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RESEARCH PROJECTS

We have a wide range of PhD projects available in the fields of computing, engineering, and physical sciences.

Brief descriptions of the projects are given below. For more information please contact us at CEPS-Research@uws.ac.uk. Our expert staff will be happy to answer your questions.

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Computing Research

In the Division of Computing, we carry out research into a number of areas including cyber security, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and computer games.

COMPUTING PhD PROJECTS

Type systems for security, verification and performance

Supervisor: Dr Paul Keir

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Dependently-typed programming languages, such as Idris and Agda, can increase the assurances provided by the type system to programmers, facilitating an expressive interleaving of types and values. Such languages allow the creation of programs which are correct-by-construction; encoding proof of their properties and intended behaviours statically within the same source code. In a more mainstream context, modern system programming languages such as C++23 (contracts), D and Mozilla's Rust can ensure that aspects of program behaviour relating to security, including memory access violations, can be eliminated; while also maintaining a high computational performance relevant to scientific computing. This project will develop these novel aspects further within the context of imperative programming languages, in applied research within modern compiler technology including the Rust compiler; and continuing our contributions to the LLVM Compiler Infrastructure Project.

 

Protecting critical infrastructures against cyber attacks

Supervisor: Dr Hector Marco

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Future Internet is bringing unprecedented opportunities to connect people, processes, data, and things. The massive increment in the number of connected devices is also increasing the size of the exposed surface of the network to cyber attackers. Innovative approaches based on anomaly detection and protection has been well researched to detect and prevent cyberattacks. This project will carry out research and develop novel security services that can proactively detect cyberattacks to critical infrastructures to develop effective protection techniques. The early detection enables a complete novel set of proactive countermeasures to prepare the system in advance for the incoming attacks. The challenge will then be focused on identifying and designing cyber protection services to ensure vulnerable resources are efficiently protected. Cyberattacks continue to occur frequently and result in serious financial and reputation consequences for businesses and government institutions. This research will have significant technological, economic and social impact, by protecting connected resources and ensuring their availably. This project will make cybersecurity more proactive as event of local, national and global importance unfolds.

 

Architectures, technologies and security for distributed systems

Supervisor: Dr Ying Liang

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Distributed systems are networked computer systems. They consist of varied software, hardware, infrastructures, and networks. They use varied open sources, devices, sensors, infrastructures and network to create cloud services and data stores for the realisation of smart cities and organisation, online business, social medias, automatic manufactories, Internet-of-Things, robotics, and so on. In future, there is no doubt that distributed systems will play an important role of the life of people, business, organisations, manufactories and all areas of industry and society. However, how to build distributed systems effectively and efficiently would be key issue when they are extended to new fields of applications in future. Current architectures, technologies and security may not be suitable for building new types of distributed systems while size, type, location and communication of individual parts of distributed systems become more and more difficult to control and manage for more and more complex applications. It needs more research on this issue in order to use distributed systems in a wider range. This PhD project will focus on a specific field in business, industry, or society It will investigate current architectures, technologies and security used for distributed systems, and research the digitalisation need of the field. It then will propose either improvements of current architectures, technologies and security, or new architectures, technologies and security that would be more suitable for distributed systems in the field.

 

Persuasive games in their potential benefits to charities and other third-sector organisations

Supervisor: Dr Thomas Hainey

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Videogames are a unique medium that allow players to interact with the text and explore a range of possible outcomes. Persuasive games are a subset of videogames in which game design, context and interactive simulated experience act as a rhetorical device to present a specific message or view on an issue. Persuasive games have been designed to raise awareness by activists, independent game development studios, government organisations and commercial businesses. Third sector organisations are organisations that are neither public nor private sector, such as volunteer and community groups, charities and social enterprises. These organisations are slow to adopt new technology and digital marketing strategies. This is a major issue for charities as trends in public donations and engagement shifts away from traditional models to digital platforms. This issue is compounded by several factors. Many third-sector organisations do not have a clear digital strategy and lack sufficient resources to invest in developing one. They lack basic digital skills and literacy within the organisation and an understanding within their leadership of the potential benefits to embracing digital technology. Most third-sector professionals accept that digital marketing and strategies are a key area of future development. The projects will involve working in collaboration with a third sector organisation to develop an experimental persuasive game. This will be used to determine the effectiveness of persuasive games in meeting the specific requirements of third sector organisations. The project will involve collecting data on the effectiveness of the prototype through focus testing, interviews with players and the collection of usage information, as well as interpretation of the data to assess the prototype’s effectiveness.

 

Applying virtual and augmented reality to teach programming concepts at tertiary education level

Supervisor: Dr Thomas Hainey

Additional supervisor: Dr Gavin Baxter

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Computer programming is a problematic subject for learners as it is perceived as difficult with high levels of attrition. Programming is a multifaceted problem encompassing software construction, algorithmic thinking, debugging and abstraction that can lead to “programming incompetency” where graduates are not properly prepared for industry utilising standard teaching approaches. A career in computer programming can be a highly rewarding one with a high salary, however this requires a great deal of commitment and nearly a decade to master. One particular issue associated with computer programming is that is very male dominated subject, however it is an introductory requirement of many degree streams throughout Higher Education (HE) programmes including software engineering, computer science, business information technology, computer games development and computer games technology. Games-based learning and serious games have been empirically evaluated to attempt to ascertain if they can assist with programming education in a supplementary level capacity. Computer games and immersive technologies have radically advanced with the introduction of Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). There is a lack of research associated with the application of computer games utilising Virtual and Augmented Reality and particularly what it brings to the table in relation to an increased immersive experience for Computer Games for Learning. This project will investigate the applicability of VR and AR for teaching rudimentary programming concepts – particularly algorithms and data structures. The project will construct a VR environment to evaluate the teaching potential of VR in this area while at the same time addressing the issue of gender bias in computer science courses and ascertaining whether this can be something that could be partially remedied utilising VR.

 

Secure and robust cryptographic authentication framework for PKI-based IoT blockchain infrastructure

Supervisor: Dr Zeeshan Siddiqui

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The aim of this project is to propose, design, develop and further implement a remote user authentication framework for an integrated Blockchain and IoT infrastructure. The project is divided into phases as listed below. Phase-I covers a detailed and discreet level of literature review and further analysis of various PKI based authentication protocols for Blockchain. Further, it reviews various authentication protocols that securely integrates Blockchain with IoT infrastructure. Phase-II perform a much narrowed and targeted study in order to normalize and identify existing authentication vulnerabilities and security issues within the reviews performed in Phase-I. Phase-III involves proposing more secure and robust authentication framework comprises of several authentication phases covering every aspect of the existing PKI-based IoT Blockchain Infrastructure. Phase-IV covers the design and development of several cryptographic authentication protocols based on the proposed authentication framework. Phase-V discusses the implementation and simulative testing of the designed and developed authentication protocols using authentication protocols validation and verification tools and authentication logics. Phase-VI discusses the Security and Performance analysis of the work along with analysing and comparing the proposed and developed work with the existing studies. This phase further utilize various multicriteria decision analysis models to logically compare the security and performance of the proposed study with the existing and previous studies. Phase-VII covers the final outcome, justification and contribution of the study within its respective domain of Cybersecurity.

 

Procedural animation for virtual actors

Supervisor: Dr Patrick Walder

Additional supervisor: Dr Mark Carey

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: This project aims to investigate computational models for animating characters in order to convey expressiveness and convincing emotional states. The intention is to develop novel procedural methods for animating gestures and facial expression based on the principles that apply to human acting. These techniques may then be applied to “virtual actors” that can be animated in real time and interact with one another. Procedural animation refers to animation controlled by some form of computational model. In 3D computer animation, procedural methods commonly drive physically realistic simulations, with the computational model being designed to replicate real-world physics (as in characters jumping, falling, colliding, etc.), and are implemented for film and games in high-end animation tools. However, more subtle aspects of animation – akin to acting – are hard to model procedurally as they rely on processes beyond physical dynamics. Procedural facial animation is especially challenging, due both to the complexities involved in manipulating facial expression, and to the difficulties in defining what makes an expression realistic or believable. A number of systems exist to characterise and parameterise facial expression, but most focus on static expressions and disregard the ways in which facial movements convey emotion. We aim to develop new techniques for characterising gestures and facial movements that reflect a character’s emotions. By applying these within a procedural model, expressiveness and personality can effectively be “built in” to a character. One avenue of investigation is to use a neural network to “teach” a character model how to act by reinforcing behaviour that appears emotionally convincing and suppressing actions that are obviously false. The character would thus “learn” to produce convincing expressions without programming them explicitly into the model.

 

Airborne wireless networks for smart and sustainable future cities

Supervisor: Dr Muhammad Zeeshan Shakir

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Driven by an emerging use of flying platforms such as high/low/medium altitude platforms, in wireless applications and the challenges that the 5G and beyond networks exhibit, the focus of this project is to research, design and develop novel and smart scalable and unified artificial intelligence and machine learning enabled wireless infrastructure by integrating flying platforms into 5G access and backhaul networks. Such large scale flexible and self-organising platforms/frameworks provisioning ultra-low latency (time to reaction over wireless links), high data-rate and high reliability will guarantee the global information and communication requirements in future smart and resilient cities and solve the ubiquitous connectivity problems in: (a) many challenging network coverage environments (such as coverage or capacity enhancements for remote or sparsely populated and disaster affected areas) and (b) several industrial sectors for intelligent monitoring and surveillance applications (such as transportations, health, power grid, and agriculture)

 

Interoperability between distributed systems: an information theories based approach

Supervisor: Dr Junkang Feng

Additional supervisor: Professor Malcolm Crowe

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Interoperability between distributed systems is indispensable for modern information systems, in which the problem of semantic interoperability has not been well addressed, it would seem. In the last 17 years, with a group of academics and over 10 PhD students we have carried out substantial research on this problem involving databases, web services and ontologies. We have created an inference engine for deriving informational relationships between data sets. We have developed a semantic integration system for conceptual knowledge discovery from databases. We have drawn on Dretske’s Semantic Theory of Information, Barwise and Seligman’s Information Channel Theory, and Wille’s Formal Concept Analysis for the above among others. Our research results are reflected in dozens of research papers published and at least eight successfully completed PhD research projects. A number of PhD project areas are listed below.

  • Identifying Relationships of Interest in complex environments by using Information Channel Theory
  • Complex semantic alignment between databases
  • Information Flow based Capability Matching Service for Smart Manufacturing
  • Recursive application of the Information Channel Theory for information flow based interoperability between systems.
  • Semantic matching services for SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)

 

Continuous engineering of modern software systems

Supervisor: Dr Santiago Matalonga

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Continuous engineering is the umbrella term for a development process that delivers verified, validated, and working software in short frequent intervals (sometimes several hundred daily updates). We are studying the effect of internal quality decay (Technical Debt) caused by the adoption of continuous engineering in the context of open source and industrial software development. This research aims to develop technologies (tools and process) that can have an influence on the successful adoption of continuous experimentation. Current areas of study are as follows, but we are also interested in related areas.

  • continuous architecture: Evaluation and assessment of architectures that support continuous engineering while managing Technical Debt.
  • automated verification (including testing) and validation: Success factors and inhibitors for adoption continuous Testing activities in the engineering lifecycle.

