Postdoctoral Research Associate in Dynamic Compression Research at the European-XFEL

University of Edinburgh

United Kingdom


1. Job Details

Job title: Post-doctoral Research Associate

School/Support Department: School of Physics and Astronomy

Unit: Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions

Line manager: Prof Malcolm McMahon

2. Job Purpose

The appointed Postdoctoral Research Associate (PDRA) will utilise dynamic compression methods to investigate the behaviour of materials to extremely high pressures using x-ray diffraction techniques at XFELs. This programme of research will be conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and York, and has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

3. Main Responsibilities (Approx. % of time)

  1. Undertaking research projects in pursuit of goals agreed with the research supervisors. This will involve deciding, with supervisors, on the detailed direction of the research, formulating, together with supervisors, a strategy for day-to-day research work, implementing the strategy without close supervision and reporting progress to supervisors and other research team members (60%)

  2. Communicating research strategies and results to other team members, including other PDRAs, PhD and Masters students in both experiment and theory teams, and to collaborators at Edinburgh and at other institutions through talks, and discussions. Learning about others’ research through seminars and group meetings and helping where appropriate in the organisation of these events (10%)

  3. Assisting with supervision of more junior researchers, including PhD and Master's students where appropriate (5%)

  4. Writing reports, beamtime applications, online material and scientific papers (20%)

  5. Attending and presenting at workshops and conferences (5%)

4. Planning and Organising

The PDRA will need to be able to plan their research strategy, in discussion with the supervisory team, and organise their day-to-day tasks without close supervision, in order to meet agreed research goals. The PDRA will also be expected to plan the write-up of their research as journal articles, producing draft papers for discussion with supervisors.

5. Problem Solving

The PDRA will be expected to solve day-to-day research problems (e.g. technical issues) with little supervision. The researcher should be familiar with the use of dynamic compression techniques to attain pressures above 100 GPa, have used x-ray diffraction to obtain structural information, and should be familiar with crystallographic software such as GSAS, JANA, for determining crystal structures. Experience of the use of XFELs or large laser facilities would be advantageous. The PDRA will also be expected to take a leading role in suggesting solutions to larger research challenges, in discussion with the supervisory team and with other researchers involved in the project.

6. Decision Making

The PDRA will be expected to make day-to-day decisions about research strategy with little help, reporting their decisions to the supervisory team as required. They will also be expected to take a leading role in discussions regarding larger-scale project direction, together with the supervisory team.

7. Key Contacts/Relationships

The PDRA will report regularly to the project leader Malcolm McMahon who will be responsible for managing their workload and for strategic planning. The PDRA will also interact regularly with co-workers who are working on related projects, including other postdoctoral staff, PhD students and students undertaking undergraduate research projects. Other key interactions will be with collaborators at York Oxford and Cambridge Universities, AWE Aldermaston, European XFEL, DESY and Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

The PDRA will also interact with a variety of support staff (administrative and technical) within the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, and the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. Funding is available for the PDRA to spend extended time in Hamburg at the European-XFEL.

8. Knowledge, Skills and Experience Needed for the Job



PhD in Physics, Chemistry or a related subject.

Experience of dynamic compression experimental techniques

Ability to write scientific reports, generate figures and give presentations.

Ability to work closely with the experimental team and to understand the practical issues faced.



Experience of working in a multi-disciplinary team

Experience of working at an x-ray synchrotron (e.g. ESRF) or free electron laser (e.g. LCLS)

Experience with x-ray diffraction and the crystallographic study of materials

Experience with analysis of VISAR data

Knowledge, Skills and Competencies


Ability to draft scientific papers for refereed journals.

Excellent general communication skills.

Experience of working with and supporting PhD and masters students.

Ability to communicate complex information clearly, orally and in writing.


Computer programming 
Data handling 
Online presentation skills, web pages etc. 
Maintenance of websites.

Personal Attributes


Enthusiasm for learning about high pressure systems using quantitative methods and ambition to achieve excellent results.

Ability to think creatively and propose and develop new ideas.

Capability of working without close supervision, exercising a high degree of initiative and demonstrating a pro-active approach to work.

Ability to develop and maintain effective working relationships.

Enthusiasm to spend significant time working away from Edinburgh at European-XFEL and other facilities.


Ability to adapt to new ideas and willingness to approach new challenges and adjust plans to suit new priorities.

Ability to work hard and organise work so as to perform multiple tasks simultaneously.

Ability to set up and maintain a well-organised repository of data.

Potential for career advancement as an independent researcher.

9. Dimensions

The PDRA will be expected to assist in the supervision of approximately 2 PhD students and/or 1 undergraduate project student. He/she will also be expected to produce 3 or more published articles per annum in appropriate refereed journals, in collaboration with the supervisory team and other members of the research team. He/she will also present his/her results orally at weekly meetings with the supervisory team and other team members, and will produce informal written reports when requested to do so.

10. Job Context and any other relevant information

This position is funded by EPSRC grant EP/S022155/1 which aims to study simple metals up to extreme pressures and temperatures using dynamic compression techniques and computation at European-XFEL

At ambient conditions, the light alkali metals Li, Na and K are nearly free electron (NFE) metals. But rather than becoming MORE free-electron like when compressed, these metals undergo transitions to unusual and complex structural and electronic forms as a result of density-driven changes in the interactions of the ions and electrons. While such behaviour is expected in all high-density matter, the physics is most evident in the alkali metals due to their NFE behaviour at ambient conditions, and their very high compressibilities. They thus offer a unique insight into the behaviour of all other metals at very high densities. We aim to exploit the Edinburgh/York/Cambridge/Oxford team's expertise in experimental and computational high-pressure physics to create solid and fluid simple metals (both alkali metals and others) at unprecedented densities, and then determine their structural behaviour using x-ray diffraction techniques at x-ray free electron lasers. We will then use electronic structure and quantum molecular-dynamics calculations to predict structural behaviour, understand the physics behind the observed behaviour, and thereby develop new understanding and improved predictive capabilities in the behaviour of matter at ultra-high densities. Creating these materials at pressures up to 10 Mbars is exceptionally challenging, and will utilise the DiPOLE laser to be installed at European-XFEL in 2020.

Application Procedure

All applicants should apply online by clicking the apply link at the bottom of this page. The application process is quick and easy to follow, and you will receive email confirmation of safe receipt of your application. The online system allows you to submit a CV and other attachments.

We anticipate interviews will be held within two weeks of the closing date. You will be notified by email whether you have been shortlisted for interview or not.

Contact Person : Carol Borthwick
Contact Email :

In your application, please refer to