PhD opportunities

Possible research topics to be undertaken in the Infrastructure & Environmet Division of the School of Engineering are given below. If you are interested in any of these projects, you should email the prospective supervisor for discussing your intentions.

The School of Engineering has a limited number of scholarships to offer to excellent candidates, application shall be discussed with the potential supervisor.

Alternatively, you are welcome to identify a different project topic within any relevant research areas by emailing your project proposal to the Head of Division, Prof. William Sloan (, who will direct you towards a prospective supervisor with expertise in that area.

Development of sustainable cementitious binders


Cise Unluer

Funding status



The School of Engineering of the University of Glasgow is seeking a highly motivated graduate to undertake an exciting 3.5-year PhD project entitled ‘ Development of sustainable cementitious binders’ within the Infrastructure & Environment Division.

With the immensely emphasized importance of addressing sustainability and minimizing the environmental impacts of the construction industry, the sustainability credentials of construction materials are increasingly becoming more important. Currently produced at a rate of >4 Bt/year, Portland cement (PC) is the most widely used construction material in the world, whereas this production rate is expected to double by the middle of the century. The production of cement is responsible for 5-7% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, presenting a great potential for improvement.

This research project will focus on identifying various solutions to reduce the overall environmental impacts of PC through three main initiatives: (i) partial cement replacements with low carbon materials, industrial by-products and wastes, (ii) improving the overall energy efficiency with the use of alternative raw materials, recycled components and low-energy production methods, and (iii) development of new cement formulations with lower energy consumption and carbon footprints.



Liquefaction of sand with fines


Dr Tom Shire (



Liquefaction causes the ground to undergo dramatic reductions in strength and stiffness and commonly occurs in sandy soils subject to shaking by earthquakes.  An example of the hazard posed by liquefaction is the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, which caused 185 deaths and lead to damage totalling an estimated $40 billion.

The processes which cause liquefaction, such as an increase in water pressure in the pores of the sandy soil, operate at the grain-scale. To develop more effective risk assessment procedures these grain-scale processes must be better understood. Liquefaction is particularly poorly understood for sandy soils containing fines and this will be the focus of this project.

This project will use discrete element modelling (DEM), a numerical method which allows detailed analysis of granular materials to be carried out at the grain/particle scale. It is effectively a virtual laboratory test which allows a wide range of variables unavailable to experimentalists to be measured. The open source DEM code LAMMPS ( will be used and this will be coupled with lattice-Boltzmann methods to simulate the particle-fluid interaction which leads to liquefaction. LAMMPS is designed for use with high performance supercomputers such as the national supercomputer ARCHER and Archie-West at Glasgow University. DEM simulations will be carried out for a range of sandy soil states with varying amounts of finer material and the results will be used to answer the following questions:

  • What are the fundamental grain-scale mechanisms which cause liquefaction of sands with fines?
  • How well do current theories derived from experimental work (e.g. Rahman and Lo, 2011) capture the mechanics of liquefaction?
  • How can analysis techniques be given a more fundamental scientific basis?

The focus of this project is liquefaction but it should appeal to all engineers and physicists interested in granular materials. Therefore, in addition to civil engineers, applications from students from other disciplines (e.g. mechanical and chemical engineering, physics and applied mathematics) are welcomed.  

Effect of climate on internal erosion of dams and flood defences


Dr Tom Shire (


Climate change will lead to hotter, dryer summers interrupted by intense rainstorms and wetter winters with a dramatic increase in peak river flows. Dams and flood defences constructed from soil fill are critical public infrastructure and climate change will mean they have to perform under more extreme conditions than ever before.

Internal erosion is one of the two main causes of failure in embankment dams and their foundations, and the main cause of failure in ageing dams. Most studies into internal erosion have concentrated on the conditions immediately after construction. The effect of climate over time (wetting and drying cycles) remains poorly understood.

This PhD project will use state of the art laboratory testing in internal erosion to study the effect of wetting and drying cycles on fill materials. This will be combined with other advanced geotechnical testing and characterisation of the soil fabric at the microscopic scale to shed new light on the effect of climate on dams and flood defences. 