We are collaborating with researchers at the Universidad Federal do Campinhas (Brazil) and Universde Federal do Estado do Rio de Janheiro (Brazil). Possibility for short-stay research visits might be available for research projects within this research area.

 

Engineering blockchain enabled software systems

Supervisor: Dr Santiago Matalonga

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: There are three main functional characteristics that a Blockchain can provide. (1) An immutable ledger – record stored in a Blockchain cannot be modified. (2) Anonymity: participants in a Blockchain transaction need not reveal their identity. (3) Decentralization: there is no central point of governance on a Blockchain network. Second Generation Blockchain, Like Ethereum, provide a secure computational platform where software acclimations (called smart contracts) can be deployed to provide distributed and transparent organizations. But while Blockchain provides a secure environment, smart contacts might expose vulnerabilities in their source code. Smart Contracts vulnerabilities have already been exploited with success. Arguably the most famous of these is the attack on The DAO (a Distributed Autonomous Organization aimed at automating venture capital investment). We are looking to provide Smart Contract developers with a toolset (technology and methodologies) that will enable to manage the quality of their software products throughout the whole software development lifecycle of a Smart Contract. Example projects within this area of research are as follows.

  • Model-Driven development for Smart Contracts. We are aiming to develop model-driven technologies for the development of secure Smart Contract that can be deployed to multiple Blockchain platforms.
  • Software Architectures to support Blockchain Integrations. The practical scope of Blockchain-based-only distributed autonomous applications (DAPPs) are limited. Yet, when DAPPs are integrated as part of a larger system-of-system systems, business cases and application start to grow. We are looking into the software architectures that can securely support this integration.
  • Development practices for Smart Contracts. Immutability is one of the key properties of a blockchain. Once a record is stored in a Blockchain, it can not be changed. However, software systems that can not be changed (i.e. deployed smart contracts) are bound to decay. We are looking into novel development practices and process that must be adopted for the engineering of Smart Contracts.

This research is being carried out in collaboration with Universidad ORT in Uruguay.

 

Software engineering education

Supervisor: Dr Santiago Matalonga

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: We are witnessing remarkable changes in the teaching/learning environment. On the one hand, traditional higher education is facing competition from a variety of sources that offer students new alternatives for knowledge delivery. Online MOOCs provide access to contents from top universities. In the software engineering arena, vendor-specific training and certification (like Microsoft's Certified Solution Developer) offer fast insertion into the job market. On the other hand, present education methods must accommodate the expectations and behaviours of millennials, who are tech-savvy, team focused, discovery aware, goal driven, and have a short attention span. With these external pressures, we believe that we must upgrade the classroom experience to convey the value of a university education to our students. There are several PhD projects avauilable within this general research area, which are outlined below.

  • Delivering and deploying enhanced classroom experiences through methodological innovations. We have adapted the team-based learning methodology for the delivery of a wide variety of content within the software engineering curriculum. Further innovations must still be investigated (like serious games, just in time teaching, evaluating the value of introducing technology into the classroom).
  • Introducing simulations for higher-level cognitive discussions in the classroom. Developing and deploying software systems are complex endeavours with non-linear feedback loops. Classroom coursework can only go so far as to enabling the students to experience these complex interactions. We have designed and delivered simulation-based class coursework and are looking to further formalise and evaluate the effects of introducing it into the classroom.

This research is being carried out in collaboration with Universidad Miguel Hernandez in Spain. The possibility for short-stay research visits might be available for research projects within this area.

 

Testing of modern software systems

Supervisor: Dr Santiago Matalonga

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: As the world approaches a technological singularity, modern software systems become ubiquitous, AI-enabled and context-aware. A modern software system is now built on top of a variety of platforms, technologies, and application domains. As a result, modern software systems exhibit properties for which traditional testing techniques are found to be inadequate. Among these properties, of particular interest are ubiquity and context-awareness. We are developing tools and technologies for testing software of modern software systems that specifically cater for it emerging properties. We have a well-established area of research on the testing of context-aware software systems, where we developed and validated new process and tools. Currently, we are working on evolving our proposals through the Technology Readiness Levels, by incorporating evidence of industrial applications. A PhD project in this area would extend the current tools and technologies and demonstrate its application in unexplored application domains (for instance, aviation, self-driving cars, satellite systems, swarms of coordinating drones). In this research, we are collaborating with researchers at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and the University of Naples Federico III in Italy. The possibility of short-stay research visits might be available for a research project within this area.

 

Face recognition as a service

Supervisor: Dr Joanna Olszewska

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The purpose of this project is to develop a novel, cloud system for identity management based on automated face recognition in context of Biometric-as-a Service. Indeed, face recognition systems are present everywhere in our Society from street surveillance cameras to airport e-gates, from m-health services to Facebook apps. However, new technological solutions need to be designed in order to improve automated face recognition (AFR) reliability, while enforcing privacy and being GDPR compliant. As per UK Innovate, ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have already demonstrated benefits in domains for discrete information processing tasks such as image classification and face recognition, displaying better than human accuracy in some cases.’ It is important ‘to explore the application of such technologies in the automated identification and assessment of events in near-real time, to enable autonomous triage and alerting capabilities in order to flag significant incidents.’ For this purpose, the British Machine Vision Association (BMVA) Dr Joanna Olszewska is member of encourages the development of new intelligent, automated face recognition (AFR) systems with lower false alarm rates compared to the previous generation of AFR systems, as flagged out in the news (BBC, 15/05/2018), in order to avoid missed incidents (false negative rate) or unnecessarily triggered alarms (false positive rate). Hence, this project aims to contribute to this field by bringing an innovative cloud-based, AI solution which is marketable. The project’s goals are to study automated face recognition (AFR) in the wild and to develop an intelligent AFR service which is secure and efficient in terms false positive and false negative rates. The intended output of this project is the development of a cloud-based AFR prototype able to recognize precisely human face in real-world and real-time situations.

 

Internet-Of-Things (IoT) intelligent agents

Supervisor: Dr Joanna Olszewska

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The purpose of this project is to elaborate on an efficient approach for the reliable communication in between multiple intelligent agents which could be human and/or artificial (software or hardware) ones. Indeed, with the arrival of Industry 4.0, the scenario of various intelligent systems interacting reliably and securely with each other becomes a reality technical systems need to address. As per UK Innovate, ‘Britain was the birthplace of the first industrial revolution, led the second technological industrial revolution, was an early adopter of the third - automation-driven industrial revolution, and is now readying itself to adopt and adapt to the fourth industrial revolution - driven by digital data, connectivity, and cyber systems. This fourth industrial revolution, or ‘industry 4.0’ has the potential to create impressive, new, and sometimes unimaginable business opportunities for those who are innovative and agile.’ As discussed within the IEEE IoT Initiative and the IEEE IES Technical Committee on Factory Automation Dr Joanna Olszewska is member of, the potential of new technologies such as intelligent agents, Internet-Of-Things (IoT), etc. could benefit the Industry 4.0 effort. Hence, this project aims to contribute to this field by bringing an innovative solution which is marketable. The goals of this project are to study the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for IoT robotic agents in context of Industry 4.0 and to develop an interoperable communication model to interconnect them efficiently. The intended output of this project is the development of an IoT robotic agent prototype able to interact with humans and/or other intelligent agents.

 

Robotic software verification and validation (V&V)

Supervisor: Dr Joanna Olszewska

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The purpose of this project is to develop an appropriate methodology and/or algorithmic approach to perform the validation and verification (V&V) of softwares for autonomous systems and robots. Indeed, with the growth of robotic applications and robot services in our daily life, the development of such V&V models is of prime importance to ensure these robotic systems behave both reliably and safely. The global market for service and industrial robots is estimated to reach £44 billion by 2020 as per UK Innovate. Governments and professional bodies are currently studying the impact it might have on people and societies. This leads to publications such as the House of Lord Report 100 on ‘AI in the UK Ready, willing and able?’ (April 2018) and the Ethically Aligned Design v2 report (June 2018) produced by the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (EAD). One of the main concerns which has been raised is the need to develop adequate guidelines to guarantee both reliable and ethical behaviours of the robotic systems. Hence, this project aims to contribute to these guidelines by bringing a software-engineering-inspired solution. Hence, the goals of the project are to study existing verification and validation (V&V) models for softwares deployed in critical applications, and to extend/adapt them to the robotic domain. The intended output of this project is the development of an appropriate V&V model for dependable and ethically driven robotic systems.

 

AI-based trust assessment models for promoting cooperative cyber behaviour

Supervisor: Professor Keshav Dahal

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Social networks in the cyberspace need a trustworthiness assessment mechanism to ensure privacy and security of the users. As the social network system in itself is distributed and the participants being autonomous, it is not possible in such situations to have a centralised controlling mechanism. The proposed research investigates into design and test of a suitable AI-based trust model for online interaction between participants. The aim is to analysis and detect the changes in the user behaviour, e.g. occurrence of a significant shift of the user’s social network and trust, using some emerging machine learning techniques. The research will look into the capability to identify users who are more likely to be involved in anti-social behaviour and also identify those who are in the process of altering their social framework to align more with anti-social users. The proposed AI-based trust model when implemented is believed to be able to reduce the number of defaulters (anti-social users). As the model acts as a filter to identify anti-social users and reduces their trustworthiness, the defaulters will be exposed and would not be able to launch their activities online thereby influencing and shaping ‘cyber behaviour’ of the users. Findings of empirical investigation conducted in this research project would identify parameters relating to Trust and Trustworthiness in distributed cyber environments. The research would be very much useful in situations involving anonymous interactions over the Internet. Examples of such environments range from online social networking sites to online commerce and peer-to-peer interactions. Techniques relating to information gathering and analysis would be the key output of the proposed project. As this research investigation concerns developing models to assure trustworthiness in the cyberspace, security agencies looking into cyber security would benefit from it.

 

Representation and visualisation of complex data, information and knowledge using graph structures

Supervisor: Professor Keshav Dahal

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Design of representations of complex data, information and knowledge is a significant research topic of current interest. A key research question is how to support judgement, decision making and problem solving by designing visualisations and interfaces that provide information in a manner that enhances cognitive abilities of decision makers. This research will focus on investigation of modelling and visualizing dynamic graph structure as a method for data, information and knowledge representation. This can be used for research in different fields, such as Artificial intelligence (AI), Dynamic programs, Classifications etc. Graphs and trees are effective methods for describing AI logic or creating new logic when solving problem. The research in visualisation can be useful in multi-objective and many-objective optimisation problems by representing populations of solutions in a way that enhances decision makers’ cognitive abilities in finding the solution which represents the best trade-off between objectives. Similarly, there are various ways to write dynamic programs implementing dynamic graph structure depending upon the way data is initialized inside the program, logical searching of matching data, and how many nested loops are used. Performance can be increased by designing the dynamic graph data to use for different operations. The data defining vertexes, edges and states of the graph, can be separated by logic and graph. The graphical data is used for visualization of the logical data. Once visualized, the different processes that are executed on the graph structure can be monitored efficiently. Furthermore, graphical visualisation can be useful for the classification of information. This process will depend on the graph creating its own nodes when new or similar event (trigger information with level of importance) is experienced.

