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PhD Opportunities within Studies Allied to Built Environment Research

Below is a list of links for PhD opportunities available in Studies Allied to Built Environment Research (SABER).

Other PhD opportunities outside of the main competition are advertised on the University’s website here.

  1. Environment, Public Health and Safety
  2. Civic Ecology and Life Infrastructure in the Natural and Built Environment: Prevention, Sustenance and Growth
  3. Predicting the Performance of Road Surfacing Products
  4. Resilient, Energy Efficient Geo-Polymer Concrete Road Pavement Solutions
  5. Novel and Innovative new uses for Previously Underused Resource Streams
  6. Pavement/Tyre Interaction
  7. Development of technological, governmental and societal innovations to create zero urban litter zones; a smart towns/cities initiative

Theme One

Theme Title

Environment, Public Health and Safety

Named Supervisors

Dr Marie Vaganay, Sean MacIntyre, Lindsay Shaw, and Ursula Walsh

Theme Description

This theme is wide ranging in nature encompassing potential research on topics such as: environmental protection; air, water and land quality; climate change and activities that affect these issues. It also includes those factors which impact either directly or indirectly on public health such as housing quality, urban form and fuel poverty together with food safety, quality and nutrition. Other issues that impact on public safety such as health and safety, risk assessment and management, home safety and consumer protection also fall within its auspice.

Potential and specific research topics include but are not restricted to:

  • Sound amplitude modulation produced by wind turbines,
  • The impacts of noise on human physiology,
  • Integrated BIM for safer, healthier buildings,
  • Community resilience, health and wellbeing,
  • Planning for health and wellbeing and tackling health inequities,
  • Food security, health and consumers,
  • The prevalence of and the health and economic impacts of Fraud/Crime,
  • Evaluation and comparison of regulatory framework across Europe on environmental health issues (options include to deliver food safety and address nutritional needs, the delivery of health and safety at work, delivery of environmental regulation or the regulation of private rented sector housing standards),
  • Regulatory controls on Environmental Protection,
  • The effectiveness of de-regulation which maintains standards but reduces the administrative burden on business and regulators alike, and
  • Health and Safety risk and hazard management decision making during high pressure incidents.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

The research environment consists of primarily office accommodation and IT support within the School of the Built Environment. This will be supplemented with the provision of specialist analytical and statistical software packages such as ArcGIS, SPSS, NVivo. In addition, should experimental work be necessary, small- to medium-scale experimental dacilities and instrumentation are available within the laboratories of the School of the Built Environment.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate Degree in or Masters in the Built Environment, Environmental Health, and Environmental Protection or in Public Health or in allied subjects. In addition, applicants should have some experience of conducting independent research. Good English oral and written skills are also highly desirable.

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

There are several potential investigative strands within the wider frame of the proposed research theme, as it encompasses the core Environmental Health disciplines of Food Safety, Health and Safety, Public Health, Environmental Protection, Housing and Consumer Protection. The theme sets out to examine the linkages between these disciplines and their impact on quality of life. Therefore, the overall programme is by its very nature interdisciplinary and the candidate will need to collect and integrate information/data from a range of discipline across the Built Environment and Life and Health Science.

Potential PhD candidates by undergoing the training and research programme will acquire an in depth holistic set of transferrable skills in this interdisciplinary field, including conducting independent research, ability to analyse and synthesise a whole systems approach to a challenge; communicating complex outcomes to a variety of audiences, influence decision making, risk assessment and health impact assessments, design and use of project management softwares...

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

The candidate will be given access to a range of research and professional networks and the project will be carried out close collaboration with the industry. Owing to the applied nature of the research theme, we would expect active participation form a range of sectors including governmental and non-governmental bodies together with proactive involvement with other local stakeholders.

We expect that the researcher will take into consideration the national and ROI context as a minimum, however, it will also be expected that the researcher will take into consideration the international context and consider the potential applications in an international implications.


