High priority research area focussing on fundamental and applied research associated with Health and sustainable technologies
Materials Research at Ulster University has jumped from 17th to 11th in the UK national league table for research excellence and in its research submission the Assessment Panel found strong evidence of world class research, supported by internationally leading research. In fact 95% of the staff are judged to be of international standing. The Assessment Panel for this highly competitive and economically important discipline were looking at scientific discovery and engineering innovation at some of the strongest academic institutions in the UK including Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Imperial. The outcome for Ulster is a reward for the strategic focus in nanotechnology and advanced materials research and provides a strong foundation for future growth of this young and dynamic Institute.
The Engineering Research Institute (ERI) is a materials-oriented research institute, with a focus in both structural and functional materials as well as polymers. These disciplines include Healthcare Sensor Technology, Personalised diagnostics, Medical Signal and Medical Data Analysis, Biosensors and Biodiagnostics Devices, Implantables, Connected Health and Wearable Devices, Nanotechnology, Nanomaterials, Plasma Technology, Tissue Engineering, Biomaterials, Surface Science and Surface Modification, Photocatalysis, Clean Technology, Anti Microbial Resistance Diagnostics and Coatings, Graphene Research, Medical Instrumentation, Composites and Metal Forming.
About this course
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Research students have a chance to train on some of Europe’s best facilities and interact with international companies such as Unilever, Seagate Technology, Analog Devices, Bombardier, AVX Ceramics, Boston Scientific, GSK and Medtronics as well as USA and Asia based Academic Institutions. Research students are also encouraged to attend, and present papers at international conferences throughout the world as well as participate in all forms of technology transfer.
Engineering Composites Research Centre (ECRE)
Three dimensional weaving of reinforcements for carbon fibre composite components; optimisation of resin transfer moulding processes; modelling and finite element analysis of three dimensional structures for fibre reinforced composites; short fibre reinforced advanced engineering thermoplastics; instrumented impact analysis and fracture mechanics of polymers; polyurethane elastomer and elasto-plastic power transmission belts; tyre tread retreading and recycling. A new collaborative centre called the (Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering Centre) NIACE has been set-up to link with industry led composite projects.
The Engineering Composites Research Centre has received funding under the Technology Development Programme, EU, DTI, InvestNI, EPSRC and industry. Research supervision is available in: processing and performance of long and short fibre reinforced thermoplastic composites; interpenetrating networks and polymer blends; textile reinforcement modelling, design, manufacture and analysis; thermoplastic reinforced cement and rubber technology.
Advanced Metal Forming Group (AMFoR)
In-process characterisation of material behaviour during forming processes; optimisation of forming processes; finite element modelling of interactions between machine, tool and work-piece; computer- aided design of metal forming machines and tools; computer integrated manufacture of sheet metal parts. Research supervision is available in metal forming including: process modelling and finite element analysis; material property performance characteristics during forming; characterisation of coating and lubricant performance during forming.
The Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre (NIBEC)
NIBEC is a multi-disciplinary research centre which combines skills in engineering, science, informatics and medicine in order to enhance the development of devices and systems which have applications in the engineering and healthcare sectors.
The Internationally leading research, which is both applied and fundamental, is conducted in a purpose-built facility which supports an impressive array of sophisticated modern equipment, making it one of the premier nanotechnology and bioengineering facilities in Europe.
Staff have pioneered advances in medical instrumentation, medical sensors, diagnostic systems, biomaterials, coating technologies and other areas of healthcare and related technology. These advances have already had a large impact on society via technology transfer, consultancies and the setting-up of a range of spin-out companies.
NIBEC offers leading edge research and development facilities to enhance the potential for growth in a range of expanding markets, including healthcare, electronics and clean technology.
The centre has numerous collaborations throughout the world and thus attracts projects, students and interest from a broad range of countries.
Key themes of NIBEC’s current research are:
- Healthcare Sensor Systems and Connected Health: Sensors, Vital Signs Monitoring; Point-of Care Monitoring and Integrated intelligence based platforms.
- Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine: The surface science of biomaterials and their biological interface, focusing the surface modification of substrates to act as bio-active scaffolds.
- Clean Technology: The development of engineering and materials principles to address sustainable environmental issues.
- Nanomaterials and Plasma Technology: The growth, fabrication via plasma technology and characterisation of nanostructures to enhance devices.
