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PhD Opportunities

Biohaviour: The Extremely Light Wing

School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering | PHD
Reference Number
Application Deadline
None specified
Start Date
2 October 2022


As COP26 has reminded us all so clearly humanity is now in the midst of a climate crisis that requires us to change how we behave and how we do things if we are to have a chance to reach net zero. Engineering the products of the future that are sustainable and help us on the way to net zero will require totally new ways of thinking and solving problems. Air travel in the future will look and feel very different to that which we are accustomed to today. To support our targets of net zero emissions in 2050 new vehicle types such as electric air taxis and airships will have a new and bigger role to play in delivering people, foods, medicines and essential supplies to less accessible places and even within more densely populated areas. Airframes will need to be very light and still cost effective when formed into different shapes. The idea of airships is far from a technology of yesteryear with Google co-founder Sergey Brin leading the charge with his new air yacht. The UK is opening its first pop-up airport for air taxis near Coventry, with Vertical Aerospace now having more than 1,000 pre-orders of its exciting VA-A4 aircraft for a new air taxi service. In Biohaviour we are Re-Imagining Engineering Design in a large national programme supported by the UK Research Councils and supported by leading companies including Spirit Aersosytems (Bombardier), Rolls-Royce, Airbus and. In this work the team is exploring new structural geometries and representations that have an organic look and feel, and we are building the tools to automatically create these geometries. The challenge to be addressed in this project is that our manufacturing capability significantly affects the resulting shape, form and material of the configuration and current design methods cannot deal with this. New design methods, CAD tools and algorithms to link with manufacturing will be created and evaluated. We want to ‘grow’ structural designs that are net zero and to do this we are exploring if it is possible to create structures with only 10% of their current weight and that can be made for 10% of the current cost and designed in less than 10% of the current time needed.

Biohaviour is a bioinspired integrated design and manufacturing system created and developed in QUB. It aims to observe the rules nature uses when designing the world around us, and to capture these in a system where they can be applied to engineering design problems. It is envisaged that by doing so it will be possible to design and manufacture innovative products, free from the constraints imposed on the designs of today by existing design processes.
This PhD will play an important role in the overall project, determining how best to create complex representations of airship structures and systems. This will involve assessing the different potential modelling methods and to select the most promising approach to construct a real wing box structure and its supporting systems. The second step will be to identify how the geometric description can be integrated with the advanced manufacturing approaches which Biohaviour aims to exploit.
In this PhD project the appropriateness of a range of different design approaches will be evaluated for this application, along with artificial evolution to explore novel structural configurations that may take advantage of new manufacturing systems to achieve the ambitious reductions needed across this whole process.. The most appropriate approach will be implemented in a prototype framework where it will join the suite of tools being researched by other members of the team.
Aims and Objectives:
The aim is to determine the most effective design approach for applications in extremely light aircraft structures and to provide a useable prototype capability to the project.
The objectives are to:
- Identify the different design approaches that are available and suited to generative design of airframe structures, but particularly wing box structures.
- Identify the different manufacturing strategies that can be used with each design approach
- Prepare a prototype design and modelling environment for use in biohaviour for the design of aircraft wing structures.

As this project is strongly connected to industry there will be opportunities for both long and short term periods in the partner company working with practising engineers in exploring these novel design systems.

Funding Information

The studentship will cover stipend and fees. Funding may be available for local or international applicants.
The studentship includes support from Spirit Aerosystems with a generous top-up to the baseline stipend, plus funding for travel and project support. This results in a total tax-free stipend of £20k per year, and opportunities to spend time in the company gaining valuable practical experience as well.

Project Summary

Professor Mark Price

Mode of Study

Full-time: 3 years

Funding Body
DFE/EPSRC, and Sponsorship from Spirit Aerosystems
Apply now Register your interest

Aerospace Engineering overview

Doing a PhD in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is a highly rewarding experience. You will carry out your research in a friendly and supportive environment, supervised by academics who are leaders in their field, using well-equipped laboratories and research facilities, alongside students from all over the world. At any time we have around 100 students enrolled on a PhD. The School has a vibrant PhD student mentoring programme and a student led Research Culture Committee.

The School’s research is focused around six interconnected research themes: Advanced Manufacturing and Processing, Future Aircraft, Composite Materials and Structures, Simulation Technologies, Clean Energy and Biomaterials and Biomechanics.

PhD opportunities are available in a wide range of subjects aligned to the specific expertise of our PhD supervisors. Many are linked with leading companies and organisations.

Key Facts

Research students are encouraged to play a full and active role in the research activities undertaken within the School. Students attend international conferences and participate in academic and industrial networks worldwide.

  • The School has strategic partnerships with Rolls-Royce and Wrights supported by multiple large programmes (funders EPSRC, Innovate-UK, Advanced Propulsion Centre etc). There are opportunities for cutting edge, impactful PhDs within vibrant teams.
  • The school also partners with a number of leading companies on a range of research challenges, including: Airbus, Artemis Technologies, Caterpillar, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover
  • PhDs contribute to major centres, including: Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC), Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering Centre (NIACE), Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC), Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC)
  • The School has well equipped laboratories and great research facilities. PhD students share offices alongside postdoctoral staff. The School has Research Culture Committee to enhance the research environment of the School and support PhD students.

Course content

Career Prospects

Employment after the Course
Many of our PhD graduates have moved into academic and research roles in Higher Education while others go on to play leading roles in industry, industry or become entrepreneurs.