Funding is available for UK and settled EU students:

The future of mobility with connected/automated vehicles


Dr. Konstantinos Ampountolas


The recent advantages in vehicle automation and communication technology enable Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) cooperation for improving traffic and control systems in real-time. Today cars are equipped with vehicle automation features, including (adaptive or traffic- aware) cruise control and collision avoidance, while there is an increasingly research on self-driving cars from Tesla to Google, Uber and others. This research will investigate how real-time data from heterogeneous media sources and vehicle automation technologies can be used to provide better monitoring of the traffic networks, which consequently could lead to the development of the next generation of traffic control systems.

Phylogeny-aware metrics for microbial community assembly driven by ecological and evolutionary principles


Dr Umer Zeeshan Ijaz (
Professor William T. Sloan (


Microbial community surveys often involve alignment and generation of phylogenetic trees using Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) or alternatively, Single Nucleotide Variants (SNVs) as an OTU-free approach using different marker genes(16S/18S rRNA, ITS region etc.). These phylogenetic trees in conjunction with species abundances on a sample space are usually employed in distance metrics (such as Unifrac distances) to ascertain geometric sources of variation (e.g., PERMANOVA test) against extrinsic meta data. Recently, phylogenetic-aware alpha diversity measures have seen their utility in exploring stochastic and deterministic nature of microbial community assembly to delineate environmental pressures (e.g., NTI/NRI metrics). This is usually done by looking at how clustered/dispersed the phylogenetic tree is. Indeed, our recent work [1] has shown a switch from competitive to environmental drivers of microbial communities in longitudinal Chicken cecum profile creating a window of opportunity for human pathogens such as Campylobacter to appear. Other recent methodological developments include phylogenetic beta diversity variants such as β-NTI/ β-NRI [2] and various statistical moments on the phylogenetic trees [3]. In view of these recent developments, the main aims of the PhD project are:
a) to consolidate the existing literature on phylogeny-aware metrics for microbial community analyses (borrowed from the latest in numerical ecology);
b) to further develop information theoretic approaches looking at community assembly from a phylogenetic point of view at different granularity (from species to genera to families to taxa up the hierarchy) and by doing so assessing anomalies in the commonly used reference taxonomies;
c) to incorporate models of molecular evolution in phylogeny aware metrics;
d) to develop approaches for concordance of multiple phylogenetic trees all derived from different marker genes (or primers pairs), but for the same sample space;
e) and to develop mathematical/statistical models on phylogeny that give an account of microbial community resilience to external perturbations by presence/absence of specific clades.
The project team also has a vast experience in developing mathematical and statistical models to explain community assembly in microbial communities, for instance, exploration of neutral community assemblage fitting Neutral Community model for prokaryotes to the distribution of microbial taxa (Professor Sloan) [4], and recent work involving Dr Ijaz on fitting the Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity with Hierarchical Dirichlet Process (NMGS package [5]). The prospective student, ideally someone with a computational background: will become part of Environmental’Omics lab within the Water & Environment group (School of Engineering); will be given access to high-performance computing facility maintained at Dr Ijaz’s lab; and will be provided numerous datasets from existing and past microbial community studies to test their methods. Further, programming experience in R is required as the secondary aim of the project is to port the developed methods to microbiomeSeq package ( that both Dr Ijaz and Professor Sloan are contributing to.

[1] U. Z. Ijaz. Comprehensive longitudinal microbiome analysis of chicken cecum reveals a shift from competitive to environmental drivers and a window of opportunity for Campylobacter. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9:2452, 2018. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.02452
[2] J. C. Stergen et al. Stochastic and deterministic assembly processes in subsurface microbial communities. ISME, 6:1653-1664, 2011
[3] C. Tsirogiannis and B. Sandel. PhyloMeasures: a package for computing phylogenetic biodiversity measures and their statistical moments. Ecography, 39(7):709-714, 2016.
[4] W.T. Sloan et al. Quantifying the roles of immigration and chance in shaping prokaryote community structure. Environ Microbiol 8: 732–740, 2006.
[5] K. Harris et al. Linking statistical and ecological theory: Hubbell's unified neutral theory of biodiversity as a hierarchical Dirichlet process. Proceedings of the IEEE, 105(3):516-529, 2017.

