School of Natural and Built Environment

Civil Engineering Studentships

For information: The Bryden Centre PhD Programme: Fully funded PhD Studentships in Renewable Energy - Click HERE 

EPSRC PhD CASE Studentship:

Flow optimization within a SuDS vortex retention brake

This CASE studentship is a collaborative study between the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University Belfast and FP McCann Ltd.

A vortex brake, used to route storm runoff within a drainage network, works on the principle that by extending the flow path and increasing energy loss, the capacity to discharge flow reduces while not presenting a physical obstacle to the passage of the water.  The vortex that forms in these systems operates within the vertical plane and as such the influence of gravity, while previously assumed negligible, has proven from initial tests to be significant.

This project will investigate differences in how such vertical vortices prime and de-prime, as a full understanding of the differences that occur is essential if an optimum design of a vertex brake is required. The work will be both experimental and numerically based using computational fluid dynamics.

Extensive collaboration between the QUB team and FP McCann Ltd. is already going on. The successful PhD candidate will join a talented team of researchers at QUB and will have links to engineers at FP McCann to
drive this cutting edge research. The position is available immediately and will be for 4.0 years.

Candidate Requirements:
Applications would be welcome from candidates holding a first class or second class (upper) degree in Civil Engineering or other relevant disciplines. Computational Fluid Dynamic’s modelling experience is essential and experimental skills are desired.

Stipend – EPSRC CASE award for 2017: £14,533 pa with an additional top-up of £6,000 pa (total of £20,533 pa tax‐free stipend) for eligible candidates.

Residence requirements
To be eligible for a full award (stipend and fees), the student must have:

  • Settled status in the UK (with no restrictions on how long they can stay) and
  • Been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the grant. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals)

To be eligible for a fees only award:

Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award. To be eligible for a fees-only award, a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students
must be ordinarily resident in the UK.

More details can be found at
Deadline of Application: 29th September 2017 .

For further information about this opportunity please contact Dr G.A. Hamill


EPSRC PhD CASE Studentship:

Optimisation of casting and lifting operations of precast concrete with synthetic fibres

This CASE studentship is a collaborative study between the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast and Creagh Concrete Ltd.
The project will investigate the use of synthetic fibres in concrete mixes for (a) reducing steel reinforcement, and (b) avoiding thermal cracking at early ages and it will achieve this through the use of advanced modelling techniques. It
will involve laboratory work to develop, and determine mechanical properties of, fibre concrete mixes; design precast elements; develop thermal and structural finite element models including post cracking behaviour and their validation both in small scale laboratory tests and at full scale production.

Extensive collaboration between the QUB team and Creagh Concrete Ltd. is already going on. The successful PhD candidate will join a talented team of researchers at QUB and will have links to engineers at Creagh Concrete to
drive this cutting edge research. The position is available immediately and will be for 3.5 years.

Candidate Requirements:
Applications would be welcome from candidates holding a first class or second class (upper) degree in CivilEngineering or other relevant disciplines such as Mechanical Engineering, and Material Sciences. Both finite element modelling and experimental skills are desired.

Stipend – EPSRC CASE award for 2017: £14,533 pa with an additional top-up of £6,000 pa (total of £20,533 pa tax‐free stipend) for eligible candidates.

Residence requirements
To be eligible for a full award (stipend and fees), the student must have:

  • Settled status in the UK (with no restrictions on how long they can stay) and
  • Been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the grant. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals)

To be eligible for a fees only award:

Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award. To be eligible for a fees-only award, a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students
must be ordinarily resident in the UK.

More details can be found at
Deadline of Application: 30th June 2017 (expected starting date is 1st October 2017).
For further information about this opportunity please contact Prof Marios Soutsos

Fatigue assessment of composite blades of offshore wind turbines (Note: this is a self-funded scholarship)

