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


PhD Researchers 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.

Researchers 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, PhD Researchers and interest from a broad range of countries.


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.


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.

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

English language requirements

In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.

Get full details on the requirements for both home and overseas applicants can be found on our English language requirements page.

Careers and opportunities

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), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees

Details of tuition fees can be found under the fees schedule for the academic year of entry.

To work out for which fees you would be eligible and to find out more information about potential sources of funding, please view the Fees and Funding pages on the Doctoral College website.


We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.

Get full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application.

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system.

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.