A first order conservation law framework for solids, fluids and fluid structure interaction


Dr. Chun Hean Lee (


The computational analysis of fluid structure interaction phenomena is widely used these days for a wealth of industrial and physical applications. In particular, the field of biomechanics has observed a surge over the last decade in the application of these computational techniques for the modelling of biological tissues (i.e. heart valves) interacting with biological fluids (i.e. blood). Some of these problems are highly challenging, requiring the modelling of highly deformable (nearly incompressible) solids immersed within a surrounding incompressible Newtonian viscous fluid. In this case, a fast and robust computational framework becomes essential for a successful simulation.

Building upon very recent discoveries (i.e. first order conservation law for solid dynamics) made by the supervisory team, the objective of this PhD is the further development of a novel 3D computational framework with significantly improved properties with respect to the current state of the art. Initial implementation has been carried out in Matlab platform, with very promising results in some extremely challenging solid dynamics problems. Interestingly, the methodology will borrow concepts from Computational Fluid Dynamics and apply them to Computational Solid Dynamics in a way that will greatly enhance the robustness and accuracy of the simulations, with the final aim to handle fluid-structure interaction.

The recruited PhD candidate will become a member of an active research group working on the development and application of cutting edge computational techniques for large strain solid dynamics, fluid structure interaction and computational multi-physics.

Project summary

Traditional low-order finite element formulations are typically employed in Industry when simulating complex engineering large strain fluid structure interaction problems. However, this approach presents a number of well-known shortcomings, namely: (1) unable to accurately capture the initiation and propagation of strong discontinuities in solids/fluids, (2) a reduced order of convergence for strains and stresses, (3) poor performance in nearly incompressible solids and (4) numerical artefacts in the form of shear/bending locking, volumetric locking and spurious pressure modes. 

The aim of this thesis is to develop a unified computational framework for the numerical analysis of fluid structure interaction problems. In this work, a very competitive vertex centred finite volume algorithm will be employed. The solid-fluid coupling conditions on the interface will be solved via a physically based Riemann solver. In addition, for problems involving extremely massive deformations, it may be necessary to re-adapt the mesh to maintain both the mesh quality and the solution accuracy.

Sister project

The sister project, in collaboration between Swansea University and University of Glasgow, will focus on the development of OpenFOAM finite volume solver for fluid structure interaction. Details of this collaborative project can be found at the following link:


  • To have a strong undergraduate and MSc degree (or equivalent) in Engineering, Mathematics, Physics or a related field 
  • To have an enthusiastic attitude to conduct research, being hard-worker and critic 
  • To have a strong background in nonlinear continuum mechanics
  • To demonstrate experience with numerical methods (Finite Volume/Finite Element) 
  • To have a good knowledge of some programming languages such as Matlab and/or C/C++ 
  • To demonstrate experience with parallel programming

Cost-effective Sensors for Rapid Monitoring of Water Quality


Dr Zhugen Yang (


Water contamination with microbial organisms is a global issue. Even with well-operated drinking water treatment systems, such as those available in Scotland and Europe, drinking water distribution systems are vulnerable to episodic pathogen intrusion (from pressure losses, repairs or rain-induced run-off of dirty water from agriculture). Contaminations also impact upon remote, rural local distribution systems with decentralised facilities, such as those present in many low and middle income countries (LMICs), as well as remote areas of ‘developed’ countries (such as in villages the Highlands in Scotland). 

In this project, low-cost, deployable biosensor devices (lab-on-paper) will be developed for the online monitoring of water quality to address such global water contamination issues. Using a paper-microfluidic sensor, similar in its size to a pregnancy test, we will develop rapid, sensitive and easy-to-use sample-to-answer testing devices which can be widely deployed to identify multiple pathogens in drinking water and track their source. These novel devices will also help identify microbial and human contamination patterns and dynamics, and in doing so enabling industry to “adopt new and more productive ways of working.”

Working with Scottish Water and other industry partners, we aim to translate this new understanding on the dynamics and transportation of microbial contamination into effective monitoring strategies and remediation processes, to maintain "sustainable communities and sustainable homes”. In future, our platform will also enable source tracking and monitoring in the wider environment around agricultural processes, including the emergence of antibiotic resistant genes (a major global challenge). 


