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Alexander Robertson

Dr Alexander Robertson
Royal Society University Research Fellow

Department of Materials
University of Oxford
16 Parks Road
Oxford OX1 3PH

Tel: +44 1865 273777 (reception)
Fax: +44 1865 273789 (general fax)

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Summary of Interests

The rapid advancements over the past couple decades in transmission electron microscopy (TEM) - aberration correction, cold field emission electron sources, monochromation, direct electron detection, sophisticated sample holders, environmental chambers, and many others - has massively expanded the range of materials science questions that can be addressed with this venerable technique.

My interest is in applying these new techniques to explore the fields that have been opened up to TEM investigation. The atomic structure of many nanomaterials, including graphene and carbon nanotubes, are perhaps best realised with TEM. Understanding the atomic structure and defect behaviour of these new materials has been a major focus of my research. Using custom-built in-situ sample holders I have explored the atomic level behaviour of 2D materials in electronic devices, imaging the changes in atomic structure they undergo while under bias.

More recently I have been interested in the emerging area of in-situ liquid characterisation. This permits the characterisation of liquid chemistry by TEM at the nanoscale, permitting the nanoscale investigation of important materials systems, including battery electrodes, hydrogen fuel cell cathodes, and inorganic catalysts.

Research Publications

Projects Available

*/**Understanding battery chemistry with in-situ electron microscopy
Dr Alex W Robertson and Prof Peter G Bruce

Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised the way we think of energy storage, allowing for powerful devices that fit the palm of our hands, and massive battery arrays to supplement intermittent renewables. However there are fundamental limitations; the recent high profile fires that occurred in the Samsung Galaxy Note phones, and the 2013 grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner fleet, both illustrate this. The materials failures that occurred in these batteries risk becoming increasingly prevalent as we push Li-ion batteries to their maximum potential. New battery systems will be needed, such as Na-ion or Li-air, and a more fundamental understanding of the materials degradation mechanisms will be required to prevent failure.

This PhD project is based on using state-of-the-art transmission electron microscopy to characterise and understand these fundamental failure mechanisms at the atomic level, ultimately leading to the development of resilient battery designs.

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) permits the characterisation of a material’s structure down to the atomic level, along with its chemical constitution by spectroscopy. TEM has been around for many years, but recent advances have seen the profile of this venerable technique rise dramatically, with a 2017 Nobel Prize awarded for its application to biological systems. Using this technique to aid the understanding battery chemistry has been historically difficult, as most battery chemistry occurs in solution. However, recent developments now allow for liquid phases to be studied within the TEM, permitting an unprecedented insight into the processes that occur in a battery during operation. The student, working with the world-leading battery and electron microscopy communities within the Materials Department, will harness TEM to understand the fundamental chemical and materials processes that occur in batteries.

Candidates are considered in the January 2018 admissions cycle which has an application deadline of 19 January 2018. 

This 3.5-year EPSRC DTP studentship will provide full fees and maintenance for a student who has home fee status (this includes an EU student who has spent the previous three years (or more) in the UK undertaking undergraduate study).  The stipend will be at least £15,553 per year.  Other EU students should read the guidance at for further information about eligibility.

Any questions concerning the project can be addressed to Dr Alex Robertson (  General enquiries on how to apply can be made by e‑mail to  You must complete the standard Oxford University Application for Graduate Studies.  Further information and an electronic copy of the application form can be found at

Also see homepages: Peter Bruce Alex Robertson

Also see a full listing of New projects available within the Department of Materials.