gives rise to outstanding stereoselectivity, which is significantly valuable and useful at the structural engineering stage of bioactive compounds and pharmaceutical agents.

You will have an opportunity to design and develop the synthesis of novel organocatalysts for various application in synthetic organic chemistry.