People teaching you

Dr Trevor Robinson
Doctoral Programme Director
Mech & Aerospace Engineering

Learning Outcomes

Course structure

You will carry out leading research under the guidance of your supervisory team. A full time student will normally complete in three years (up to a maximum of four), or part time over six years (up to a maximum of eight).

Research will usually be in one of the key, interlinked research themes in the School, and the subtopics they cover, include:-

Advanced Manufacturing and Processing - cost modelling, ergonomics, intelligent control, laser processing, life cycle analysis, material characterisation, mechatronics, parallel kinematic machines, polymer processing, robotics and ultra-precision manufacturing.

Future Aircraft - aero engines, aerodynamics, aeroelasticity, aircraft operations, design and analysis, optimisation and structural testing

Composite Materials and Structures -damage mechanics and crashworthiness, material characterisation, multifunctional composites and nano-enhanced composites

Simulation Technologies - FEA/CFD/EFG/DES/MD, kinematic modelling, meshing, multiscale/Multiphysics, optimisation, simulation intent, systems modelling, uncertainty quantification, virtual testing and design visual analytics and big data

Clean Energy - biofuels, catalysis, life cycle assessment, power systems, turbomachinery and waste management

Biomaterials and Biomechanics - biomimetics, material characterisation, mechanobiology and medical devices.

Also, over the course of study, you can attend postgraduate skills training organised by the Graduate School, or other internal and external training courses organised through your supervisor.


Entrance requirements

The minimum academic requirement for admission to a research degree programme is normally an Upper Second Class Honours degree from a UK or ROI HE provider, or an equivalent qualification acceptable to the University. Further information can be obtained by contacting the School.

International Students

For information on international qualification equivalents, please check the specific information for your country.

English Language Requirements

Evidence of an IELTS* score of 6.0, with not less than 5.5 in any component (*taken within the last 2 years) is required.

International students wishing to apply to Queen's University Belfast (and for whom English is not their first language), must be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English in order to benefit fully from their course of study or research. Non-EEA nationals must also satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) immigration requirements for English language for visa purposes.

For more information on English Language requirements for EEA and non-EEA nationals see:

If you need to improve your English language skills before you enter this degree programme, INTO Queen's University Belfast offers a range of English language courses. These intensive and flexible courses are designed to improve your English ability for admission to this degree.

Tuition Fees

Northern Ireland (NI) 1 £4,596
Republic of Ireland (ROI) 2 £4,596
England, Scotland or Wales (GB) 1 £4,596
EU Other 3 £22,700
International £22,700

1 EU citizens in the EU Settlement Scheme, with settled or pre-settled status, are expected to be charged the NI or GB tuition fee based on where they are ordinarily resident, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly Student Fees Regulations. Students who are ROI nationals resident in GB are expected to be charged the GB fee, however this is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

2 It is expected that EU students who are ROI nationals resident in ROI will be eligible for NI tuition fees, in line with the Common Travel Agreement arrangements. The tuition fee set out above is provisional and subject to the publication of the Northern Ireland Assembly student fees Regulations.

3 EU Other students (excludes Republic of Ireland nationals living in GB, NI or ROI) are charged tuition fees in line with international fees.

All tuition fees quoted are for the academic year 2021-22, and relate to a single year of study unless stated otherwise. Tuition fees will be subject to an annual inflationary increase, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

More information on postgraduate tuition fees.

Aerospace Engineering costs

There are no specific additional course costs associated with this programme.

Additional course costs

All Students

Depending on the programme of study, there may also be other extra costs which are not covered by tuition fees, which students will need to consider when planning their studies . Students can borrow books and access online learning resources from any Queen's library. If students wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow them from the University Library, prices per text can range from £30 to £100. Students should also budget between £30 to £100 per year for photocopying, memory sticks and printing charges. Students may wish to consider purchasing an electronic device; costs will vary depending on the specification of the model chosen. There are also additional charges for graduation ceremonies, and library fines. In undertaking a research project students may incur costs associated with transport and/or materials, and there will also be additional costs for printing and binding the thesis. There may also be individually tailored research project expenses and students should consult directly with the School for further information.

Bench fees

Some research programmes incur an additional annual charge on top of the tuition fees, often referred to as a bench fee. Bench fees are charged when a programme (or a specific project) incurs extra costs such as those involved with specialist laboratory or field work. If you are required to pay bench fees they will be detailed on your offer letter. If you have any questions about Bench Fees these should be raised with your School at the application stage. Please note that, if you are being funded you will need to ensure your sponsor is aware of and has agreed to fund these additional costs before accepting your place.

How do I fund my study?

1.PhD Opportunities

Find PhD opportunities and funded studentships by subject area.

2.Funded Doctoral Training Programmes

We offer numerous opportunities for funded doctoral study in a world-class research environment. Our centres and partnerships, aim to seek out and nurture outstanding postgraduate research students, and provide targeted training and skills development.

3.PhD loans

The Government offers doctoral loans of up to £26,445 for PhDs and equivalent postgraduate research programmes for English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students.

4.International Scholarships

Information on Postgraduate Research scholarships for international students.

Funding and Scholarships

The Funding & Scholarship Finder helps prospective and current students find funding to help cover costs towards a whole range of study related expenses.

How to Apply

Apply using our online Postgraduate Applications Portal and follow the step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

Find a supervisor

If you're interested in a particular project, we suggest you contact the relevant academic before you apply, to introduce yourself and ask questions.

To find a potential supervisor aligned with your area of interest, or if you are unsure of who to contact, look through the staff profiles linked here.

You might be asked to provide a short outline of your proposal to help us identify potential supervisors.