Offshore wind turbines are subjected to the simultaneous action of wave, current and wind loads. Aerodynamic and hydrodynamic damping and excitation loads are highly coupled which require integrated analysis of the structure considering the misalignment of wave and wind loads. The stochastic nature of wind and wave results in stochastic nonlinear loads that can excite eigenfrequencies of the system such as blades, tower as well as natural frequencies of the substructure. In particular, as blades of wind turbines are slender structural elements that are normally made of composite, the aero-elastic consideration is the key feature in the design of wind turbines. This requires tremendous precise load and load action calculations considering joint probabilities of environmental conditions in the time domain. In this PhD research, fatigue damage accumulation for a representative 10MW offshore wind turbine considering global aero-hydro-servo-elastic time domain simulations will be performed. Finite element modelling of the blades considering the detailed design of the composite material will be incorporated with beam modelling of blades based on beam theory (i.e. Timoshenko formulation) that is normally used in aero-hydro-servo-elastic numerical tools.  The candidate should have a background in structural/mechanical engineering and have an interest in numerical code development and numerical simulations considering multidisciplinary offshore wind field. Knowledge in finite element modelling (FEM), hydrodynamics, aerodynamics and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is an advantage. Fatigue analysis of structural members made of composite material is crucial for the possible applicant.     

For more information, refer to Dr Madjid Karimirad

Impact Resistance of Ultra High Performance Fibre Reinforced Concrete

Ultra High Strength Fibre Reinforced Concrete (UHPFRC) has been developed which has enhanced homogeneity, enhanced microstructure, and enhanced ductility. The inclusion of fibres improves tensile strength, and also makes it possible to obtain the required level of ductility. The compressive strengths of UHPFRCs without application of pressure before and during setting are likely to be between 170 to 230 MPa depending on the post-set heat treatment (20 to 900C). Fracture energies are between 20,000 and 40,000 J.m-2 and moduli of elasticity between 50 to 60 GPa. UHPFRC appears to be a promising new material not only because of its enhanced ductility but also because the mixing and casting procedures are no different to existing procedures for normal and high strength concretes. UHPFRC has, however, a substantial increase in cost over and above that of conventional and even High Performance Concrete and it is therefore appropriate to identify applications which fully utilize UHPFRC’s mechanical properties and performance characteristics. Research therefore needs to be conducted to develop and commercialize types of precast products which utilize many of the enhanced properties of UHPFRC. One such application is for blast resistant structures something that is currently being investigated at Queen’s University Belfast, see:

The main aim of the project is to determine the static properties of UHPFRC needed to develop constitutive relationships that can be used in finite element analysis for modeling purposes. The second aim is to determine the behaviour of UHPFRC under impact loading and show whether or not its behaviour under this type of loading can be modelled using a finite element analysis package called ABAQUS. In order to achieve the aim of the project, the following need to be investigated: (1) Optimization of mix proportions for UHPFRC so as to achieve a compressive strength of more than 160 MPa, (2) Determine experimentally a consitutive relationship by testing specimens in direct tension, (3) Test prisms of different size and determine whether the “fictitious crack model” can predict accurately their behaviour, (4) Finite element analysis will also be used in this project to determine how accurately it can predict the behaviour of the prisms in flexure, (5) Investigate the impact behaviour of UHPFRC beams and slabs. (6) Results from the experimental work will be used as input parameters in Finite Element modelling to determine whether or not it can accurately predict the behaviour of UHPFRC under static and impact loading.

This research involves several disciplines and can lead to good publications and practical recommendations when well conducted 

Supervisors: Prof M SoutsosProf JF Chen, and Dr D Robinson.

Applied environmental tracers for reaearation and hydrodynamic studies in the Corumbataí River (São Paulo State, Brazil)

The Corumbataí River and its tributaries drain an economically important area in São Paolo State including Rio Claro and Pircaciaba cities. Because of concerns about water quality in the Piracicaba River itself the Corumbataí River has become increasingly exploited for the city water, nearing 100% of the supply. Little work has been done on characterising the self-purification capacity of the river regime itself and its ecosystem services, or the significance for ecohydrology. The reaeration coefficient (K2) is an important factor in characterising the self-purifying capacity of streams for ‘oxygen-depleting substances’ and a key characteristic in determining accurate estimates of whole-stream metaboilism. Most authors agree that the (field) direct-measurement gas evasion technique, where a tracer gas is bubbled into the stream body and its loss monitored downstream, is the most accurate method for K2 evaluation. The Environmental Tracers Laboratory (ETL) at QUB has pursued particularly the use of high purity noble gases both as environmentally-friendly and inherently safer (inert) tracers both in groundwater tracing and river reaeration studies. The proposed research will build on recently completed research at QUB which has focussed on inverse modelling of the full tracer BreakThrough Curves (BTCs) downstream to yield not only K2 values relevant to water quality modelling studies but also key hydrodynamic parameters, including the potential effects of Transient Storage Mechanisms in reaches which may affect the retention times of pollutants and potentially be linked to river habitat characteristics and ecohydrology. Field tests/results will be supported by UNESP based in Rio Claro.