The project aims to create impact within society by enabling the early detection and tracking of microbial water contamination, through the development, validation and deployment of a rapid, low cost, easy-to-use and portable sensor based on a newlab-on-a-paperplatform. We will work together with our industrial partner, Scottish Water and use the project to expand and strengthen links with Division of Biomedical Engineering within The School of Engineering and with The School of Geographical and Earth Sciences within the university. The project will also involve cross-college collaborations into the MVLS.

By enabling the tracking of the source of contamination, we will better understand the pollution pathways, thus leading to improved treatment strategies, as well as the development of surveillance and early warning systems. The project will also have impact beyond the direct implementation of the devices, where the new understanding of the dynamics of transport pathways will enable new research on complex ecotoxicological fluxes, with the potential to provide information on the fate of (for example) drug resistant organisms in the environment and how urban and agricultural practices could impact this.

As a pathway to demonstrate the applicability of the innovations, we will validate the techniques developed with our industry partner Scottish Water in the field. Our close collaboration will ensure that the developments are relevant to the end-users requirements, de-risking their translation. In practice, the impact will be realised through the development of commercial devices and intellectual property, the delivery of which will have additional economic impacts.

Mathematical modelling of Natural microbial communities


Dr. Rebeca Gonzalez-Cabaleiro (


Complex communities of microorganisms have the potential to catalyse industrial processes in a cheap and sustainable way. However, there is a lack of understanding on how microbial populations evolve and how different species collaborate or compete for the available resources in the environment. If we cannot understand these interrelationships, we cannot engineer them.

The Water and Environment Research Group at the University of Glasgow aims to understand in a deeper way, microbial communities that are of interest for the biotechnological industry and for remediation of waters or soils. For doing so, we aim to develop and use mathematical models that will link with the experimental work currently develop in the group. In particular, with Individual-based models (IbMs), where the growth of each of the microbial individuals of the community is described, we can study the relationship of the different microbial species, their position in the community and their survival capacity ( We aim to use IbMs as a platform where we can program and see the growth, decay and evolution of each of the microbial species of a population and how their activity changes the environmental conditions affecting other microorganisms present in the same system.

The PhD candidate will work at the frontiers of biology and chemistry using mathematics and programming as tools. She/he must have a passion for bioprocess engineering but also for mathematical modelling. An interest and knowledge on MATLAB programming will be appreciated. She/he will work in close collaboration with other PhD candidates that are engineering the process at laboratory scale and with industrial partners. Internships to other European Universities will be considered.

Improving the dynamic response of reinforced concrete structures


Dr Peter Grassl (


Critical infrastructure, such as bridges, high rise buildings and nuclear reactors, should be designed to resist extreme loading events in the form of blast and high-speed impact. Reinforced concrete structures subjected to dynamic loading exhibit complex failure processes, whereby the response of connections between members are often critical for the resilience of the entire system. Understanding how the performance of structural members and their connections can be improved is highly desirable so that resilient structures can be designed.

The aim of this project is to investigate how cementitious materials can be enhanced by tuning fibres and other inclusions to create materials with exceptional mechanical properties. For these new materials, we aim to develop damage-plasticity constitutive models together with small scale physical experiments. Nonlinear finite element techniques for dynamic analysis of structures together with the new constitutive models will be used to assess the effect of the new materials on the failure process of structural members.

Computational modeling of soft tissue biomechanics


Dr. Ankush Aggarwal (


Almost 30% of all deaths globally are related to cardiovascular diseases, and most of these are related to changes in the stiffness of tissues making up the system. There is an urgent need for new computational tools that can help detect, understand, and treat these diseases. There are three projects available related to this broad topic:
1. Image-based evaluation of cardiovascular health
2. Computational model development for endothelial cells response to combined loading
3. Uncertainty quantification and design of experiments for soft tissue mechanics

Project Summary

A common theme in these projects is to use an interdisciplinary approach to develop computational models and tools, and then use these tools to develop a new understanding of the soft tissue biomechanics.