Theme Two

Theme Title

Civic Ecology and Life Infrastructure in the Natural and Built Environment: Prevention, Sustenance and Growth

Named Supervisors

Dr Ciaran McAleenan, Dr Philip Millar, Robert Weatherup, Dr David Woodward

Theme Description

The Civic Ecology and Life Infrastructure Research Group (CELI) encompasses the significant global societal challenges of health, demographic change and wellbeing reflective of societies in a changing world. The built and the natural environment are symbiotic and as such are the essence of all life infrastructure, reflecting who we are in the human ontological project, while protecting, sustaining and nurturing our societal needs.

CELI, Safety Engineering and Disaster Management: In post-disaster recovery periods safety, health and wellbeing of directly affected people is paramount with lesser concerns for civic ecology and life infrastructure initially. As crises abate and normalisation ensues the focus turns to 'human livelihood' recovery and resilience, including restoration of indigenous biodiversity.

Research projects under this theme address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Potential doctoral candidates interested in this theme may propose a project relating to but not limited to:

  • Disaster management and response;
  • Inherently safe designs and resilience;
  • Safety, health and wellbeing of humanitarian aid workers;
  • Eco-gentrification and restoration of key habitats;
  • Development of pollinator habitats on transportation highways;
  • Engineering nature-based solutions to establish pollinator corridors;
  • Food security: Health and environmental impacts;
  • Economics of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem functions;
  • Making space for the 'correct green space' in cities.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

Research under this theme will ordinarily engage you in desk top, laboratory analysis and field work. The campus's facilities extend across our extensive physical and online library resource, combined with appropriate analytical software. The research supervisory and advisory team have a wide range of industry experience and maintain a strong link with industry, professional bodies and civic society, which greatly enhances your research environment. Each doctoral candidate has a first and a second supervisor and you will be afforded the opportunity to develop focussed study and research skills to address your specific requirements.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

  • A passion for your chosen topic.
  • An analytical mind with the capacity to interrogate the breadth and depth of the subject.
  • An appreciation of the importance of delivering relevant and impactive research outputs.
  • An ability to work independently, with appropriate levels of supervision.

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

As a successful PhD candidate you will have produced or developed:

  • A deep understanding of your subject, becoming an expert in our field;
  • An advocacy role for use of civilian satellite data within the field of life infrastructure and the human environment;
  • An availability to deliver research projects with relevance and impact for industry, professional bodies and/or civic society;
  • An inherent ability to analyse and synthesise a whole systems approach to any challenge; and
  • A full understanding of all forms of communicating research and the use of relevant analytical software.

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

You will:

  • Gain access to international experts in your field, through literature, professional networks and webinars;
  • Work closely with regional experts from industry, professional bodies and civic society;
  • Attend and/or present at relevant conferences, seminars and workshops;
  • Author and/or co-author research papers for consideration by appropriate academic journals; and
  • Attend Master classes given by Visiting Professors and industry experts as appropriate

These experiences are designed to enhance your ability to establish your research credibility in the international research community.


Theme Three

Theme Title

Predicting the Performance of Road Surfacing Products

Named Supervisors

Dr David Woodward, Dr Philip Millar

Theme Description

This theme considers the use of aggregate and asphalt mixtures used in road surfaces. Within Europe, these products are named as specific products in the Construction Products Regulation. This European law requires products to be CE Marked and their performance declared based on a range of European test methods. Performance is expected over the life of the product i.e. reflecting the design life of the intended use. Despite this expectation of performance for the life of the product, and levels of performance being declared, roads continue to fail prematurely. This theme will consider the simple question; why do roads continue to fail? Some of the areas for investigation include:

  • Stone loss of asphalt mixes.
  • Road surface texture and water induced damage due to trafficking.
  • Soundness of asphalt mixtures.
  • Resilience of aggregate and/or asphalt mixes to climate change.
  • Optimising the big 3 - skidding, noise and rolling resistance.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

Highway engineering at Ulster University has an established research history in collaborative research. It specialises in predicting performance and development of innovative new materials, technologies and methodologies. The laboratory facilities include all the standard EN test methods for aggregates and asphalt mixtures. It has specialist facilities for dynamic loading, simulated full-scale trafficking, tyre/surface contact investigation, thermal imaging, 2D and 3D surfacing texture modelling. Road testing equipment includes GripTester, microGT and high resolution GPS based vehicle monitoring. This theme will concentrate on development of new ways to get new data.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

Self-motivation, contribution to the group, willingness to learn and working to deadlines. Willing to travel for field work and attend professional body meetings/conferences.