 

Modelling and optimisation of dynamic work-force scheduling problems

Supervisor: Professor Keshav Dahal

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Scheduling of a large mobile workforce in a dynamic environment under uncertainty is an important research problem. Hundreds of tasks must be scheduled each day, varying in size from those requiring a few minutes for a single person, to those requiring several weeks for a large multi-skilled team. The schedule must be continually revised and repaired in response to new information. The use of sensors, IoT, and location information in such an environment allows for considerable flexibility in implementing schedules. In order to provide a detailed schedule which maximises utilisation of human and other resources, the activities required from each resource for each particular task needs to be specified in detail, but such detailed specification of individual activities leads to practical problems with many inter-related low level tasks, too large to be scheduled directly. Current decomposition approaches lack the flexibility to make the most efficient use of available resources. This research will consider approaches to the analysis, modelling and optimisation of flexible work teams in a dynamic environment. The research will look at static and dynamic approaches to work team formation. The research work will investigate generalised modelling and optimisation techniques which can show their worth for a range of problems, particularly big data analytics, evolutionary algorithms, particle swarm optimisation, artificial immune systems and a range of heuristic techniques and hybrids etc. Testing these and tailored hybrid heuristics for large and complex real-world problem, will provide insight as to methods for solving complex problems, which is expected to provide significant benefits to the scheduling and AI/heuristic optimisation communities.

 

Games-based learning within software engineering, usability and user experience design

Supervisor: Dr Mark Stansfield

Research Group: Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Over the last decade the area of games-based learning has evolved to provide a stimulating and engaging learning experience for younger learners who have been brought up in a technologically rich environment. As result learners today learn much more collaboratively than in previous generations, thus there is an important need for educators to embrace and adopt approaches to teaching and learning that are better suited to the learning styles that the younger generation of learners now adopt and provide a more stimulating and engaging learning environment. Computer games are well suited to use within an educational environment because they build on theories of motivation, constructivism, situated learning, cognitive apprenticeship, problem-based learning and learning by doing. However, whilst the use of games-based learning has been growing for many years now; within the area of software engineering, in particular, areas such as usability and user experience there is still a lack of empirical evidence to support this approach. This research would be focused on exploring the extent to which games-based learning can enhance learning and understanding of areas relating to software engineering such as usability and user experience design through the development and evaluation of games-based learning prototypes and applications.

 

Developing an authoring tool for VR Therapy

Supervisor: Dr Marco Gilardi

Additional supervisor: Dr Claire Wilson

Research Group: Creative Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Virtual reality therapy (VRT) is nowadays a tool that psychotherapy practitioners can use to aid patients (Sulliva, 2018) and academic studies (Carl, 2019; Foreman, 2009, Riva 2005, Botella, 2004) suggest that there are benefits for patients that engage with VRT. However, practitioners that desire to use VR therapy are forced to rely on third party applications that are not specifically tailored around their patients’ needs. This PhD project proposes to design and develop a framework and an alpha software implementation of it that will allow practitioners to customise VR environments used in therapy tailoring treatments around their patients’ needs. To achieve this goal appropriate elements that create a successful VRT session need to be identified and incorporated in the tool, the tool must be easy to access and use for the practitioners, and it should support the type of VR headsets that practitioners and patients are comfortable in using during sessions. The intended goal of the project is to determine how the use of a Virtual Reality environment that displays a scene customised to the individual will bring about a positive mental outcome. The research will involve creating a framework that enables the creation of customised environments using the practitioner inputs, such as the type of scene, the colour palette, the space required in the scene and the sound to be generated. With this information, it will generate an environment that will be most suitable for the patient in enabling relaxation and or reducing anxiety. Since these are two different concepts they will have to be measured individually.

 

Developing engaging technologies to collect audience feedback

Supervisor: Dr Marco Gilardi

Additional supervisor: Dr Derek Turner

Research Group: Creative Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: In today's digital economy knowledge collected from customers is a fundamental asset for an organization and its decision making processes. Continuous indirect feedback techniques (such as tracking audience movement, numbers and actions during particular events) can be used to collect objective data about customers but these data only tell how customers behave, to understand why customers behave in certain ways and adapt the business to them direct feedback is necessary. Although there are many technical tools that aim at gathering data from customers and analyse them, these tools are focused on the data analytics and collection side of the process, overlooking customer engagement with the feedback process. Successful feedback methodologies aim to create intrinsic motivation within customers to give feedback to the company. Intrinsic motivation often rises from the acts of play and learning, which can be stimulated by creating entertaining and interesting processes for feedback collection. In this project we aim to exploit gamification techniques and user cantered design to design an innovative co-located digital feedback collection systems that can be interacted with via user gestures and integrated devices. The aim of the system is to engage audiences to events, museums or public spaces with the feedback process, allowing the companies to achieve better response rates moving away from pen and paper questionnaires. The system will ideally be composed by four main aspects:

  • Front end installation with witch the users will interact
  • An API that can be use to integrate the front end of the feedback collection system with the front-end installation
  • A mobile app that can be used to interact with the installation by giving feedback to the event
  • An online backend system that manages and stores the feedback provided by the audiences.

 

Embedding immersive technologies in interpretative spaces

Supervisor: Dr Marco Gilardi

Research Group: Creative Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Developing a museum experience is crucial for the success of any museum. An important aspect of the museum experience nowadays has become the use of technology and its integration within the museum context, not for the edutainment elements that it can provide, but as an engaging interpretative tool of the heritage that the museum preserves. Immersive spaces are spaces that elicit within the visitor emotions that create a sense of belonging and a long to return to the space. Immersiveness can only be achieved through the careful design of the experience the space provides and the mindful integration of technology within the space aimed at enabling and supporting the experience. This PhD project will run in collaboration with the Scottish Crannog Centre. A previous collaboration initiated a User-Centred approach to the redevelopment of the museum experience and technology integration within it. However there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed to bring innovation in the way technology is experienced in a museum, such as:

  • Overlaying digital and physical content in the exhibition in a complementary way
  • Integrating pre- and post- interactions with on-site interactions so that they support each other
  • Not distract the visitor from the exhibit with technology, but enhance the exhibition with it
  • Foster learning, interpretation and reflection through the technology
  • Deal with social interactions within the museum context and encourage and support them through technology
  • Model effective storytelling through technology

The PhD student will follow on the ideas generated by the initial study and design, develop and test new experiences and technologies within a museum context, ensuring that they aren’t just a form of edutainment for the visitor but a meaningful engaging interpretative tool for the collection and the heritage that the Museum preserves.

 

Social VR: developing social interaction between virtual reality users and bystanders

Supervisor: Dr Marco Gilardi

Additional supervisor: Dr Derek Turner

Research Group: Creative Computing

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Virtual reality (VR) has become a prominent media thanks to recent advances in technology the falling cost of head-mounted displays which has made it affordable and generated broad public interest. However, VR still faces challenges in gaining acceptance in public and social spaces (such as museums). VR is an immersive media that isolates its users from the real-world environment immersing them in a digital world. Recent advancements in technologies allow for social interaction between users within the virtual reality environment, an example of such technology is Facebook Spaces, but there is little understanding on how people interact when one of them is in VR and the others are not. Understanding interaction modalities between VR and bystanders contributes to the field of Human Computer Interaction, suggesting new possibilities for the design space of interactive systems allowing us to establish robust methods to integrate the medium within social and public spaces. This project will study the nature and degree of interaction between VR users and bystanders in public social spaces with a view to highlighting any cultural, technical or psychological constraints and to identify the natural channels of interaction. This understanding will inform the exploration of the design space by means of the development, testing and analysis of a series of prototypes which will stimulate and encourage interactions between VR users and bystanders. These prototypes may cover a range of communication devices both within and outside the virtual world. Early prototypes will be tested and evaluated in laboratory settings before being released in the wild for contextual inquiry. The aim of this project is to understand how social interaction can be established and encouraged, thus promoting the use of VR in public social spaces.

 

Dynamic AI-based spatial and temporal rainfall prediction in non-temperate climate

Supervisor: Dr David Ndzi

Research Group: Computing/Artificial Intelligence

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Rainfall in non-temperate climate is localised and of high intensities with typical rain cell sizes of less than 2 km. These lead to poor rainfall prediction using conventional systems such as satellites and rain radar. This research aims to use a database from a network of environmental sensors to develop a sub-kilometre rainfall prediction system for water resource management and localised flooding prediction. Black-box models and algorithms of hydrological processes in catchment areas will need to be developed in order to provide estimates spatio-temporal runoffs for effective river and flood management systems. This research topic is suitable for applicants who have degrees in computing subject areas, electronics, telecommunications and physics.

Engineering Research

In the Division of Engineering, we carry out research in the areas of civil engineering and the built environment, mechanical engineering, aircraft engineering, chemical engineering, aircraft engineering, energy, and engineering management.

ENGINEERING PhD PROJECTS

Adaptation of cultural built heritage to climate change: challenges to authenticity and integrity

Supervisor: Dr John Hughes

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Climate change will have significant impact on cultural heritage, in all its forms. The context of the Cultural Built Heritage - buildings, sites and internal collections - is particularly critical, as it is exposed directly to environments that engender decay. Layered on this is the potential, arguably now being realised, for an increase in extreme events such as flooding, compounded by gradual sea level rise, landslides and fire. The need for adaptation as a form of protection of heritage assets against impacts of climate change is clear, not just for cultural heritage but all of the built environment. Policies are being developed by responsible authorities, from the local to the international (e.g. UNESCO). However, cultural heritage poses arguably a special case in terms of the limits of acceptable change. The project will focus on understanding this area in detail and will use qualitative social methods combined with quantitative surveys of selected built heritage locations to investigate (amongst other factors). Projects will study the relationship between heritage typology and adaptive capacity (past and present) and the limits of acceptable change and how this will affect practical adaptation.

 

Lime in masonry conservation: improving performance and sustainability

Supervisor: Dr John Hughes

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Lime based mortars, renders, and plasters form an integral part of the global built heritage. They are also often promoted as a more sustainable materials for masonry construction in new buildings. There is, however, a relative paucity of reliable test results, and environmental evaluations to support their effective use in conservation and also in new construction. The aims of this project are as follows

  • to investigate the formulation and properties of mortars with different binder systems and incorporating recycled and waste material.
  • to consider the appropriate testing and evaluation methodologies for establishing compatibility in repair mortars.
  • to quantitatively evaluate the life-cycle and environmental impact of different mortars to provide decision support.

 

Analysis and design of cold-formed steel portal frames subject to elevated temperature in a natural fire

Supervisor: Dr Andrzej Wrzesien

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Portal frames are generally single-storey structures, therefore, the special provisions in designing such structures are only made when the building is in close vicinity of a boundary (i.e. neighbouring land or property, public highway, etc.). Fire regulations make requirements for traditional hot-rolled steel portal frames; however, in recent years, much lighter cold-formed steel (CFS) sections are used for main, load-bearing columns and rafters. This project will focus on establishing the load-bearing capacity of the three-dimensional CFS portal frame structural systems. The load-bearing capacity is a time in which the structure is no longer capable of resisting loads when subject to elevated temperature. The Steel Construction Institute (SCI) publication P313 and International Standards offer guidance for the design of traditional hot-rolled sections which are significantly thicker. The cold-formed steel sections are much thinner and as a consequence, they are more susceptible to buckling. This mode of failure is not well understood under elevated temperature and results in a sudden loss of resistance. The SCI advice on designing of portal frames under fire exempts cold-formed steel sections from use. Research papers report the use of very complex non-linear FEA methods for establishing critical collapse temperature. The use of such advanced computational methods would be considered time-consuming and overly expensive to be employed in practice. The project will focus on the development of simplified analysis methods which could be used in the industry. The design of steel structures subject to elevated temperatures often relays on the employment of Passive Fire Protection (PFP). A wide range of products is available for traditional hot-rolled steel sections but there are no certified products which can offer an economical option for protecting light-gauge steel members. The project will therefore also focus on the development of the PFP protection technique which offers optimal thermal properties and the cost.