Supervisors: Dr T. Elliot and Dr P. Mackinnon

Flooding and Long-Term Human Health Risk

Re-occurring river flooding events do not only lead to direct impacts on property and infrastructure due to the physical inundation and to acute health risks to residents but may also lead to longer term risks to human health for residents in these impacted areas. Across Northern Ireland, the Tellus Geochemical Survey has highlighted that a large number of streams and rivers contain stream sediments that are impacted by elevated concentrations of potentially harmful elements (PHEs) such as heavy metals. This may be associated with man-made contamination, agricultural practices or geological background concentrations. During flooding events, these impacted sediments can be transported out of the stream channel and deposited across the inundated flood plain, which may contain residential areas and other vulnerable receptors. After the recession of flood waters and rehabilitation of properties and infrastructure, these impacted sediments may pose a long term risk to the human health of residents and occupants across these flooding areas. The project will investigate key risk areas of high flood risk coinciding with catchment areas of observed impacted sediment loading in streams. The project will furthermore investigate the effect of the deposition process of these impacted sediments on the bioaccessibility of key PHEs associated with the sediments. In doing so, the project will inform land use management and environmental policies by expanding the assessment of flood risk beyond the acute risks related to inundation to furthermore include long-term risks associated with the deposition of impacted flood sediments.

Supervisor: Dr U. Ofterdinger

The Use of Near Surface Seismic Geophysical Methods for Assessing the Condition of Transport Infrastructure

The UK and Ireland’s major transportation arteries are supported by a vast network (1000s km) of infrastructure earthwork assets (e.g. cuttings, embankments) that require sustainable cost-effective management, while maintaining an appropriate service level to meet social, economic and environmental needs. Recent extreme weather has highlighted their vulnerability to climate variations – with the resulting earthwork failures severely impacting transportation users and operators, and the wider economy. As these variations are projected to become more extreme, climate resilient infrastructure is becoming an increasingly important national priority. It is therefore crucial that appropriate approaches for assessing the stability of earthworks are developed so that repair work can be better targeted and failures avoided wherever possible. Current earthwork condition assessment practices are heavily dependent on either surface observations, which only address failures that have already begun, or point sensors, which are inadequate to detect localized deterioration. Use of these approaches is a major barrier to prevention as they do not identify the incremental development of internal conditions that ultimately trigger earthwork failure, and therefore limit the basis for early intervention.

This PhD project will assess the potential of near surface seismic geophysical methods for rapid assessment and monitoring the condition of earthworks. It will involve (a) the establishment of a scientific basis to underpin relationships for geophysical to geotechnical property translation and (b) development of data acquisition approaches that deliver the temporal and spatial resolutions required to support asset assessment.

Supervisors: Dr Shane Donohue and  Dr Jon Chambers & Dr David Gunn British Geological Survery.

Modelling the fate, cycling and transport of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the northwest European continental shelf 

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are eco-toxic artificial substances that enter the environment through release in industrial, commercial and agricultural settings. They are resistant to environmental degradation and thus have long half-lives. Because of their high toxicity levels a number of them have been banned through the Stockholm Convention (UNEP).

Major entrance pathways of POPs in the open ocean are via air–sea exchange processes. In semi-enclosed ocean regions, such as in northwest European continental shelf waters, these atmospheric deposition processes are supplemented by input through rivers and exchange with adjacent seas.

POPs enter the marine food web in productive ocean waters where they bio-accumulate and bio-magnify, thereby creating a hazard to living organisms, including humans.

The objective of this project is to investigate the fate and cycling of selected POPs in coastal northwest European waters with high resolution hydrodynamic and fate and transport models.