During these projects, students will have opportunities to:
• Learn about advanced topics, including nonlinear finite element analysis, bio-chemo-mechanical modeling of cells, nonlinear mechanics, image analysis, optimization, and uncertainty quantification
• Interact within the Glasgow Centre for Computational Engineering with other researchers (GCEC) and across departments with biomedical scientists, clinicians, statisticians etc.
• Present research results at workshops and conferences
• Publish papers in high-quality journals
• Develop interdisciplinary skills that allow you to work at the interface of engineering and biological science

Influence of climate on unsaturated soils: laboratory testing and modelling


DrTom Shire (

Professor Simon Wheeler (


The School of Engineering of the University of Glasgow is seeking a highly motivated graduate to undertake an exciting 3/3.5-year PhD project entitled ‘Influence of climate on unsaturated soils: laboratory testing and modelling’ within the Infrastructure and Environment Division. 

Climate change will lead to more droughts and hotter summers, leading to larger drying and wetting cycles in unsaturated soils. This project will seek to improve our understanding of how these processes will affect the likelihood of geotechnical hazards such as landslides. 

Laboratory testing including an advanced triaxial apparatus and modelling with the leading Glasgow Coupled  Model will be used to improve our understanding of how suction and anisotropy will affect the geotechnical behaviour of unsaturated soils.  The researcher carrying out this project will develop a deep knowledge of unsaturated geotechnics which would be valued by industry as well as high level practical laboratory and problem solving skills.

For an informal discussion or for further information on this project, potential applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Tom Shire or Professor Simon Wheeler:

Particle tracking in PEPT using machine learning


Dr. Andrew McBride



Positron emission tomography (PET) is a nuclear imaging technique commonly used in nuclear medicine to produce three-dimensional images of functional processes within the body. PET scanners and their underlying algorithms have been adapted to explore the complex flow exhibited by granular systems. In positron emission particle tracking (PEPT), one particle within the system is tagged with a radionuclide. The radionuclide undergoes β+ decay, during which a position and a neutrino are produced. When the position comes into the neighborhood of an electron in the surrounding medium, an annihilation event occurs resulting in the emission of back-to-back photons. The PET scanner detects this pair of back-to-back photons and a line of response is constructed. After sampling over a small time increment, an algorithm determines the position of the particle from multiple lines of response. The trajectory of the particle in 3D space can then be reconstructed.

PEPT provides valuable insight into a range of industrial processes. Examples include the mixing of pharmaceutical powders and the milling of rock. A key assumption is that the behavior of the whole system can be described by that of an individual particle tracked for a sufficiently long time. The ability to track more than one particle simultaneously is therefore of significant value.

Project Summary

The algorithms used to reconstruct the trajectory of a single particle are relatively mature. Recently work has been done to track multiple tagged particles. This provides a far richer data set but presents many challenges. The objective of this research project is to apply recent advances in machine learning to track multiple particles within a laboratory-scale tumbling mill. The generated algorithm should be robust and efficient. Granular flow simulations, using the discrete element method, will be used to augment the experimental data set.

PhD in Computational Engineering


Prof. Paul Steinmann (


Computational Engineering delivers sophisticated modelling and simulation tools to predict the behaviour of complex, real-world systems. CE has a pervasive impact on engineering design and discovery-led scientific research. Postgraduate studies in CE will equip you with the skills to solve the engineering challenges of the future.

 The Glasgow Computational Engineering Centre (GCEC)is an EPSRC-supported research centre-based at the University of Glasgow. We provide a coherent focus and point of interaction for fundamental and applied research in CE. As a team of ten academics, we have exciting opportunities for motivated and talented students who want to solve challenging and relevant problems across the spectrum of science and engineering. 