 

Designing carbon-neutral future portal frames buildings using modern structural analysis and structural optimisation techniques

Supervisor: Dr Andrzej Wrzesien

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: According to a Tata Steel & BCSA joint report, the so-called ‘shed’ sector is now one of the most efficient and successful in UK construction. Portal frames account for 90% of all single-storey buildings and 50% of all the construction steel used in the UK each year. To stay in line with the UK 2050 net-zero emission law, this PhD project will focus on the development of the design tools that can reduce the weight of steel building to improve their sustainability and to reduce their carbon footprint in the cradle-to-grave analysis. This can be achieved by combining stressed-skin action design with modern optimisation techniques such as a genetic algorithm, artificial neural network modelling or others. Research shows that cold-formed steel primary framing has 30% less embodied carbon than traditional hot-rolled steel portal frames of modest spans (cradle-to-gate). This is based on the traditional two-dimensional design without the implementation of stressed skin design and any optimisation techniques. Stressed skin design considers inherent strength and stiffness of secondary members and the building envelop and prevents these components from serviceability failures hence reduces the loss of operational energy. The Steel Construction Institute estimates that there is 96% end-of-life recovery of steel products in the UK construction industry. The additional 4% is probably lost due to corrosion, which can be largely prevented, in the cold-formed steel by the galvanised coating. This PhD project aims to investigate the feasibility of using composite action between steel and timber to propose a more sustainable design.

 

Design of controls for parallel robots holding a photo-voltaic solar panel

Supervisor: Dr Luc Rolland

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Solar panels are usually designed and operated in an inefficient way with heavy serial mechanisms and continuous controls. The purpose of this research project is to examine, simulate and design the digital saturated pulse control approach which is suited for efficient parallel pointer mechanisms in order to minimize friction adverse effects.

 

Computational modelling of reinforced-concrete structures retrofitted with fibre-reinforced polymers

Supervisor: Dr Alrazi Earij

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The rehabilitation and repair of existing reinforced-concrete (RC) infrastructure is of paramount importance to the continued operation of these structures and also for aesthetic purposes. A significant number of these infrastructures are ageing and have started to develop some serious signs of deterioration such as cracks. Replacing deteriorated infrastructure is typically a costly option. Rehabilitation could prove to be a cheaper alternative. One of the most effective methods for rehabilitating RC structures consists of externally bonding fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) fabrics or sheets in various configurations to strengthen RC members in flexure, shear or axial compression. Among these, flexural strengthening of RC members appears to be the widely-adapted technique and is the focus of this PhD project. However, FRP-retrofitted RC members in bending exhibit complex failure modes, which are often not well-captured in experimental testing and tend not to provide a comprehensive insight into the structural response. For these reasons, numerical modelling is increasingly used as a faster and cheaper alternative to experimental testing, as well as to provide predictions for quantities that cannot be typically measured during testing, such as stress and strain components and damage levels inside bulk materials or within the FRP-to-concrete or steel-to-concrete interfaces. This research project ultimately aims at investigating different FRP materials, bonding methods, strengthening configurations and/or anchorage mechanisms, typically by conducting relevant laboratory testing. It also aims at developing three-dimensional nonlinear numerical finite-element models using Abaqus Unified FEA that are capable of simulating the post-failure behaviour captured experimentally.

 

Advanced aerodynamic investigation for modern and smart aircraft wing design

Supervisor: Dr Bassam Rakhshani

Research Group: Aircraft Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Efficient lift generation by aircraft wing systems is an intensive field of aerodynamic research to investigate and explore aspects of turbulent flow over the wing, drag reduction, flow control, and unsteady characteristics such as stall. Geometric and shape configurations of wings play a vital role in achieving desirable aerodynamic performance. Wing design configurations in terms of shape, structure and materials are primarily investigated for implementation within new design concept. In this PhD project, the student will benchmark the most viable designs (e.g. blended wing-fuselage, infinite aspect ratio, 3D printed wing, morphing wing, etc.) by testing them against aerodynamic performance criteria: aspect ratio, taper ratio, lift distribution, drag characteristics, and flow signature. When benchmarking, the candidate will use intensive CFD simulations to accumulate investigative data. By the use of IT package such as ANSYS/fluent, for instance, a number of parallel simulation cases with an optimisation setup can be performed, in which the optimum design configuration may be obtained. Therefore, the candidate is expected to be familiar with CFD (computational fluid dynamics) modelling/simulations and be able to master the use of simulation packages such as ANSYS. To validate any new concepts, an experimentation procedure will be needed to test and run aerodynamic measurements using wind tunnel facilities at UWS. It is expected that aerodynamic design and performance characteristics of the new wing concept accumulate sufficient numerical and experimental data for validation and concept prove. Once the proof of concept is complete the candidate can look into configuring the new concept with aircraft design requirements, i.e. if it is a regional jet what kind of wing design would bring the most benefit to operation, safety and reliability (a case for industry utilization).

 

Advanced optimization measures for wind turbine blade design and operation performance

Supervisor: Dr Bassam Rakhshani

Research Group: Aircraft Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Power generation by wind turbines is highly influenced by the design characteristics and operational conditions. Efficient utilisation of a wind turbine requires optimizing aspects of turbine’s rotor systems including turbine blades’ aerodynamic and aeroelastic performance. It is aimed that FSI (Fluid-Structure Interaction) analysis along with experimental investigation will serve as the main research tools. In particular, the aerodynamic turbulent flow characteristics and the shape and structure of the blade system will require forms of optimization by means of aerodynamic and structure (elasticity) coupling. Such coupling is numerically achievd by CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamic) and FEA (Finite Element Analysis) modelling. The inspiration of implementing FSI comes from the fact that design and fluidic parameters can be modelled and monitored closely in association with their effect on each other. These parameters can be quantified and correlated to design aspects. Along with the aerodynamic performance optimization using the fluid structure coupling (FSI), attention will be paid on the implementation of smart/advanced materials in the construct of windturbine blade (as part of optimization measures). The candidate will be expected to be familiar with the flow and structure modelling (CFD and FEA) and be able to master the use of IT modelling platforms such as ANSYS. In validation of any numerical analysis experimental model is expected to be designed and built, and series of testing activities are needed to be planned and carried out. Key/new design concept along with performance characteristics should be tested and verified during a test/experimentation campaign using aerodynamic wind tunnel facilities at UWS.

 

Optimized microalgae cultivation systems for biodiesel production

Supervisor: Dr Cristina Rodriguez

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: There are growing concerns surrounding the uses of fossil fuels and their consequences: CO2 emissions, climate change, environmental degradation, depletion of reserves and rising oil prices. These issues are forcing governments, policymakers, scientists, and researchers to find alternative energy sources. The biofuel production from renewable biomass is considered one of the most sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and a viable means for environmental and economic sustainability. Third generation biofuels refers to biofuels derived from algae; microalgae are very efficient biological systems that help to fix atmospheric CO2 through photosynthesis. Different biofuels can be derived from microalgae biomass, being the most important biodiesel and biogas. The microalgae intracellular lipids are converted to biodiesel through the transesterification process. Many algae species have high lipids content, sometimes over 80% of their dry weight, making them optimum precursors for biodiesel production. Cultivation and dewatering have been identified as essential stages for biofuel production from microalgae biomass. Microalgae dewatering is the highest energy-consuming step on the biofuel production process; an optimized dewatering method will reduce the energy requirements achieving cost-efficient process. This research project aims to optimize the cultivation and dewatering steps on the microalgae production chain for biodiesel production. The effect of different cultivation parameters such as light wavelength, light cycles and culture media composition on the algae’s growing rates and lipid content will be analysed. Suitable dewatering techniques will be studied and optimized for minimum energy requirements.

 

Parameter uncertainty in constitutive modelling of geomaterials

Supervisor: Dr Djamalddine Boumezerane

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Geomaterials are found everywhere. They play important role in different domains, as well as transport infrastructure, roads and railways. They are subject to different types of loading which affect their performance (in road infrastructure for example), and may induce high maintenance and repair costs as well as significant social impact. Modelling the behaviour of geomaterials involves elastoplastic and viscoplastic theories, which consider the material at single point and generalize it to boundary value problems. Single point approaches allow describing stress-strain constitutive relations in the material and comparisons are generally made with laboratory tests (Triaxial, Oedometer) for validation. Uncertainties are inherent to geomaterials; a proper model should be able to incorporate different aspects of uncertainties and their possible consequences on the behavior of the material under different types of loadings. We find it important to quantify uncertainty in constitutive parameters. Mathematical tools such as probabilities, fuzzy sets or neural networks can be used to analyze uncertainty. In modelling geomaterials behavior, the uncertain response follows from either spatial non-uniformity of material distribution or from inherent uncertainty of material behavior at the constitutive level. The uncertainty of material behavior propagates through numerical simulations of solids and structure. This project will study the behavior of geomaterials and its incorporation in geotechnical design. The main objective of the research is to study different approaches to handle parameter uncertainties in constitutive models of geomaterials. The project aims at developing and formulating methods for reporting uncertain material properties in constitutive models for geomaterials. The full model is intended for research purposes, whereas a simplified version shall provide a basis for analysis in engineering practice.

 

An investigation into the factors affecting the sustainability of manufacturing/engineering enterprises

Supervisor: Dr Farhad Anvari

Additional supervisor: Dr Michele Cano

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Globally the industry sector accounts for more than a third of energy consumption and about 35% of energy and process related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Almost 80% of these emissions is from energy use and energy efficiency is potentially the most significant and economical means for mitigating GHG emissions from industry. The UK Climate Change Act 2008 commits the UK government by law to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. The objective of this PhD research project is to investigate operations of manufacturing/engineering firms based on a sustainable approach focussing on energy and environment. The project aims to develop a practical competitive framework to assist enterprises on their strategic planning and performance management.

 

Impact of Industry 4.0 on Lean Six Sigma and TPM for manufacturing/engineering enterprises

Supervisor: Dr Farhad Anvari

Additional supervisors: Dr Michele Cano, Dr James Findlay

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The industrial value generation in the early industrialised countries is presently formed by the development towards the fourth phase of industrialisation, the so-called Industry 4.0. The development towards Industry 4.0 has a significant impact on the manufacturing industry. It is based on the establishment of smart factories, smart products and smart services embedded in an internet of things and of services called industrial internet. Additionally, new and disruptive business models are changing around these Industry 4.0 features. This PhD project will investigate the impact of Industry 4.0 on Lean Six Sigma and TPM implementation. The direction and magnitude of the impact is analysed for manufacturing/engineering companies. The project aims to identify and compare the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) needed for the successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma and TPM based on the new circumstances.