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

This theme will increase knowledge and develop innovative new ways of thinking about materials with respect to performance. This will involve working with other researchers within the University in areas including computing, mechanical/electrical engineering. This could entail working with rubber, data acquisition and interpretation of test data to analysing big data sets.

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

Highway engineering at Ulster University has links to other European, American and SE Asian universities offering opportunities for international networking. It has a long-established history of industry collaboration. Attendance at conferences, professional body meetings and opportunities to work in other laboratories or to gain site experience will enhance future mobility possibilities for the PhD researcher.


Theme Four

Theme Title

Resilient, Energy Efficient Geo-Polymer Concrete Road Pavement Solutions

Named Supervisors

Dr Bryan Magee, Dr David Woodward

Theme Description

Reducing levels of energy associated with the construction, maintenance and operation of roads is a topical issue across the EU and worldwide currently.

While traditional concrete is renowned for delivering cost-effective, resilient infrastructure with low maintenance requirements, the production of cement, its principal constituent, is the recognised source of around 5-8% of all anthropogenic CO2 emissions worldwide. Geo-Polymer concrete - a novel material made from industrial waste materials, such as fly ash and blastfurnace slag activated by alkaline solutions also potentially sourced as by-products of other industries - offers a tangible alternative solution. In addition to offering significantly lower CO2 emissions than traditional concretes (up to 90%), potential benefits include high strength and resilience, thermal stability and a viable depository for otherwise landfill-bound materials.

The aim of this project will be to develop innovative geo-polymer concretes suitable for road pavement and race-track applications, for which meeting core structural performance criteria such as abrasion/skid resistance and durability is essential.

Industrial waste and aggregate constituents will be sourced locally, regionally and internationally, enabling the development of EU-wide best practice guidance for the application of geo-polymer concrete pavements.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

This project will combine laboratory-based research, in situ exposure investigations and on site reviews of construction practices and proof-of-concept studies.

Working to European normalised methodologies as appropriate, laboratory investigations will include material characterisation; pavement stiffness and deformation; resistance to fatigue cracking and wear; skid-resistance; and surface texture using 3D photogrammetry/laser techniques. Laboratory testing will be undertaken at Ulster University and collaborating institutions as appropriate.

On site/in situ testing will be undertaken in partnership with collaborating companies and organisations.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

Applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree in an engineering, materials or a related area. Applications will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to their qualifications, skills, experience and interests.

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

This project will comprise a number of investigative themes, including material technology, waste material handling and processing, engineering design and specification, electromagnetic radiation, and construction processes. As such, interdisciplinary research opportunities are likely across the disciplines of civil/infrastructure engineering, chemical engineering, building physics, building engineering and materials, environmental engineering and nanotechnology.

Transferrable skills developed while undertaking this project will include knowledge of engineering-based analytical techniques; team-working; problem-solving; critical thinking; IT skills and analysis; scientific writing and reporting; technical presentation skills and communication.

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

The focus of this research addresses topical statutory and visionary targets set by Governments and road authorities internationally.

For example, 'energy efficient materials and technologies' is a core theme of the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR) currently. CEDR is an organisation uniting 28 European countries with a common aim of diminishing the fossil fuel impact of road construction and operation. Similarly, part 3 of Horizon 2020 - the new €70 billion EU framework programme for research and innovation from 2014-20 - will focus on smart, green and integrated transport. This includes an infrastructure strand focussing on the 'next generation of resource efficient transport infrastructure'.