 For more information on the research areas of the GCEC and information on our team, visit

Enhancing slope stability with capillary barriers


Prof. Simon Wheeler


Climate change will lead to more extremes of weather, including both droughts and heavy rainfall. This will lead to increased risk of landslides and slope instabilities, as droughts produce cracking of surface soils, providing easier access for infiltrating water during subsequent periods of heavy rain. Infiltrating water dissipates negative pore water pressures (suctions) within the slope and brings the soil from an unsaturated state to a saturated condition, resulting in increased risk of slope failures.
This project will involve advanced numerical modelling of slopes incorporating capillary barriers, to investigate whether these barriers could be effective in reducing rainwater infiltration to the underlying soil, allowing suctions and unsaturated conditions to be maintained and hence enhancing stability. The numerical modelling, employing the CODE_BRIGHT finite element software for multi-physics modelling in unsaturated materials, will include soil-atmosphere interactions, state-of-the art constitutive modelling of water transport in granular soils (including water film flow at low degrees of saturation) and the impact on slope stability. While the project will predominantly involve numerical modelling, key conclusions may be validated by physical model testing in the laboratory.
The project forms a continuation of previous research funded by the EU.

Profiling active nitrifiers with single cell resolution


Dr Cindy Smith

Prof. Huabing Yin


Nitrification is a central process in the global nitrogen cycle driven by microorganisms. Once assumed a simple oxidation of ammonia to nitrite and then nitrate by two separate but reliant groups of microorganisms, recent work has revealed a myriad of complexities including complete nitrification within a single organism. A complete understanding of the organisms and environmental drivers of nitrification is essential to inform not only ecosystem functioning in the face of climate change but also to deliver sustainable agriculture and environmental biotechnologies. A significant barrier to current understanding is the inability to directly link nitrification activity to the responsible microorganisms within complex microbial communities. We propose to develop a state-of-the art microfluidics platform to label, sort and subsequently identify nitrifiers from within complex environments based on their activity with single cell resolution. The approach exploits the autotrophic nature of nitrifiers that use CO2as their carbon source. By supplying the microorganisms with a heavy labelled 13C isotope a characteristic Raman shift is generated. This Raman shift can be used to sort active from inactive cells.  The aim of this PhD research project is to develop this state-of-the-art platform combining Stable Isotope Probing (SIP), Resonance Raman (RR) and Raman Activated Cell Sorting (RACS) (SIP-RR-RACS) to sort active and inactive nitrifier. Cell sorting can then be coupled to sequencing approaches to further explore he identify and metabolic capabilities of the active organisms under a range of experimental conditions. 

Modelling large deformations in growing soft biological tissu


Dr Prashant Saxena



Understanding mechanicalbehaviour of biological tissues is becoming increasingly important to understand biological function as well as to design effective treatments for medical conditions. Tissues such as human skin are highly deformable and demonstrate nonlinearity in their mechanical response. Phenomena such as wrinkling are associated with mechanical instabilities caused due to large strains. Furthermore all living tissues constantly remodel themselves by replacing old cells and growth of new cells – leading to changes in their mechanical properties.

This project aims at studying the various forms of mechanical instabilities that can occur in tissues due to growth and remodelling. The scope is fairly open and the exact project aims will be finalised in conjunction with your interests. You will have the opportunity to work closely with all the team members at the Glasgow Computational Engineering Centre (GCEC) as well as colleagues in other schools and universities.

This PhD project is suitable for students with interests in topics such as solid mechanics, structural engineering, computational mechanics, applied mathematics, or biomechanics.

Mechanics of smart magneto-active and electro-active material


Dr Prashant Saxena



Electro- and magneto-active smart materials are types of advanced composites that can undergo large deformations in the presence of external electromagnetic fields. Being lightweight and possessing capability of extreme deformations before any fracture, they are excellent candidates to be used as sensors, actuators, vibration suppressors, and in other structural mechanics applications. Modelling of these composites requires dealing with the mechanical and electromagnetic fields simultaneously thereby resulting in a coupled “multi-physics” problem.


This project aims at studying the behaviour of these smart materials close to instability (buckling) – a point where the electro-mechanical or magneto-mechanical behaviour of material changes drastically resulting in extreme deformations. A major outcome of this project will be the prediction of post-buckling response of smart materials. These insights will provide significant value towards design of various devices made of these composites. You will have the opportunity to work closely with all the team members at the Glasgow Computational Engineering Centre (GCEC) as well as colleagues in other schools and universities.


This PhD project is suitable for students with interests in topics such as solid mechanics, structural engineering, computational mechanics, applied mathematics, or electromagnetics.