 

Performance measurement based on a Total Quality approach in a digital world

Supervisor: Dr Farhav Anvari

Additional supervisor: Dr Michele Cano

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Direct digital manufacturing has become a new manufacturing paradigm with an entirely different impact on society. Digital manufacturing allows for the automatic production of products from computer-aided design files without shape-defining tooling. The manufacture of a complete car body is an example for additive manufacturing. The current processes have affected supply chain structure and complexity. Additionally, new and integrated business frameworks are evolving around these digital perspectives. This research project aims to develop a performance measurement methodology that is predictive allowing practitioners to dynamically monitor and improve the output of their business systems to remain competitive with other companies in a digital world.

 

Cost and environmental optimisation of ultra-high strength concrete

Supervisor: Dr Wenzhong Zhu

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Ultra-High Strength Concrete (UHSC or UHPC) promises to revolutionise the construction industry. Due to its high strength and durability, it allows the construction of elements in shapes and dimensions that were previously unachievable with traditional concrete. However, the uptake of UHSC is slow due to high costs and embedded CO2 associated with the very high cementitious materials (often >1000 kg per cubic metre, compared to ~350 kg per cubi metre for normal strength concrete) and admixtures/fibres used. In an effort to make UHSC more accessible this project aims to reduce both the cost and environmental impact of UHSC by partially replacing cement with cement replacement materials and through optimisation. This project provides an opportunity to explore various options/approaches for producing ultra-high strength concrete and investigate experimentally a few potential options to produce UHSC with much reduced cost and embedded CO2.

 

Nano/micro-mechanical properties of innovative cement-based materials

Supervisor: Dr Wenzhong Zhu

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Cement-based materials, which are used in huge quantities in construction and the built environment, are essentially multi-phase composite materials with complex multi-scale internal structures that evolve over time for centuries. Calcium Silicate Hydrate (or C-S-H gel), a variable nano-structured composite, is the most important cement hydration product. It constitutes about 60-70% of the cement paste and is responsible for most of the properties (e.g. binding, strength, resistance to degradation, creep, etc) of cement-based materials. The formation and properties of C-S-H gel rest on nanoscale processes and phenomena that until recently were out of reach. Fortunately, this long-standing impediment can be currently overcome by the complementary action of new experimental capacities which can resolve and operate at the nanoscale together with the development of stronger multi-scale simulation schemes which explicitly pay attention to the nanoscale. This project is aiming at exploring the possibility of tuning the intrinsic nature and properties of C-S-H gel and further developing experimental technics for studying micro-mechanical properties of innovative cementitious materials.

 

Nano-modification of cementitious material for developing high-performance concrete

Supervisor: Dr Wenzhong Zhu

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Concrete is a heterogeneous material with multiphase components. The basic structure and hydration mechanism of the individual phases of cement paste is a nano-structured process and still not understood fully. Therefore, tools and potential manipulation at nanoscale may provide significant contributions to address the needs required at macro-level. The aim of this project is towards the investigation on the application of nano-materials in cementitious materials. Using advanced and sophisticated microscopic techniques, it is possible to understand the morphological changes occurring at nano/micro-scale, which is fundamental to development of concrete with much enhanced performance. The applications of nano-materials in construction are expected to improve the essential properties of building materials such as strength, durability, bond strength, corrosion resistance, abrasion resistance and novel collateral functions such as energy saving, self healing, anti fogging etc. The high performance and durability offered by nano-enhanced materials is fundamentally a sustainable benefit as it enables a more efficient use of resources.

 

Use of recycled and waste aggregates in grout, mortar and concrete

Supervisor: Dr Wenzhong Zhu

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The need to utilize recycled aggregates produced from demolition wastes and waste aggregates derived from other industries in various grout, mortar and concrete mixes as the solution to problems of growing waste disposal and diminishing natural aggregate resources has been increasingly recognised. Generally, recycled aggregate has a rougher surface structure, lower density and higher water absorption than natural aggregate. Also, due to the different sources of demolition wastes processed, there are often greater variations in properties of the recycled aggregate. The use of other secondary or waste aggregates, e.g. spent oil shale, in construction is currently very low, but is considered as one of the potential routes for the waste disposal/recycling. This project provides an opportunity to study experimentally the effect of using recycled aggregate or other wastes on properties of grout, mortar and concrete, to identify economical/technical barriers for increasing use of such materials in practice and to propose/develop new effective approaches in using the recycled aggregates and wastes in construction.

 

Myths at work: non-adoption in the UK construction industry

Supervisor: Dr Stuart Tennant

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Over the past twenty years sponsors of construction change have favoured a single lens, top-down, economic rationality to champion innovation adoption in UK construction. After considerable investment, the performance of many construction management initiatives and technological developments including Partnering, Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) remains inconclusive. Whilst advocates continue to draw on their single-lens to ask questions of the construction industry; with little empirical evidence of success, it may be judicious to ask questions of the accepted rationality and those that continue to endorse this viewpoint. Adoption of evolving management theory and innovative technology to industry practice involves a complex process of innovation, diffusion and institutional change. For a few construction organizations adoption will be fast, for the majority it will be slow, contested and may owe more to tokenism and symbolic gesturing than substantive practice. Like all myths in the workplace, there is a degree of legitimacy in the economic rationality of change management in construction. Exploring management initiatives and technological developments in manufacturing, retail and distribution, it is evident that performance improvements and economic gains are feasible. It would be erroneous to state that the economic argument is wholly bogus. However, the single-lens, top-down economic rationality favoured by policy makers and academic theorists is misleading, thus creating a significant gap between the promise and the performance of UK construction activity. While both economic and normative rationality can underpin arguments for improved performance, they have contradictory and competing implications. The current and largely conformist (economic) interpretation of innovation diffusion theory places considerable attention on early adopters and surprisingly very little attention on non-adopters. Nonetheless, from a normative perspective of innovation, development and diffusion, non-adoption is of equally significant interest and value.

 

The behaviour of high-speed rarefied gas flows for space access

Supervisor: Dr Stephanie Docherty

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Supersonic and hypersonic space access vehicles can experience extreme temperatures in rarefied (low density) gas environments. While physical data is scarce in this area due to the high cost of performing experiments, traditional continuum fluid mechanics is often inaccurate due to the importance of the fluid’s molecular nature at these scales. The particle-based direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method is a popular numerical simulation tool for dilute gases in rarefied environments. However, the DSMC method is too computationally intense to resolve the scales of real engineering flow problems – it can require months (or even years) of computing time. This has resulted in the development of continuum-DSMC ‘hybrids’, which aim to combine the efficiency of a conventional continuum-fluid description with the detail and accuracy of the DSMC method. There are a number of potential opportunities for PhD projects in the development and application of a continuum-DSMC hybrid for high-speed rarefied gases; for example, to consider shockwave-boundary layer interaction, chemical reactions, and the design of thermal protection systems.

 

Application of advanced design and manufacturing processes for validating Fluid-Structure Interaction (FSI) against aerodynamic and aeroelastic characteristics for aerospace applications.

Supervisor: Dr Parag Vichare

Additional supervisor: Dr Bassam Rakhshani

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: As far as wing and turbine blade design and performance is concerned, the FSI investigation becomes an essential approach to characterise and optimize the aerodynamics, shape, structure and material of the systems. Today the majority of these structural components can be manufactured with disruptive manufacturing techniques. Use of such manufacturing technologies will be explored as a part of this project. The project will involve detailed review of new manufacturing technologies for producing structural components to satisfy FSI criteria. This will also lead design of novel structures that can be manufactured using descriptive technologies such as hybrid manufacturing. The novel design/ components will be tested using analysis tools and experiments. The findings from this project may lead towards new aerospace structure designs and enabling process knowledge using unconventional manufacturing practices. The shape and material of wing and wind turbine blade will be in the centre of wing optimization by means of numerical simulation and analysis. Intensive CFD and FEA simulations will be planned to generate sufficient shape configurations and fluid-surface interaction data map. The shape optimisation process will be interfaced with the adaptive manufacturing technique producing light, optimised and efficient blade/wing system. Aspects such as composite and/or smart materials, morphing technology, and 3D printing will be looked at during the design and manufacturing process. It is expected that applicants will be familiar with the numerical simulations, material performance and testing procedure.

 

Reliable and flexible steam and power system design and operational optimization in process industries

Supervisor: Dr Li Sun

Research Group: Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Utility systems should satisfy process industries steam, energy and power demands under varying conditions. The system performance is determined by the system configuration and individual equipment operation, including boilers, gas turbines with heat recovery steam generator, steam turbines, condensing turbines, and let down valves. Steam mains conditions in terms of steam pressure and steam superheating also play important roles on steam distribution and power generation within the system, and should be included in the system optimization. Uncertain factors such as changes of the processes steam and power demands, fluctuations of fuel and electricity prices, and unavoidable equipment shutdown, might cause steam and power deficits, and even lead to the production losses. Conventionally, deterministic methods have been developed and widely used in the steam and power system design. However, a redundancy system with spare equipment would bring about higher capital cost and more complex operation. Meanwhile, oversized equipment leads to lower efficiency of operation at lower operating loads. This project is to develop a systematic approach for a flexible design and operation of a steam and power system in process industries with considerations of system reliability, availability and maintainability (RAM). An important task is to analyse the effects of stochastic equipment failures and other uncertain factors on both steam power generation and the system reliability. Robust optimisation and stochastic programming approaches will be used for modelling of the uncertain factors. Global optimisation algorithm will be developed to obtain a global optimality. Thus, the system configuration is optimized with operation scheduling specification to account for equipment failures and uncertainty implementation.

 

Integrated decision-support modelling framework for road infrastructure pavement sustainability

Supervisor: Dr Junseo Bae

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: A road pavement holds a natural life cycle-maintenance, repair and replacement at some point. Considering public spending on road improvement, road authorities are prioritizing and targeting road resurfacing and maintenance using more cost-effective alternatives, instead of reconstruction. In recent years, life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) have emerged as an effective way to select the most effective and sustainable construction alternatives for road infrastructure improvement projects. However, existing methods require many assumptions so that the accuracy of the analysis remains questionable. In addition, they are project-specific, missing a holistic approach. To tackle these issues, the primary objective of the proposed research is to develop and validate an integrated decision-support modelling framework from the viewpoints of LCA and LCCA for sustainable road infrastructure pavement, based on real-world big data. The proposed decision-support framework will implement LCA to identify the most sustainable choice and preferable pavement alternatives, on aspects of environmental, economic and social impacts. Concurrently, the proposed model will be performed within a viable integration analysis framework to quantify the most realistic and reliable life-cycle cost. The successful completion of this study will also help transport agencies achieve more accurate predictions of sustainable pavement improvement alternatives, which can translate to better use of public funds.

