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PhD Opportunities

Theatre of the Cosmos: Performance, Space and Science at Armagh Planetarium, 1968–2016

School of Natural and Built Environment | PHD

Applications are now CLOSED
Reference Number
Application Deadline
12 January 2022
Start Date
1 October 2022


The project aims to investigate scientific performance and public understandings of space science at Armagh Planetarium, the longest-running planetarium in the British Isles. Its presence as part of the iconic skyline of the City of Armagh, alongside its role as a public space of science during ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, makes it a unique focus for research across cultural geography, performance studies and the sociology of science. The student, working between Armagh Planetarium and QUB Geography, will use archival and ethnographic research methods to explore the performative spectacle of space science and its reception in society at Armagh Planetarium.

Aim of the Project

As the longest-running planetarium in the British Isles, Armagh Planetarium has been a site where the theatre of the cosmos has come to life for over fifty years, yet it has remained almost entirely unstudied in arts and humanities research. Working in parallel to its partner project on Armagh Observatory, this project aims to investigate the ways in which scientific performance and public understandings of space science were engendered at Armagh Planetarium, at a timely juncture in which the Planetarium is re-appraising its cultural and scientific legacy.

Institutional Context

Armagh Planetarium was established in 1968, and instantly became a beacon of the Space Age, a public space of science where the nature of the planets, stars and Universe come to life. Its twelve-metre-diameter dome established its presence as part of the iconic skyline of the City of Armagh, home to two cathedrals and the historic Armagh Observatory, while its establishment in Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’ was an attempt to forge a place for all in fractured times. As a theatre of the cosmos, the Planetarium transports its audience throughout the Universe in a modern iteration of the age-old narrative of cosmic ascent, and it continues to captivate over fifty thousand audience members each year as a special place of scientific performance and understanding. In 2016 Armagh Observatory and Planetarium merged to become one institution (AOP), and this project will inform plans to secure the heritage and ongoing educational benefits of both places. Furthermore, the project coincides with the centenary of the first modern planetarium in 2023, which will be marked by the International Planetarium Society with a programme of academic and cultural events, as well as Armagh's shortlisting for the 2025 UK City of Culture.

Research Context and Objectives

There have been no substantial scholarly accounts of Armagh Planetarium. Research on planetaria has largely overlooked their role as special places in which cosmological knowledge is co-produced in the space between scientific performance and audience reception. As such, the project will contribute to a new synthesis of research across cultural geography, performance studies and the sociology of science, that recognises science as a situated performance as much as a search for universal truths (Finnegan 2017, Ogborn 2019, Latour 2013). The project will also inform research on the spatiality of scientific knowledge (Naylor 2005, Livingstone 2003), including the science of outer space in the post-war era (Agar 1998, MacDonald 2019), while engaging with research on past and present connections between geography and cosmology (Cosgrove 2001, Dunnett 2020). Research questions include:

• What role did scientific performance play in generating new popular understandings of outer space at Armagh Planetarium?

• In what ways did audiences at the Planetarium receive and understand knowledge about the Universe?

• How did the design of the Planetarium, from its architecture to its technologies of image projection, affect the production and reception of space science?

• How did workers at the Planetarium, from past Directors to technicians and guides, interact with wider networks of astronomical science, including Armagh Observatory?

• What has been the social, cultural, and political significance of the Planetarium in Armagh and Northern Ireland during ‘The Troubles’, and how has this context informed narratives of space science?

Research Methods and Sources

A combination of archival and ethnographic research methods will be used to investigate scientific performance and public understandings of space science at Armagh Planetarium. AOP owns document collections dating back to the 1940s concerning the design, establishment and management of the Planetarium, which will be a primary focus across all research questions. AOP's ongoing Oral History Project will be a key resource in understanding scientific performance and the role of workers at the Planetarium, and transcripts will be available from figures including the Planetarium's long-standing technician and guide Patrick Corvan, and its former Director (1971-1989) Dr. Terence Murtagh. In order to investigate the practicalities of past scientific performances, material including projection media, scripts and technical equipment from the AOP archives will be analysed and interpreted. Audience responses to past Planetarium performances will be researched through documentation on school visits and first-hand accounts from early shows at the Planetarium, accessed on-site at AOP, while further accounts will be gathered through local and national newspaper articles, accessed via the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (Belfast). Such sources, as well as additional interviews with people associated with the Planetarium, for example the astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, will be used to gain an understanding of the Planetarium's broader social significance.