The major goals of the project are:

  1. to apply hydrodynamic and fate and transport models to identify and refine key processes affecting the cycling and fate of POPs in northwest European shelf waters.
  2. to investigate the pathways of POPs into the marine food web with a novel model for the uptake of POPs at lower pelagic trophic levels (phytoplankton and zooplankton). 

Supervisor: Dr K. O'Driscoll

Optimizing the automated control of a combined flood attenuation/stormwater storage system

In order to protect against flooding, new housing developments and commercial premises are now required to have storm attenuation capacity installed in the form of underground tanks.  Water is held in the tanks until the storm abates and then is released into the drainage system.  However, this stored water could be utilized for non-potable applications.  Storage or release of the water needs to be controlled, based on whether rainfall is imminent.  This project involves optimising the algorithm which controls the storage or discharge of water, using short-term weather forecasting techniques.  The aim is to maximize the amount of water available for use while, at the same time, ensuring that the statutory requirements for stormwater storage are met.  The student will have access to a prototype device which may be used to test the algorithm derived, checking its performance in the control of the outlet valve. This project relates to a new system devised by BJM Consulting, who will have a role in the project.

Supervisor Dr P. Mackinnon

Development of advanced and innovative digital bio-based concrete 3D printing

The primary advantages of digital fabrication – freeform architecture and precision material placement – can be combined with the additional advantages of increased construction speed, reduced costs for labour and formwork, and increased worker safety.  Additionally, digital fabrication is expected to lead to more sustainable construction due to more efficient structural design by placing material only where it is needed, as well as reduced waste generation due to more efficient construction techniques, especially with respect to formwork.  3D concrete printing is a technologically advanced and innovative method used for constructing predesigned building components with the help of 3D concrete printers.  The technology holds the promise of substantially optimizing the construction industry in terms of construction cost, time, error reduction, flexibility in design, and environmental impact.  The most critical fresh properties are shown to be extrudability and buildability, which have mutual relationships with workability and open time.  The project is developing and optimising the fresh, rheological, mechanical performance of high performance bio-based 3 D concrete printing.  It will also include studying the cold joints between layers.

Supervisors: Dr M. Sonebi, Prof. S. Amziane (University Blaise Pascal, France)

Big data supported systems for managing critical infrastructure projects

Critical infrastructures refer to roads, bridges, tunnels, railways, undergrounds, ports, airports, electric power grids, water supply plants, sewage treatment systems, telecommunication networks, etc. They play an important role in national/regional economic development and people’s daily lives. Critical infrastructure projects are generally large, complex and multi-disciplinary in nature. Effective decision-making and management of critical infrastructure projects need support from a large amount of data and information. In recent years, big data technology has drawn increasing attention from the construction industry. It is characterised by volume, variety, velocity and value. This research aims to apply big data technology to significantly improve decision-making and management processes in critical infrastructure projects. The methods used in this research may include questionnaire survey, expert interview, case study, data mining, and multi-objective modelling. It attempts to develop big data supported systems for the collection, analysis, classification, storage and dissemination of various data and information in critical infrastructure projects. It is believed that big data supported systems developed in this research contribute to effective decision-making and management during the life cycle of critical infrastructure projects. Based on this research, it becomes more possible for critical infrastructure projects to overcome complexity and uncertainty and achieve optimal results. On the other hand, the application in critical infrastructure projects enables big data technology to extend the sphere of its application and pursue best practice.   

Supervisor: Dr X. Meng                

Microstructural changes of geopolymer concrete for improved fire resistance

Relevance to energy

Cement production, due to its high energy costs, is estimated to produce 5% of global CO2 emissions.  How to make a construction material as good as concrete but without using cement is the biggest challenge that the construction industry is facing.  This is the aim of the project, to cut down drastically the energy use in concrete production.