 

Machine learning approach to predicting the impact of road infrastructure improvement on the level of mobility disruption

Supervisor: Dr Junseo Bae

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: One of major issues for road infrastructure improvement projects is that knowing about the potential traffic affected by construction is often too difficult to predict before the project commencement. Specifically, most of the existing methods could not mirror the unique spatiotemporal dynamic characteristics of road construction as they are often project specific, frequency-driven, and error-prone. To effectively handle these limitations, this study aims to explore how stereotypical regional traffic patterns react to maintenance zones and predict the level of mobility disruption in and around maintenance zones. To this end, this study will employ multi-contextual big-data-driven machine learning techniques to predict potential impacts of various “what-if” construction strategies on the level of mobility disruption. The main research hypothesis for this study is that the proposed approach bolsters precise approximation of mobility impacts at the boundaries of construction work zones. The project outcomes are expected to help local authority make better-informed decisions for road infrastructure improvement planning and reduce the level of traffic disruptions during construction by allowing motorists, affected communities, and businesses to know about potential traffic disruption before the project starts.

Physical Sciences Research

In the Division of Physical Sciences, we carry our research in experimental nuclear physics, thin films, sensors, and imaging, environmental monitoring, antimicrobial resistance, forensic science, and mathematics.

PHYSICAL SCIENCES PhD PROJECTS

Gamma-ray spectroscopy of pear-shaped atomic nuclei

Supervisor: Professor John F. Smith

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The aim of this project is to better understand the structure of the atomic nucleus, specifically by studying novel "pear shaped" nuclear deformations in nuclei in the actinide region (the radon, radium, thorium, and uranium nuclei). The nuclei of interest do not exist in nature as they are unstable (radioactive) and have short half-lives, often thousandths or millionths of a second. The nuclei are therefore created in the laboratory in nuclear reactions and studied instantaneously - before they decay. One of the best ways to study the nuclei is detect the gamma-rays that they emit. The gamma rays can give information about the excited states of the nucleus, and the arrangement of excited states is related to the behaviour of the constituent neutrons and protons. The PhD project will involve conducting one or more experiments at international particle-accelerator laboratories such as JYFL (in Jyvaskyla, Finland), Legnaro National Laboratory (in Padova, Italy) and at Argonne National Laboratory (in Chicago). The primary tasks of the PhD student will be helping to run the experiments, the analysis of data from one of the experiments, as well a interpretation and publication of the results. There are several possible experiments that are available such as a study of parity doublets in the odd-mass thorium nuclei. The PhD student should be willing to to travel and to spend time at large international nuclear-physics facilities.

 

Octupole correlations in nucleI near 112Ba

Supervisor: Professor John F. Smith

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The nuclei of some atoms can take on novel shapes due to the interactions of their constituent neutrons and protons. Some nuclei have been shown to have a reflection-asymmetric pear shape, which is die to the octupole interaction. The nuclei with the most pronounced octupole deformations are in the light-actinide region around radium-224 (Z=88, N=136), and in the neutron-rich lanthanide region around barium-146 (Z=56, N=90). In these regions of the nuclei chart, there is a wealth of experimental ecvidence to support octupole deformation. However - there is a "third" region of octupole deformation in the nuclei near barium-112 (Z=56, N=56). The experimental information about nuclei in this region is sparse, primarily due to difficulties in producing what are very exotic neutron-deficient nuclei in experiments. However, recent technological advances are creating oppirtunities to study some of the nuclei nearbarium-112. For example, the unprecedented sensitivity of the AGATA gamma-ray spectrometer will allow nuclei to be studied even with very los production rates. The new recoil spectrometers MARA at JYFL in Finland and AGFA at ANL in Chicago will also offer new possibilities for recoil-decay tagging and alpha-decay spectroscopy. This project will offer the opportunity to study some of the most exotic neutron-deficient nuclei at state of the art international nuclear physics facilities.

 

Development of a portable GPS-enabled system for mapping gamma radiation

Supervisor: Professor John F. Smith

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Modern state-of-the-art gamma-ray detectors can measure the energies of gamma rays with high precision, often with resolutions of several keV across a wide range of energies. The detection of gamma rays with a specific energy can act as a sensitive fingerprint of a specific radioisotope. Hence the detection of gamma rays can not only detect the amount of radioactive material present, but it can also help to identify which radioactive species are present. This PhD project will involve the development of a portable system to map gamma-radiation using GPS coordinates with state-of-the-art gamma-ray detectors such as lanthanum bromide scintillators [LaBr3(Ce)] and cadmium zinc telluride semiconductors [CdZnTe]. The project will first involve an understanding of the operation of the radiation detectors and of the data stream received from the detectors. The second part of the project will involve the visualization of data by overlaying the numbers of counts received at specific gamma-ray energies on a geographical map of a building, an installation, or a larger area. The third part of the project will involve application of the system to map gamma radiation in specific areas of Scotland or further afield

 

Development of a hand-held radiation probe for radio-guided surgery

Supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: When surgical oncologists remove potentially malignant tumours from a body it is possible for cancerous tissue to remain. The presence of any remaining cancer can be identified by a pathologist by testing a sample of the tissue surrounding the tumour site. Such identification cannot normally be performed in real-time during surgery and should the tumour margins test positive for cancer the patient must undergo further surgery increasing the risk of surgical complications and the costs to the hospital and healthcare provider. Physicists within the UWS nuclear physics research group are developing a hand-held radiation detector which would allow a surgeon to survey an excised tumour site for remaining cancerous cells.

 

Development of a wide-angle Compton-camera for the survey of legacy radioactive waste

Supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: As a result of decades-long civil and military nuclear power activity in the UK there remain sites which potentially contain high-level legacy radioactive waste. In the case of many such sites it is inadvisable for humans to enter to perform a survey and obtain a complete inventory of the waste. The development of a radiation detector which can allow for a complete characterisation, including the location, of the radioactive waste is required. Such a device is being designed by members of the UWS nuclear physics research group which uses the well-established concept of imaging using Compton scattering. It is anticipated that this device be deployed on a robot or on the end of an arm and would allow a user to survey and categorise the radioactive waste from a safe location.

 

Discovery of the new isotopes 220U and 224Pu

Supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The UWS nuclear physics research group is leading an experiment at the Accelerator Laboratory of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland to discover the new radioisotopes 220U and 224Pu. Beyond the scientific curiosity of studying these nuclei for the first time, they are of interest within the context of the nuclear shell model. In particular, there is a growing body of evidence that the “magic numbers” of protons and neutrons associated with increased stability in stable nuclei are evolving as the neutron-to-proton ratio changes. While the atomic nucleus 208Pb gains additional stability by possessing magic numbers of 82 protons and 126 neutrons, there is evidence that the neutron shell closure at 126 is significantly diminished in nuclei with more than 90 protons. These nuclei will be produced following fusion-evaporation reactions and will be identified via their α-decay.

 

Measurement of lifetimes of excited states in octupole-deformed nuclei

Supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The UWS nuclear physics research group leads a number of world-leading research programmes aimed at the study of octupole-deformed, or “pear-shaped”, atomic nuclei. One important aspect of these studies involves the measurement of the lifetimes of excited states of these nuclei. Using a combination of dedicated radiation detectors and electronics it is possible to measure the lifetimes of these states which are typically in the picosecond regime. A knowledge of the lifetime allows for comparisons with state-of-the-art theories and to provide crucial input for subsequent experiments which directly probe the shape of these nuclei.

 

Investigation of the nuclear dipole response using real photons

Supervisor: Professor Marcus Scheck

Additional supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The nuclear dipole response has vast implications in various fields. Be it the electric dipole response near the neutron separation threshold that enhances radiative neutron-capture processes, which are the major producer of chemical elements heavier than iron or the magnetic dipole response that strongly influences neutrino-nucleus cross sections. The latter interactions provide the additional heat that is required in order that a heavy star can explode as type-II supernova. Furthermore, the electric dipole response may allow the extraction of properties of pure neutron matter as encountered in neutron stars or for certain isotopes might have a link to the so-called reactor antineutrino anomaly. To investigate such a dipole response one irradiates the nucleus with gamma radiation and detects the scattered photons. Using continuous bremsstrahlung at facilities such as ELBE (Research Center Dresden Rossendorf, Dresden, Germany) one can extract the electromagnetic excitation probabilities of dipole-excited nuclear levels. In order to distinguish between electric and magnetic character one uses quasi-monochromatic fully-polarised gamma-radiation at facilities such as HIgS at Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratories (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA). At present the groups focus is set on the dipole response of the naturally occurring nickel as well as silicon isotopes. Eventually, a determination of the isovector-character of electric dipole levels is envisaged using the (alpha,alpha-gamma) inelastic-scattering reaction of the isoscalar alpha particle at iThemba laboratories (South Africa).

 

High-resolution spectroscopy of beta decays relevant for the reactor antineutrino anomaly

Supervisor: Professor Marcus Scheck

Additional supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: In recent years the Daya Bay experiment has shown that there is a lack of high-energy antineutrinos from nuclear reactors. Meanwhile Total Absorption Gamma-ray Spectroscopy (TAGS) has shown the most likely source of this lack is incomplete/erroneous data for the nuclear beta decay of several isotopes. Most of the gamma-ray spectroscopy following beta decay has been done in the late 70s and early 80s with first generation of high-purity germanium (HPGe) detectors (relative efficiency 10%), which allowed for the first time for high-resolution spectroscopy. However, for high-energy gamma rays these detectors are blind and, consequently, the beta-decay strength to high-lying levels has gone unobserved. We aim to measure key beta decays with arrays consisting of modern HPGe detectors (relative efficiency of 160%) and obtain a complete picture of these beta decays. Final aim is to clarify the nature of these high-lying levels that are fed in beta decays with large Q values (7 MeV and above). Since for an antineutrino it can be safely assumed that it will leave the reactor without further interaction, a gamma ray will be absorbed in the cooling water and contribute to an additional, so far not considered, heating of reactors. This is in particular true for shut-down reactors, where this additional heat can make up to 10% of the heat generation due to the decays of long-lived fission products. It is envisaged to perform the experiments either at the Griffin array at TRIUMF (Vancouver, Canada) or employing the LOHENGRIN mass separator at ILL Grenoble (Grenoble, France).

 

Coulomb excitation of strongly octupole-correlated nuclei

Supervisor: Professor Marcus Scheck

Additional supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: With the observation of enhanced electromagnetic E3 transition rates in 224-radium (see Fig. 1) the nuclear octupole degree of freedom has experienced a renaissance. Of particular interest are nuclei near 144-barium and 224-radium for which many theories predict octupole correlation in their ground state. For these nuclei the ground state is thought of adopting a pear-like shape, which goes hand-in-hand with CP-violating odd electric and even magnetic moments. Especially, the E3 value of the transition connecting the 0+ ground state and the first excited 3- levels in interplay with the excitation energy of this 3- level allows conclusions about the octupole collectivity of a nucleus. Aim of this project is use the experimental method of Coulomb excitation (basically, Rutherford scattering with the occasional exchange of a virtual photon) to extract from the observed E1 decay to first excited 2+ level the E3 excitation probability. It is envisaged to measure the Coulomb excitation of several stable gadolinium isotopes (152, 154, and 156), for which these E3 transition probabilities are known but with an experimental uncertainty the renders their use for nuclear theory obsolete. Aim is to lower these uncertainties to below 10% of the absolute value. At present it is intended to perform the corresponding experiments at LNL (Legnaro, Italy) using a combination of the spider charge particle-array and the GALILEO high-purity germanium detector array for gamma-ray detection. The analysis of this data will be the major part of the proposed project and be done using the computer code GOSIA, with the support of the world-experts for analysing Coulomb excitation experiments.