Expressions of interest should be emailed by 5 January 2022 to Oliver Dunnett

The closing date for submission of your application is 12 January 2022.

Application Guidance

Submit using the Queen's University Application Portal:
Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 'Geography' at the School of Natural and Built Environment (SNBE) commencing 1 October 2022.
State name of lead supervisor (Dr O Dunnett).
Include the intended source of funding (AHRC NBC Collaborative Doctoral Award).

Funding Information

This 3.5 year PhD Studentship will be funded by Northern Bridge Consortium (NBC) through their Staff-led Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDA) route. Full details, including the personal specification, may be found at:
The Value of the Award
Tuition fees paid at a rate equivalent to the Home UK fee.
• A minimum stipend per year for living costs, which is paid in regular instalments.
Awards increase every year, typically with inflation. As an indicator, the level for 2021/2022 was £15,609.

Project Summary
Dr Oliver Dunnett
Mode of Study

Full-time: 3.5 years

Funding Body
AHRC Northern Bridge Consortium
Apply now Register your interest

Geography overview

The research undertaken within Geography falls under two interdisciplinary Research Clusters; Environmental Change & Resilience (ECR) and Culture & Society (C&S).

Physical Geography-related projects focus on themes such as long-term landscape and environmental change, resilience of ecosystems, environmental change impacts on heritage structures, and analysis of contaminated lands. Investigative approaches include a range of geo-spatial technologies such as remote sensing, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), big data analysis and spatial and temporal modelling. Much of our research spans several disciplines, for example projects on the hydrogeology and restoration of bogs, climate change implications for resilience and stability of soil, geoforensics and coastal geomorphology. Funding opportunities to pursue these lines of research are available, including the doctoral training partnership, QUADRAT. Further details are available here:

The C&S cluster focuses on a number of themes, both historical and contemporary, which consider the relationships between human society, spatiality and culture. Two doctoral training partnerships provide relevant funding opportunities for research in these areas: NINE-DTP and Northern Bridge Consortium Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to make contact with potential supervisors during the autumn semester.

The four main research themes are:

The Geographies of Knowledge:
Research is focused on the geographies of knowledge, with particular emphasis on the cultures of science. The cluster has expertise on the relationships between science, race and religion since 1650; the historical geographies of scientific knowledge; the cultures of botanic gardens in the age of empire; the reception of Darwinism; the role of climate in debates about human cultures; the geopolitics of apocalyptic thought, and the ways in which cultures of science, technology and outer space are connected to questions of place, landscape and identity in the twentieth century.

Landscapes, Critical Cartography and GIS:
Research consists of quantitative spatial analyses of socio-economic data and qualitative cultural analyses of landscapes and cartographic knowledge from the medieval to the modern period. Critical cartographic/GIS techniques have been deployed to interrogate the veracity of the knowledge universe of the map, while digitally-translated documentary data have been used to re-configure our understanding of medieval urbanism and agrarian economies, as well as the spatial dynamics of religion and the politics of cartographic rhetoric.

Political Geography:
Research is focused on nationalism and regional conflict; critical geopolitics of religion; monumental landscapes and the politics of memory; international relations in a globalised world; colonial and postcolonial geographies of India; the processes of border making, geographies of embodiment and the securitisation of public spaces. This work has been carried out from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

The Population Dynamics of Contemporary Societies:
Research is focused on the population dynamics of contemporary societies and includes census analysis; research on travel to work; employability and labour markets; as well as social and religious segregation particularly in divided cities such as Belfast; the study of borders and external migration.

Mode of study / duration
Registration is on a full-time or part-time basis, under the direction of a supervisory team appointed by the University. You will be expected to submit your thesis at the end of three years of full-time registration for PhD (or part-time equivalent).

Geography Highlights
Career Development
  • Geography at Queen’s has a long-standing record of inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding the relationship between humans and their natural and cultural environments. Our graduates are equipped with high levels of expertise relevant to some of the leading challenges faced by the world today.

    In addition to support from expert staff in Geography, the University’s flagship Graduate School provides postgraduate students with a state-of-the-art interdisciplinary hub to support their personal and professional development.

    QUB’s Researcher Plus scheme provides PhD students with an opportunity to develop skills which are transferable beyond their research degrees, and the Researcher Plus award provides them with official recognition for the skills acquired in addition to their research.