Project description

The fire resistance of geopolymer concrete will be explained from a materials science point of view, specifically in terms of the extent of microstructural changes, as a result of high temperature exposure.  A most useful technique to complete this microstructural examination is scanning electron microscopy (SEM).  SEM imaging will reveal changes in pore structures and phase proportions, and the formation of new phases, all as results of heat.  Unlike hydrated cement, the geopolymer microstructure is expected to become denser after heating, due to the sintering effect and further geopolymerisation with the increase of temperature.  Real geopolymer concrete specimens will also be examined, concentrating on the interfaces between geopolymer and the aggregate.  It will be possible to evaluate and identify an ideal match between geopolymer mix design and the different types of aggregates used, i.e., the match that will lead to compatible thermal expansion and thus the minimum loss of strength during fire.  This is the materials science and materials design approach, to scientifically design an optimum geopolymer concrete having the best fire performance.  X-ray diffraction (XRD) will also be used, to identify the phases present in the system before and after heat and fire exposure.  Civil Engineering has a dedicated XRD facility.  Vast experience has been gained by the supervision team in analysing XRD data.  A further technique to be used in microstructural studies is the differential scanning calorimetry/differential thermal analysis coupled with thermogravimetry, housed in the same materials lab as the XRD, exclusively for Civil Engineering materials researchers.  This technique will be used to directly monitor the phase and weight changes of a hardened geopolymer paste, under a controlled heating program.  To summarise, the first objective of the microstructure project is to explain the property change of geopolymer concrete during heating and fire, by (i) identifying phase and pore structure changes in hardened paste and (ii) characterising the interface structure between hardened paste and aggregate.  The second objective is to provide a materials science basis for designing a geopolymer concrete mix that has the best fire performance.  Optimum design and testing of it will be attempted.  Because of the high scientific content of this project, publications are expected.

Supervisors: Prof W. Sha and Prof M. Soutsos

Climate inspired design for a resilient concrete infrastructure

The proposed project investigates the effect of climatic variations on concrete infrastructure. The aim of the project is to ascertain the infrastructure readiness to extreme weather events and to prolonged changes in weather. Concrete structures form a significant part of the national infrastructure including sea water defence, bridges, dams and multi-storey buildings. It is well documented that even a small change in the climatic condition surrounding a concrete structure would have a significant effect on its behaviour.

The interaction between material, structural and environmental effects define the long term performance of the structure and thus resilience of the built environment.  Current design practice takes into account structural and material performance separately and no interaction is considered.  In current codes of practice, the material performance is assessed as a single mode of deterioration for example chloride only ingress in marine environment.  However in reality in such an environment will be exposed to chlorides, sulphates and carbon dioxide.

Material modifications under changing climate will have an impact upon contaminant transport properties. Ultimately these material changes will alter the structural performance as material geometry and properties are modified.  These changing physical properties will in turn change the material properties of the structure creating a feedback loop.  The relationship between material and physical change will be established to enable useful predictive models to be developed and in turn enable designers to create concrete infrastructure which can be resilient in the face of climate change.

The project will utilise sophisticated materials models, developed through previous research carried out by the materials research team at this school, to identify the shift in behaviour and the onset of related events including corrosion of embedded reinforcement or cracking and spalling due to extreme weather.  The new interactive model will be used to conduct a parametric investigation used to define the performance of infrastructure under variable structural, material and environmental conditions.  This will help to quantify the resilience of infrastructure to climate change.

Supervisors: Dr S. Nanukuttan and Dr D. McPolin 

Constitutive modelling and soil-water characteristics of natural soils undergoing wet and dry cycles, subjected to elevated overburden pressures.

There is evidence to suggest that climate change is causing, and will continue to cause, more intense precipitation events and greater amplitude of warm and cold temperature extremes leading to severe flooding, freezing, thawing and extreme drying of many parts of urban geo-infrastructure such as shallow foundations, retaining structures, slopes, buried utilities, road subbase and railway formations. Existing information on the geotechnical characteristics of soils are generally for man-made soils where fine soils are compacted to form geotechnical structures. Available information in relation to natural soils undergoing the above mentioned environmental cycles are limited, but such information is vital for cost effective maintenance of infrastructures. The aim of the research is to develop an environmental chamber to allow the natural soils to undergo different environmental loadings thus making to soil to become unsaturated and saturated depending on the environmental conditions. The data collected through this research will be interpreted using the constitutive model for unsaturated compacted soils. Since the proposed research is on natural soils, further modification to the existing constitutive model will be considered to capture the response of the soils under varying environmental conditions.