 

A new technique to study shapes of short-lived nuclei

Supervisor: Dr Nara Singh Bondili

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The nature of nuclear force gives nuclei in different parts of the nuclear chart different shapes. The most prevalent are rugby ball shapes while spherical shapes are found in some nuclei. Although rare, nuclei are found in pancake type and reflection-asymmetric pear shapes. Some nuclei also take spinning top like shapes. Experimental studies of shapes in short-lived nuclei constitute a major area of current nuclear-research and have been a major focus of the proposals, especially at laboratories such as CERN. The underlying reason for the intense interest is the following. An atomic nucleus is a quantum-mechanical system and the emergence of a shape is a direct consequence of the interaction between nucleons. Therefore, studies of shapes and shape dynamics in nuclei give information about nuclear force that is yet to be fully understood. At CERN we have recently proposed experiments based on a new method to study shapes of radioactive nuclei. This method allows nuclei to interact through two of the four fundamental forces of nature, namely, Coulomb and nuclear forces. The nuclei absorb energy due to these time-varying forces and find themselves in excited states. After the excitation, they emit radiation by rearranging nucleons to come back to their ground states. This radiation is an information carrier of shape of a nucleus. Such data has been obtained from a recent experiment that will be analysed during this project. Further data will also be obtained from CERN and elsewhere. During the project, an analysis of the data from CERN, design work for experiments at other laboratories, participation in the experiments and an analysis of new data from future experiments will be carried out. It is preferable to have some prior knowledge of basic nuclear physics, C++ and Linux operating systems.

 

Study of nuclei with similar proton and neutron numbers

Supervisor: Dr Nara Singh Bondili

Additional supervisor: Dr David O'Donnell

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: A nucleus has protons and neutrons as constituents that experience nuclear force among them. It is an approximation that the nuclear force between two protons is the same as that between two neutrons or a proton and neutron. In reality, this may not be the case because proton carries a positive charge while neutron has no charge. In fact, it is an open problem how the interactions between proton-proton, neutron-neutron and proton-neutrons change across the nuclear chart. How these three interactions evolve for nuclei with same protons and neutron number as the mass is changed is particularly interesting. Firstly, such nuclei, known as self-conjugate nuclei are very good laboratories to study the proton-neutron interaction because the probability to find protons and neutrons close by is very high. This interaction may also be responsible to alter the shapes of nuclei as they absorb energy or as the number of nucleons is changed. The properties of these nuclei are also important to understand composition of our bodies from start dust as these nuclei are in the pathways of astrophysical processes that occur in in our universe. Furthermore, the nuclei have the special Fermi super allowed beta decay that allows precision tests of the standard model of particle physics. During this project development of a detector for the study of these nuclei will be carried out. The objectives include, but not limited to, designing the detector, participating in test experiments, analysing data from these experiment and incorporating it in the experiments of self-conjugate nuclei to address the aforementioned physics. Some knowledge of radiation detection, hands-on experience working with detectors, experience with C++ programming and Linux systems is desirable.

 

Measurement of the He-3(alpha, gamma)Be-7 reaction rate

Supervisor: Dr Nara Singh Bondili

Additional supervisor: Dr Michael Bowry

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Big bang nucleosynthesis occurred at very high temperatures (~1000000000K or 109K), producing light elements like helium and lithium through the fusion of hydrogen. Predictions of the standard big bang nucleosynthesis model disagree with the observations of abundance of mass-7 isotope of lithium (7Li) by nearly a factor three. This is an open problem in nuclear astrophysics. Solving this lithium puzzle is currently of high priority that requires accurate knowledge of the 3He(alpha,gamma)7Be reaction rate. Hydrogen is turned into helium in our sun at temperatures ~6000K. Several other fusion reactions follow, producing energy that is required to maintain life here on earth. The reactions also produce neutrinos that reach us here on earth, which are detected to study physics beyond the standard model of particle physics. The 3He(alpha,gamma)7Be reaction rate is also required to calculate the number of neutrinos that can be detected on earth using the standard solar model and compare it with the observations. Measurements of the 3He(alpha,gamma)7B reaction rate will be performed by directly counting 7Be fusion products using mass separators or through gamma-ray detection. For these measurements, the facilities in Vancouver, Canada, and Madrid, Spain would be used. The data from these experiments will help us solving the 7Li puzzle, testing the nuclear reaction theories, the standard big bang nucleosynthesis model, the standard solar model and the standard model of particle physics.

 

Isospin-symmetry effects in atomic nuclei

Supervisor: Dr Michael Bowry

Research Group: Nuclear Physics Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The behaviour of atomic nuclei, composed of protons and neutrons, may often be understood using very simple models. One such model asserts that the proton and neutron be viewed as equivalent, interchangeable particles where swapping one type for another has a minimal effect on the properties of the nucleus. For example, a titanium-42 nucleus (i.e. with 22 protons and 20 neutrons) is expected to have very similar properties to its ‘mirror’ counterpart, calcium-42 (20 protons and 22 neutrons) – an effect known as isospin symmetry. Remarkably this behaviour has been confirmed experimentally. This involves a careful examination of the ‘excited states’ of each mirror nucleus by observing their decay via the emission of gamma rays (high-energy electromagnetic radiation) and also their interactions with other energetic particles. Crucially, experimental observations that deviate from the assumptions of isospin symmetry offer important clues regarding the interactions between protons and neutrons and the forces governing the behaviour of the nucleus. The applicant will contribute to research in this field by assuming an active role in relevant experiments led by the UWS Nuclear Physics Research Group. Such experiments may be performed at several international facilities including (but not limited to) laboratories in Switzerland, Finland, Italy and Canada. The applicant will develop an understanding of modern detector and data acquisition systems as well as the principles of nuclear spectroscopy. Successful applicants will show some familiarity with basic computing tasks. In particular experience with the Linux operating system is advantageous. In addition to travel opportunities, the applicant may be expected to present their research at international conferences, produce high-quality academic articles related to their research and participate in mentoring activities of undergraduate students at UWS.

 

Antimicrobial resistance and contaminated land with a focus on brownfield and derelict land

Lead supervisor: Dr Iain McLellan

Additional supervisors: Professor Andrew Hursthouse, Professor Fiona Enriquez

Research Group: Chemistry and Environmental Sciences Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The rise of antimicrobial resistance is a global health threat and whilst the majority of research focuses on pharmaceutical products, there is increasing evidence that historical pollution can be a cause of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in industrial estuaries (e.g. the Clyde, Scotland). Historical pollution such as potentially toxic elements (PTEs – e.g. Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs – e.g. benzo(a)pyrene, flouranthene) can create stressful conditions that affect the microbiome. Brownfield and derelict land sites are sites that have previously been developed and have the potential to be classified as Contaminated Land under UK Legislation. In order to be redeveloped, sites must be remediated to remove the source – pathway – receptor linkages and whilst most remediation plans focus on PAHs, PTEs and other pollutants there is currently no work on the presence of antimicrobial resistance in the soil. Using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), this project will identify areas of potential concern, set up a sampling and monitoring regime as well as analysis and interpretation of the data. Applications should have experience of microbiology, analytical chemistry, statistical analysis and experience of environmental sample handling.

 

The impacts of climate change on landfill emissions to land and water

Supervisor: Dr Iain McLellan

Additional supervisor: Professor Andrew Hursthouse

Research Group: Chemistry and Environmental Sciences Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Climate change projections for the west of Scotland suggest a warmer, wetter climate. In addition sea levels are predicted to rise. Landfill sites can be situated near surface water bodies and a wetter climate will increase erosion rates, potentially affecting pollutant release to the environment e.g. surface water, sediments and soil. Potentially toxic elements (PTEs) (such as Cd, Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb and Zn) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) (e.g. benzo(a)pyrene, flouranthene) are associated with human impact on the environment. Using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), this project will identify areas of potential concern, set up a sampling and monitoring regime as well as analysis and interpretation of the data. Applications should have experience of analytical chemistry, statistical analysis and experience of environmental sample handling.

 

Numerical analysis topics in liquid crystals

Supervisor: Dr Alan Walker

Additional supervisor: Dr Wan Mekwi

Research Group: Mathematics

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Liquid crystals are anisotropic fluids made up of elongated molecules which have an average molecular axis that aligns along a common direction in space which is usually denoted by the unit vector n, called the director. Smectic liquid crystals are layered structures with a well-defined interlayer distance. In equilibrium, smectic A liquid crystals form locally equidistant parallel layers in which the director n is parallel to the local unit layer normal a. However, in both equilibrium and non-equilibrium circumstances, it is believed that the director n and the layer normal a may decouple. In non-planar geometries, this decoupling has been shown to provide non-linear Euler-Lagrange equations arising from free energy densities. In the past, assumptions have been made in order to simplify these equations, so that approximate solutions were found. In this project, a suite of open problems concerning the alignment of liquid crystals in cells with non-uniform boundaries that are relevant to manufacturing issues in display technology will be considered. We aim to use finite difference/element techniques to solve coupled, non-linear partial differential equations, which arise from the minimisation of free energies describing the alignment of these molecules. These solutions will then inform experimentalists of expected molecular behaviour in liquid crystal cells. Successful applicants will have a prior knowledge of the solutions of partial differential equations, numerical analysis, and programming languages such as Matlab, R or C.

 

Development of a novel additives for pigment applications

Supervisor: Dr Alastair Marr

Research Group: Chemical and Environmental Research Group

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: A collaboration with Clariant AG has agreed to target the production and lean processing of several additives for pigment applications. The work is covered by a non-disclosure agreement. The additives have been defined as follows.

  • Novel halogen free green colourants
  • Novel red shade blue pigments
  • Bespoke dioxazine violet derivatives as flow and stability additives for paints and inks

The study of each of these additives would represent a separate PhD project, and would involve the treatment of vat dyes for pigment use, the synthesis of new chromophoric structures in the blue reflectance region, and organic synthesis of dioxazine derivatives.

 

Investigating the hidden risk factors of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) prevalent in the south and west of Scotland

Supervisor: Dr Andisheh Bakhshi

Research Group: Mathematics

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The British Lung Foundation has reported that 2% of the population of the UK lived with diagnosed Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2011, while two thirds of those with COPD remained undiagnosed. After the north east and north west of England, Scotland had the highest COPD rate in the UK in 2012. While new diagnoses of COPD are decreasing yearly, this trend contradicts the overall increasing percentage of COPD sufferers. While men are more likely to have COPD, the rate of increase of COPD sufferers is the same for both males and females. In 2012, 5.3% of total deaths, and 26.1% of deaths from lung disease, were due to COPD. Mortality due to COPD is higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. From 2008 to 2012, residents of the south and west parts of Scotland had a higher risk of dying due to COPD than the UK average. Poverty has been shown to be positively correlated with the rate COPD diagnosed every year. To date, very little work has been implemented in the investigation of hidden risk factors of COPD in Scotland. This PhD project will involve a field study into the causes of COPD in south and west Scotland. The research will study data relevant to patients with COPD, such as time of diagnosis, geographical area, socio-economic status, occupation, medical history, local air pollution levels, and other local environmental factors. A literature review on COPD risk factors will be implemented, followed by an unbiased sampling procedure and corresponding power calculation, which are fundamental for reliability of the study and applicability of the results. The statistical programming software R will be applied for modelling and analysis. Applicants are expected to have a biomedical background with an interest in medical statistics and be willing to work with the programming software R.