Key Underpinning Topics
Surface Science: Thermal barrier coatings on advanced composites; the metallization
of advanced ceramics; the evolution of the typography of materials under controlled plasma etching conditions; studies of self-assembled monolayers on surfaces and organic-inorganic multi-layer systems; deposition of DLC and related wear coatings using novel carbon sources; the deposition of carbides and nitrides; surface segregation phenomena in doped electro-active ceramics and the surface modification of selected polymers; the characterisation of transition metal doped metal oxide catalysts including examples used for the selective or the total oxidation of organics and studies of hydrogen exchange phenomena on catalytic metal surfaces.
Research supervision is available in: the characterisation, modification and processing of the surfaces of advanced materials including studies of the metallisation of ceramics and related systems;, thin-film thermal barriers and protective coatings, plasma-based surface treatments and the response of materials to hostile working environments.
Plasma Technology:Plasmas including plasma diagnostics; micro plasmas and ICP plasmas. Plasma processing of advanced materials and devices is central to many of the research activities within the Centre, across most research groups. The Plasmas and Nanofabrication Group aim to integrate studies of complex technological plasmas with nano-materials processing and device fabrication, in collaboration with other groups. Through detailed plasma characterisation and new plasma system designs we aim to enhance the control and application of materials processing to advanced nano-scale device fabrication. Research focuses mainly on two technological gas chemistries, namely: chlorine-based and hydrocarbon based.
Applications: Implantable medical devices, sensors and biosensors, bio-chips, magnetic storage, MEMS, Si and III-V fabrication.
Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering: Bioengineering research in the form of Biomaterials will of course strongly integrate with the areas of nanotechnology. New strategic research now moves from the general areas of medical devices and thick film devices, to developing focused disciplines studying bio-surface based tissue engineering.
Healthcare Sensing Systems and Connected Health:Sensors thrusts will move away from general electrode based devices and hence focus on point of care based Microsystems; IDE devices; microfluidics; optical biosensing and electrode- protein interface theory. Much of this work is underway and also the basis of a new funding bids associated with the complete area of Connected Health.
Clean Technology Photocatalysis: This area focuses on the fundamentals and applications of light activated semiconductor materials. A range of methods are employed to produce nanostructured photocatalytic materials including sol gel, electrochemical and plasma techniques. Advanced surface analysis is utilised to acquire key physicochemical information on the materials. Applications of photocatalytic materials include water and air purification, surface cleaning and decontamination, solar driven water splitting (to yield hydrogen and oxygen) and dye sensitised photovoltaic cells.
Nanotechnology:This area specialises in underpinning many of the above disciplines with interests in nanoscience; nanofabrication (carbon nanotubes and graphene); nanocharacterisation (AFM/Nanoindentation studies; nano-templating and the integration of the biology and nanotechnology interface.
As a full time student, the expectation is that you will work on your project on a daily basis, either on or off campus as agreed with your supervisor. You will be entitled to 40 days holiday per annum.
Part time students are expected to meet with their supervisors on a regular basis, most usually this would be monthly but this is dependent on the project area.How to apply
We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.
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You will need to hold a First of Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in an area relevant to your chosen project to be able to apply.
If you have obtained an undergraduate degree from a non-UK institution, we can advise you on how it compares to the UK system.
English Language Requirements
English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for research degree programmes is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. This is the only acceptable certificate for those requiring to obtain a Tier 4 visa.
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
Careers & opportunities
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Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, with around two thirds of our graduates remaining in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the degree also paves way for a career in industries centred on research and innovation.
PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.
The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015).
Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.
Once you have selected your chosen project from the lists available on the Faculty pages, you are advised to make contact with the named supervisor on the project as they will be able to guide you in writing your research proposal.
You should then apply using our online application system: ulster.ac.uk/applyonlineHow to apply
Fees and funding
A number of funded scholarships are available across the University each year for PhD projects. Applications for studentships will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to the candidate's qualifications, skills, experience and interests.
Sources of funding
Fees (per annum)
Home and EU £4121
Home and EU £1455
Home and EU (with External Sponsor paying fees) £2070
Distance Research Study (Home and EU) £6225
Research facilities and groups
The Engineering facilities at the university include the Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre (NIBEC); the Engineering Composites Research Centre (ECRE) and Advanced Forming Group (AmFOR).
Engineering Composites Research Centre (ECRE) facilities comprise of a Computer Jacquard controlled power loom, three dimensional weaving design system, vacuum bag and autoclave processing equipment, resin transfer moulding machine, extrusion and computer controlled injection moulding, extensive mechanical test laboratory, sophisticated thermal analysis facility; CAD/CAM.
The Advanced Forming Group (AmFOR) facilities comprise of a Forming technology laboratory, friction and lubrication test equipment, DNC press brake, vibration analysis equipment including Fast Fourier analyser. Data logging equipment, 60 tonne hydraulic press/punch, research TIG welding equipment.
