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PhD Opportunity: Lightning and the Chemical Origin of Life

What are the early steps in the chemical origin of life on Earth, prior to the existence of complex organic molecules and biology? Could Earth have relied on fallen meteorites carrying alien species, or could lightning storms have turned an inorganic Earth and its inert atmosphere into chemically reactive building blocks for early life to emerge, survive, and evolve? Our group tests the “zip zap Frankenstein” scenario, experimentally simulating lightning strikes under a prebiotic Earth-like environment on the bench top. We explore reaction pathways uniquely enabled by plasma- and radical- chemistry, as well as the role of reactive interfaces (e.g., aerosols, nanostructured solvents, particle suspensions, and mineral surfaces) in electrochemical synthesis.

lightning and the chemical origin of life on the early earth

About this opportunity:

Interested in completing a PhD research degree in 3.5 years? We are looking for curious, energetic, and self-motivated candidates, whom are passionate about solving interdisciplinary problems.


- a major in Chemistry (or related fields)

- a 4-year undergraduate degree (awarded First Class Honours), or a Master’s Degree

- prior research experience (with at least 1 publication)

- excellent communication skills in English (e.g., IELTS >6.5 across all sections; or TOFEL >88 overall, with >22 across all section)

- an overall GPA of above 3.3/4.0 (or top 15% in your class)

- coming from one of the top 200 universities worldwide (or highly ranked in your country)

The University of Sydney is ranked in the top 20 universities in the world.

Research scholarships are awarded on a competitive basis, with exempted Tuition and $40k/yr stipend (tax free). Conference presentations and overseas collaborative opportunities (e.g., with Harvard University) are possible, depending on project and research performance.

How to apply:

Please email Dr. Haihui Joy Jiang ( with the following info:

- CV (including peer-reviewed publications, if applicable)

- Academic transcripts

- a short email introduction

Note that international (non-Australian) candidates should submit their applications a year in advance. Australian (domestic) candidates are encouraged to apply a semester in advance.


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