 

Indoor dust: revealing hazards hidden in the home

Supervisor: Professor Andrew Hursthouse

Research Group: Chemistry and Environmental Research

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: This work directly supports a project to characterise the chemical and microbiological features of indoor dust across the globe. Household air pollution is estimated to cause 4.25 million premature deaths globally each year. Dust is generated from cooking, heating, track back of outside material, and wear-and-tear of materials in the home. Whilst gaseous pollution is straightforward to assess, particulate materials, often containing potentially toxic elements at high concentrations. A PhD project will develop chemical methods to characterise metal(loid) elements in dusts collected from households as part of the collaboration internationally to generate a Dust Atlas. It will involve the collection and analysis of materials supplied from domestic vacuum cleaners and in sampling indoor air. Analysis will be by ICP OES/MS and a variety of microscopy techniques (visual, scanning electron microscopy), and in collaboration with members of the consortium, XRF. Skills in environmental sampling and analytical chemistry will be complemented by human-health risk-assessment processes, looking for novel ways to improve exposure assessment and in the availability of materials for biological uptake. This is a rapidly developing area of public health in which international consortia, are working to make recommendations to improve environmental planning and policy as well as citizen science engagement.

 

Quantitative NMR spectroscopy for the analysis of street drugs

Supervisor: Ciaran Ewins

Additional supervisors: Dr Carrie Mullen, Dr Ann-Spohie Korb

Research Group: Forensic Science

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Quantitative NMR (qNMR) spectroscopy offers many advantages for the rapid analysis of pharmaceuticals of forensic interest. NMR spectroscopy requires minimal sample preparation and since it is inherently a quantitative technique, it allows the simultaneous determination of the identity and quantity of drugs prepared for human consumption. Other commonly used techniques such as LCMS may be more sensitive but require extensive sample preparation and method development. Modern high field NMR instruments have the sensitivity required develop qNMR methods for the assessment of illicit drugs that are rapid, accurate and sensitive. These may be drugs sold on the street such as amphetamines, opioids, and cannabinoids or prescription drugs which are sometimes counterfeited such as benzodiazepines. Based at the UWS Paisley campus, the project will use our new JEOL 500 MHz NMR facility along with our extensive analytical chemistry facilities (HPLC, GCMS, LCMS). The project will develop new methods of qNMR analysis that will be applicable to selected illicit drugs and the excipient compounds with which they are mixed. The qNMR methods developed will allow the detection of impurities, residual solvents and other additives to aid the profiling of batches of illicit drugs. The results from qNMR analysis will be compared with those from traditional chromatographic and spectroscopic methods such as LCMS and infrared spectroscopy. Applicants should have a background in the chemical or forensic sciences and a knowledge of NMR spectroscopy and chromatography.

 

Investigation of the potential link between oxidation products of unsaturated fatty acids and xenobiotics within foodstuffs

Supervisor: Dr Jorge Chacon

Research Group: Chemistry

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: This research proposal aims to investigate the potential link between the presence of xenobiotics (drugs, pesticides, herbicides etc.) and oxidation products of fatty acid (FA) within common foodstuffs and vegetable oils. The isomer content (cis/trans) of various FA’s will be determined using gas chromatography (GC). It is important to measure this isomeric ratio since the trans-C18 FA’s have been associated with various health issues, and may be present in processed food substances having been formed from hydrogenation of unsaturated vegetable oils often sold as vegetable fat and margarine. The presence of the double bond allows oxidation to occur easily, and the hydroxyl and peroxidation products will have chiral centres. Differences in the oxidation rates of cis/trans isomers may be present and require investigation. In addition it is likely that the presence of xenobiotics will potentially have an influence on this oxidation process and do show the possibility to interfere with further reactions involving oxidation products. Does the rate of oxidation between cis/trans isomers of fatty acids differ and what causes this difference? (For example the isomers oleic acid and elaidic acid). Can the presence of xenobiotics affect the oxidation process and interfere with further reactions of the oxidation products and their stereoisomers? Vegetable oils are hydrogenated to form margarines and vegetable fats and comparisons between different products from several sources should be researched. Research has demonstrated isomer contents of fatty acids from foodstuffs and oils is important with regards to health, very little research has been carried out on the relationship between xenobiotics, fatty acids and their oxidation products and I propose to investigate this potential interaction. Initially the project will establish a method for the separation and identification of a range of fatty acids, with a particular focus on cis and trans isomers using Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).

 

How does it all stack up: a systematic crystal engineering based approach to the optimisation of material properties in high performance organic semiconductors

Supervisor: Dr Callum McHugh

Research Group: Chemistry

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Materials based on π-conjugated chromophores are central in development of high performance optical and optoelectronic applications and coatings. Important properties in these systems are dependent upon solid state intermolecular interactions usually involving π-overlap between neighbouring molecules. Small changes in molecular packing and periodical order can have dramatic effects on optical and electronic behaviour such as charge transport and luminescence quantum yield, crucial in the development of effective applications. We are currently engaged in the rational design of high performance small molecule platforms underpinned through systematic optimisation of their optical properties and charge transport in the crystalline state. The proposed research project involves a systematic, crystal engineering led approach to determine and hence predict how structure control can enhance properties in organic materials and coatings, an underpinning element in the design and formulation of functional materials employed as organic semiconductors, colourants and pharmaceuticals (see Chem. Comm. 2015, 51, 1143; Cryst. Growth Des. 2014, 14, 4849); J. Mater. Chem. C, 2019, 7, 2029 and J. Mater. Chem. C, 2017, 5, 3993

 

How does it all stack up: a systematic crystal engineering based approach to the optimisation of material properties in high performance organic semiconductors

Supervisor: Dr Callum McHugh

Research Group: Civil Engineering

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Materials based on π-conjugated chromophores are central in development of high performance optical and optoelectronic applications and coatings. Important properties in these systems are dependent upon solid state intermolecular interactions usually involving π-overlap between neighbouring molecules. Small changes in molecular packing and periodical order can have dramatic effects on optical and electronic behaviour such as charge transport and luminescence quantum yield, crucial in the development of effective applications. We are currently engaged in the rational design of high performance small molecule platforms underpinned through systematic optimisation of their optical properties and charge transport in the crystalline state. The proposed research project involves a systematic, crystal engineering led approach to determine and hence predict how structure control can enhance properties in organic materials and coatings, an underpinning element in the design and formulation of functional materials employed as organic semiconductors, colourants and pharmaceuticals (see Chem. Comm. 2015, 51, 1143; Cryst. Growth Des. 2014, 14, 4849); J. Mater. Chem. C, 2019, 7, 2029 and J. Mater. Chem. C, 2017, 5, 3993

 

A novel platform for intestinal delivery of bioactive small molecules

Supervisor: Dr Callum McHugh

Additional supervisor: Professor Kate Tedford

Research Group: Chemistry

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: The gut is the largest nutrient sensing organ in the body. It receives molecular signals from the diet and environment and translates them into powerful messages to orchestrate and appropriate physiological responses to the environment we live in. Our previous work has demonstrated that this system can be targeted using one small molecule to induce improved appetite regulation, reduce food intake and prevent weight gain. In this studentship, we are aiming to build on this work to target delivery of other small molecules to regions of the intestine where we postulate they will have important health effects on the host.

 

Optimising the colonisation resistance barrier in the gut

Supervisor: Dr Callum McHugh

Additional supervisor: Professor Kate Tedford

Research Group: Chemistry

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: We have developed and optimised a delivery system which targets the release of short chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the large intestine. SCFA are the major products of non-digestible carbohydrate breakdown in the large intestine and play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the mucosal barrier. They enhance mucosal integrity and reduce permeability, supply fuel to the epithelial cells and regulate the luminal pH along with the buffering capacity of the mucosa. Life threatening infection originating in the gut is a major problem in an ageing and increasingly immobilised elderly population which often results in hospitalisation and antibiotic therapy as a first line defence. The use of antibiotics in the elderly is associated with increased risk of Clostridium difficile infection which is life threatening in many cases and has significant associated morbidity. Antibiotic therapy is the major cause of disturbance to the microbial ecosystem in the gut and to microbial SCFA production; two factors which may protect against Clostridium difficile colonisation. We have developed a novel delivery system to release SCFA in the colon with the capacity to release SCFA independent of the main microbial saccharolytic pathways. Thus even in antibiotic treated patients, we hypothesise that normal levels of SCFA production can be restored to improve mucosal integrity and restore a luminal pH that inhibits pathogen colonisation. Our initial studies have confirmed that pH is a major factor and this project will investigate the capacity for restoring normal luminal conditions on pathogen survival and will investigate the capacity for antibiotic treated patients to release SCFA from the novel delivery system.

 

Site directed delivery of bioactive small molecules

Supervisor: Dr Callum McHugh

Additional supervisor: Professor Kate Tedford

Research Group: Chemistry

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Inulin SCFA esters are a unique technology to deliver SCFA to the colon in humans and our pioneering work has shown that certain SCFAs have a role in appetite regulation, food intake, weight management, metabolic health and have potential to make a significant impact on the burden of disease faced by Western societies. The proposed project will build upon existing knowledge and expertise to develop preparations of the delivery system that targets the proximal, mid and distal colon and will test them using a range of in vitro and in vivo methods to demonstrate their effectiveness at site-directed delivery. Such modifications are easily brought about in the synthesis of the delivery system to alter the degree of availability of bound small molecules and by slowing the release in the large intestine, we hypothesise that release and hence delivery will occur more distally in the colon. There would be immediate applications in inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer and links with research teams in Scotland are in place to exploit such developments. Further fundamental applications would also follow to understand how the conditions within the large intestine prevent disease and protect health, including what luminal conditions might protect against colonisation of pathogenic organisms.

 

Systematic design and development of organic semiconducting materials

Supervisor: Dr Callum McHugh

Research Group: Chemistry

Funding status: Available to self-funded students

Available from: Now

Project Description: Materials based on π-conjugated chromophores are central in development of high performance optical and optoelectronic applications and coatings. Important properties in these systems are dependent upon solid state intermolecular interactions usually involving π-overlap between neighbouring molecules. Small changes in molecular packing and periodical order can have dramatic effects on optical and electronic behaviour such as charge transport and luminescence quantum yield, crucial in the development of effective applications. We are currently engaged in the rational design of high performance small molecule platforms underpinned through systematic optimisation of their optical properties and charge transport in the crystalline state. The proposed research project involves systematic design and synthesis of two new classes of organic semiconducting materials. The project is underpinned via molecular modelling led optimisation of crystalline systems displaying systematic variation in their molecular structure, designed to establish key structure activity relationships which can be ratified against experimental device driven data. Given the broad current interest in organic systems of this type it is anticipated that projected outputs will be of significance across many aspects of molecular sciences, including pure structural research and in applied fields such as optoelectronics, energy, plastic electronics, coatings and biological sensors.(see Chem. Comm. 2015, 51, 1143; Cryst. Growth Des. 2014, 14, 4849); J. Mater. Chem. C, 2019, 7, 2029 and J. Mater. Chem. C, 2017, 5, 3993