    Many of our PhD graduates have moved into academic and research roles in Higher Education while others go on to play leading roles in educational practice, the public sector or within NGO’s.
World Class Facilities
  • Geography hosts three QUB research centres, the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis, the Centre for Canadian Studies and the Centre for GIS and Geomatics. Strong links exist between physical geography and the QUB Centre for Climate, the Environment and Chronology (14C Chrono )and with the School of Biological Sciences. Human geography has significant and extensive links with the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics (HAPP) and a number of staff are Fellows of the University's Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.

    The University's Core Technology Units (CTUs) provide researchers and graduate students with high-quality training in advanced laboratory techniques and access to state-of-the-art equipment. The Advanced Informatics unit helps us to maintain a comprehensive and systematic data management framework for our research data.

    The University’s McClay Library brings together wide-ranging library, computing and media services in a single location, blending the best features of a traditional library with the latest technology and provides state-of-the-art study facilities.
Student Experience
  • Postgraduates form an intrinsic part of our research community and are actively involved in the School's cross-disciplinary Research Groups. Visit our School website and read about the exciting research being undertaken by our current PhD students.
  • Research students are encouraged to play a full and active role in relation to the wide range of research activities undertaken within the School and there are many resources available including:

    Access to the Queen’s University Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme.

    Office accommodation with access to computing facilities and support to attend conferences for full-time PhD students.

    Access to the research infrastructure is provided by the School's range of Research Centres and laboratory facilities and by the University’s Core Technology Units.

    A Geography research seminar series and 'lunch and learn' feedback sessions.
Key Facts

Geography at Queens is in the Top 200 in the World QS Rankings (2020)

Course content

Research Information

Associated Research
Both research clusters attract funding from a range of sources including; NERC, EPSRC, ESRC; AHRC, British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, and JISC. The clusters have developed an international reputation in the themes identified in the overview as demonstrated by an impressive record of scholarly monographs and publishing agenda-setting articles that have informed and influenced research directions within the wider discipline of Geography.
The cluster's research themes are carried out over a wide range of different geographical contexts and from the Medieval period to the present. Current research is focused on the UK, Ireland, Korea, Italy, Israel/Palestine, the Balkans, USA, Canada, Burma, and India.
There are strong connections with cognate disciplines in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in addition to cross-faculty supervision of a number of PhD projects.

Career Prospects

For further information on career opportunities at PhD level please contact the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences Student Recruitment Team on Our advisors - in consultation with the School - will be happy to provide further information on your research area, possible career prospects and your research application.

People teaching you

Dr Alastair Ruffell
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Andrew Newton
NERC Fellowship
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Diarmid Finnegan
Head of Geography
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Donal Mullan
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Gemma Catney
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Helen Roe
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Ian Shuttleworth
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr M Satish Kumar
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Merav Amir
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Oliver Dunnett
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Paul S Ell
Senior Research Fellow
Natural and Built Environment

Dr Tristan Sturm
Senior Lecturer
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Christopher Lloyd
Natural and Built Environment

Professor David N Livingstone
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Graeme Swindles
Professor of Physical Geography
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Jennifer McKinley
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Keith Lilley
Director of Research, Culture & Society Cluster
Natural and Built Environment

Professor Nuala Johnson
Natural and Built Environment

Learning Outcomes

A research degree offers students an opportunity to foster their capacity for independent research and critical thought. It also allows students to explore an area of interest and so understand and solve theoretical and practical problems within the field.

Undertaking a research degree also enhances a student’s written and oral communication skills, and a PhD is almost always a formal requirement for an academic post.

Course structure

A PhD is awarded for original research in a topic chosen by the student. PhD studies may be undertaken on a full (3 years) or part-time (6 years) basis.

Research students are appointed a primary and secondary supervisor who will guide them through their research, supported by an independent panel reviewing students’ progress.

This independent research is complemented by programmes of training, provided both by the School of Natural and Built Environment and by Queen’s Graduate School, which is housed in a beautiful converted building just minutes from the Geography Building.


Assessment processes for a research degree differ from taught degrees. Students will be expected to present drafts of their work at regular intervals to their supervisor who will provide written and oral feedback; a formal assessment process takes place annually.

This Annual Progress Review requires students to present their work in writing and orally to a panel of academics from within the School. Successful completion of this process will allow students to register for the next academic year.

The final assessment of the doctoral degree is both oral and written. Students will submit their thesis to an internal and external examining team who will review the written thesis before inviting the student to orally defend their work at a Viva Voce.


Supervisors will offer feedback on draft work at regular intervals throughout the period of registration on the degree.

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 6.5, with not less than 5.5 in any component, or equivalent qualification acceptable to the University is required (*taken within the last 2 years).

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.

Geography 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.