Nanotechnology and Integrated BioEngineering Centre (NIBEC) Vacuum deposition, reactive ion etching and photolithography in a Class 2 Clean Room, screen printing, electron beam and thermal evaporation, HRTEM; FIB, maskless lithography; Interferometery; Plasma Spectroscopy; Microwave CVD Nanotube facility; Microplastics/ Micofluidic facility; Filtered Cathodic Vacuum Arc systems, sputtering system, low pressure CVD, AFM, Scanning Tunnelling Microscope, Nanotube fabrication, Microplastics, Tally step, Dynamic Contact Angle Analysis System, TEM, Nitrogen Pulsed Dye Laser, Confocal Microscopy and Confocal Micro-Raman Spectroscopy system, Electrical Impedance Spectroscopy, electrical, optical, mechanical and semiconductor test facilities, low vacuum SEM and EDX bulk analysis. The facilities also include a new cell-culture and micro-biology laboratory. Cell Biology Laboratory (full microbiology analysis); RF sputtering of Bioceramics, IR Spectroscopy, Sintering and sputtering target fabrication, Cell surface interaction systems, XRD, Electrical Impedance Spectroscopy, UV-VIS, Atmospheric Plasma Modification Systems, Screen Printing, Nanoparticles Laboratory; UV curing and particle analyser.
Staff research areas
Professor Omar Escalona
Cardiology bio-instrumentation and electro- physiology.
Professor Tony Byrne
Photocatalytic purification of water, solar water splitting, photoelectrochemistry, self-cleaning/ decontaminating surface coatings, nano-structured photocatalytic materials, clean technology, electrochemical sensors and biosensors.
Dr Alistair McIlhagger
Engineering composites; polymer and composite processing; and applications and testing and technical textiles.
Professor James McLaughlin
Healthcare Sensor Systems – Connected Health: the development of vital signs / point-of-care diagnostic systems via improved fabrication, microfluidics, integrated electronics and smart decision making algorithms. Characterisation and processing of sensor materials: such as diamond like carbon, carbon nanotubes, nano-scale devices, plasma based sensors, and micro and nano-based sensor fabrication.
Professor Paul Maguire
Plasma technology – microplasmas, plasma processing and properties of thin film coatings and microstructure changes in the films. Integrated devices with microfluidic systems and data analytics.
Professor Pagona Papakonstantinou
Professor of Advanced Materials. She specialises in the fabrication and functionalisation of low dimensional carbon based nanomaterials (including graphene, carbon nanotubes and diamond nanorods), the characterisation of their unique physical and physicochemical properties and the demonstration of these materials in biological sensing and energy areas.
Dr Alan Leacock
Advanced Metal Forming with a specialisation in Finite Element analysis and computational modelling.
Professor Brian Meenan
Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering with an emphasis on the surface science (characterisation and fabrication) of bio-ceramic coatings on medical devices.
Dr Patrick Lemoine
Nano-tribology and the characterization of nanoscale dimensions using AFM and Nanoindentation.
Dr George Burke
Tissue Engineering; Cell Biology and the study of cell-surface interactions with a focus on cell biology.
Dr Justin Quinn
Engineering Composites: Polymer and Composite processing and appliances; Technical textiles.
Professor James Davis
A Professor of Biomedical Sensors, he has wide ranging interests in bio- and electrochemical sensors. He has also expertise in general chemistry based applications including anti-infection surfaces; micro-fabrication and associated areas of microbiology.
Dr Davide Mariotti
Dr Mariotti areas of expertise include: Non- Equlibrium Processes & Nanoscale Engineering: Nanoscale engineering by self-organization mechanisms; Plasma reaction kinetics; Science and technology of atmospheric-pressure microplasma; Silicon nanocrystals synthesis and properties. These can be applied to Drug delivery & bio-imaging; Energy storage; Nanoelectronics & memory devices; Nanofabrication & nanomanufacturing and Photovoltaics.
Professor Eileen Harkin-Jones
Bombardier-Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Composites Engineering is an international leader in polymer engineering and free surface plastic moulding processes
Dr Edward Archer
Aerospace composites; Materials for wind energy; 3D weaving; Polymer processing; Composite recycling.
Dr David McCracken
Engineering Design; CAD and metal forming research
Dr Dewar Finlay
His main area of research interest is in Healthcare Technology with a particular focus on computerized electrocardiology.
Dr Daniel Goldenring
His research focuses on medical devices, with a particular interest in biomedical signal processing for computerised Electrocardiology.
Dr Phillip Catherwood
Wireless Systems; RF Antenna design and wireless based medical devices.