Against this background, the opportunity for international networking - at relevant conferences, seminars and technical meeting - is perceived to be high. As mentioned, the work will also involve collaboration with relevant companies and industry bodies, helping to further enhance relevant academic and industry interactions


Theme Five

Theme Title

Novel and Innovative new uses for previously underused Resource Streams

Named Supervisors

Dr Bryan Magee

Theme Description

This project will involve working with organisations from around Northern Ireland, and beyond, from different industry sectors, to develop solutions for challenges they face in finding sustainable resource solutions. Research will focus on finding novel and innovative new uses for previously underused resource streams within the built environment. Flows of resource streams will be developed in order to optimise usage in the short, medium and long-term, whether it be for economic development opportunities, feedstock analysis or identifying alternative raw materials.

Solutions developed will enable businesses to find reuse outlets for effluents and recoverable energy streams, and optimise the use of industrial assets, improve logistics, and increase knowledge transfer; creating a demand pull on eco-innovation - in effect increasing the productivity of all available resources generating bottom line and environmental benefits.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

This project will combine laboratory-based research, in situ exposure investigations and on site reviews of construction practices and proof-of-concept studies as required.

Working to European normalised methodologies as appropriate, laboratory investigations will include material characterisation and short and long-term performance testing. Laboratory testing will be undertaken at Ulster University, and collaborating institutions as appropriate.

On site/in situ testing will be undertaken in partnership with collaborating companies and organisations.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

Applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree in an engineering, materials or a related area. Applications will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to their qualifications, skills, experience and interests.

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

This project will comprise a number of investigative themes, including material technology, waste material handling and processing, engineering design and specification, and construction processes. As such, interdisciplinary research opportunities are likely across the disciplines of civil/infrastructure engineering, chemical engineering, building physics, building engineering and materials, environmental engineering, and nanotechnology.

Transferrable skills developed while undertaking this project will include knowledge of engineering-based analytical techniques; team-working; problem solving; critical thinking; IT skills and analysis; scientific writing and reporting; technical presentation skills and communication.

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

The focus of this research addresses the topical statutory and visionary targets set by Governments and road authorities internationally.

Developing an industrial strategy is one of the UK Government's key economic reforms currently. The Government has recognised the need for an industrial strategy to foster competitive advantage on a national scale by focusing on long-term productivity growth, and encouraging innovation. Industrial symbiosis has proven to deliver positive impacts on these agendas at a national and local scale.

Against this background, the opportunity for national and international networking - at relevant conferences, seminars and technical meeting - is perceived to be high. As mentioned, the work will also involve collaboration with relevant companies and industry bodies, helping to further enhance relevant academic and industry interactions.


Theme Six

Theme Title

Pavement/Tyre Interaction

Named Supervisors

Dr Phillip Millar, Dr David Woodward

Theme Description

This theme project develops existing collaborative research into tyre-highway surface interfacial studies in order to gain additional insight into the precise nature of the tyre/surface interface. Review of the literature including standards and specification shows a knowledge gap in this respect with measures of surface texture that offer little insight into the actual tyre surface interaction. There is therefore a significant deficit in understanding of the contribution of the interface to noise, spray, rolling resistance energy efficiency and resilience of a significant infrastructure asset. The literature shows that numerical modelling of the interaction has been attempted but there is a deficit in empirical data that can be used to validate the models. The project will require replication of a range of real highway surfacings including 3D prints in synthetic materials. Contactless optical methods will be used to measure the deformation of the tyre surface over the replicated models for a range of applied loadings and pressures. The distribution of stresses will then be derived from the deformations.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

This project will require field and laboratory studies. Field work will entail the recovery of existing highway surfacings using close range photogrammetry. These will be used to construct three dimensional models that will be replicated by 3D printing. Initially each models will be subject to loading from a standard friction tyre and the tyre draping effect measured. All necessary resources are available to complete the PhD project. Key elements of the resources required include: roller compactor to prepare laboratory specimens, Road Test Machine to simulate accelerated wear and stereo photogrammetry/high definition 3D laser to model surface topography and measure tyre deformations and displacements. Surface analysis will be carried out using Digital Surf MountainsMap and ImagePro in order to assess the surface and tyre morphology. Acccess to additional specialist HA research equipment located at TRL may be available.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

  • A working knowledge of a broad range of standard software packages
  • Ability to evaluate and analyse digital data
  • Ability to communicate effectively verbally and in writing

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

The PhD activity in this project will develop understanding of the behaviour of the tyre/surfacing interface and thus will impact ultimately on the interests of many stakeholders and experts that contribute to the construction and management of society's most extensive asset. It will address global issues of resilience, sustainability, energy and climate change and how they interact to affect highway infrastructure over the short and long term.

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

This project will involve collaboration with the aggregates, bitumen and asphalt industries within Ireland and United Kingdom. The progress of the project will be guided by experts in the field. It is anticipated that the project outputs will be beneficial to national roads authorities including Transport Northern Ireland (TNI), Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), Highways England (HE) and the tyre, aggregates, bitumen and asphalt industries. The research outputs will also validate and contribute to collaborative work being carried out with other universities in Ireland, United Kingdom and Europe.


Theme Seven

Theme Title

Development of technological, governmental and societal innovations to create zero urban litter zones; a smart towns/cities initiative

Named Supervisors

Dr Bryan Magee

Theme Description

This project is essential as Northern Ireland is officially filthy. Over 95% of all streets and public spaces contain litter with associated annual spend exceeding £40 million. Many millions more are lost on property prices, tourism, crime and mental health. Smart towns/cities bring together technology, government and society to enable characteristics such as intelligent, sustainable environments and high quality of life.

This project will create high-profile ‘zero-litter-zones’ within NI via partnerships with key infrastructure owners. This will increase public awareness of the need for behavioural change, provide platforms for key stakeholder engagement, and enable optimum monitoring and amelioration techniques to be identified. The project will develop a coherent national strategy relating to litter and embed identified best practices within the routine operations of a diverse network of infrastructure owners.

Work will involve public awareness and opinion campaigns; experimental signage and receptacle use; remote litter monitoring; and comprehensive stake-holder engagements. Work will confirm optimum amelioration techniques and provide the basis of an asset management strategy suitable for a broad spectrum of infrastructure owners. The project will develop a set of policy guidance documents and training materials and integrate this into the practices of a broad range of infrastructure owners; enabling widespread reduction of litter across NI’s built environment.

Outline of the Research Environment in which this project will take place e.g. facilities, equipment etc.

This project will combine desk-based studies, laboratory-based research, stakeholder and public engagement; and on site assessments and measurements. Desk-based study and laboratory testing will be undertaken at the University of Ulster and collaborating institutions as appropriate. On site assessments will be undertaken in partnership with collaborating companies and organisations.

Skills required from the applicant: In delivery of this theme you will have an appropriate degree in (subject discipline) and possibly a relevant postgraduate qualification. The skills you bring will be...

Applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree in an engineering, social sciences, computer science or a related area. Applications will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to their qualifications, skills experience and interests.

Describe the potential Interdisciplinary Research Options and/or Transferrable Skills that arise from the intended PhD research activity

This project will comprise a number of investigative themes, including technology review and/or development, data analysis, stakeholder engagement, public awareness and opinion campaigns, etc. As such, interdisciplinary research opportunities are likely across the disciplines of civil/infrastructure engineering, environmental engineering, social sciences, computer engineering and software systems.

Transferrable skills developed while undertaking this project will include knowledge of engineering-based analytical techniques; team-working; problem-solving; critical thinking; IT skills and analysis; scientific writing and reporting; technical presentation skills and communication.

Outline the potential opportunities for International Networking and Industry Interaction that may enhance the PhD researchers' future mobility

The creation of smart towns and cities is a topical area of academic and industry interest currently and this project will contribute to addressing and delivering topical statutory and visionary targets set by governments, companies and public authorities internationally.

Against this background, the opportunity for national and international networking – at relevant conferences, seminars and technical meeting – is perceived to be high.  As mentioned, the work will also involve collaboration with relevant companies and industry bodies, helping to further enhance relevant academic and industry interactions.