Supervisor: Dr V. Sivakumar

The world’s population likes living by the sea.  Currently approximately 53% of us live on the 10% of the earth’s surface that is within 200km of the coast; this is forecast to rise to 75% by 2050. Meeting the needs of coastal communities will form one of the major challenges facing society in the 21st Century.  The increased concentration of people in restricted areas will place greater stress on natural resources. These resources must be used in a judicious manner if we are to live within our means.  Foremost amongst these is the need for sustainable water supplies. 

Groundwater has been recognised for some time for its capacity to provide good quality water, particularity to places where other water sources have either poor quality requiring expensive (and environmentally unfriendly) treatment technologies, or are unavailable.  However, it needs to be used cautiously. Over-pumping of coastal aquifers can lead to salt water contaminating groundwater supplies, thereby destroying otherwise valuable resources.   Contamination by as little as 1% seawater can be enough to render freshwater unfit for use.

This project will investigate the effects of pumping fresh water from a test aquifer in a laboratory and the movement that this induces from a nearby saltwater interface.  The project will expand on the state of the art image analysis methodologies developed within the saline intrusion group and will form part of an expanding team that is working in this area.

Supervisors:  Dr G. Hamill and Dr G. Abdelal

Control methods for Saltwater intrusion in coastal aquifers.

Seawater intrusion (SWI) defines the landward incursion of oceanic saline water into fresh coastal groundwater. It has been a threat to coastal aquifers at many regions around the world. With the expected rise of sea levels because of the global warming, and uncontrolled freshwater extraction from coastal regions, saltwater may advance further inland and contaminate the available groundwater supply. For water resources managers, today’s challenge is to establish effective measures to control SWI and enable an optimal exploitation of groundwater resources. Across Europe, more than 100 sites across 10 EU countries have been contaminated with seawater intrusion.  In the UK, this intrusion problem has occurred in a number of sites.

This project aims to investigate the use of hydraulic and physical barriers to control saline water intrusion in coastal aquifers.  This will be done through mathematical modelling using the MODFLOW/SEAWAT model, and experimental methods using that purposely-built sand tank model in the hydraulics lab.

This research is based on across schools’ partnership with the school of mathematics and physics, and builds on international collaborative research with Delft University in Netherland. The project fits into two strategic research priorities for QUB. It fits into Coastal science and Engineering and also in Environment, Conversation, and Diversity.

Supervisors:  Dr A Ahmed & Dr S Moutari (School of Mathematics & physics)

Estimating insitu soil stiffness from changes in atmospheric pressure.

The small strain elastic modulus of stiff soils can vary over many orders of magnitude for relatively small operational strains. It is important to obtain small strain modulus data (i.e. a reference modulus) for predictions of small strain ground displacement due to deep excavations. This was famously demonstrated during the construction of the underground car park at the Palace of  Westminster; the Clock Tower leaned towards the adjacent excavation, rather than away as predicted (Burland, 1989).

The project will develop a methodology to measure the small strain(<0.01%), drained modulus of stiff, insitu soils by measuring piezometer response to barometric (atmospheric) loading pressure. A laboratory testing programme will provide due diligence and insitu geophysical testing (MASW) will provide comparative measurements of the in situ soil shear modulus. 

Supervisors: Dr D. Hughes and Dr S. Donohue (with Dr Kevin Briggs (University of Bath) and Professor Lee Barbour University of Saskatchewan)

Indirect monitoring systems for transport infrastructure

Transport infrastructure such as bridges suffers from deterioration, primarily due to factors such as ageing, environmental conditions and increased loading. With many existing bridge structures now reaching the end of their design lives worldwide, there is need for increased bridge monitoring in order to provide adequate maintenance, prioritise fund allocation of funds and guarantee acceptable levels of transport safety. Existing bridge structural health monitoring (SHM) systems typically involve direct instrumentation of bridges with sensing equipment to provide information on the condition and safety of bridge structures and are arguably becoming a more critical part of bridge management and maintenance strategies. However, they can be labour intensive and expensive due to the requirement for on-site installations and bridge closures, thus an efficient alternative is required to address the majority of structures globally which are not instrumented.

The proposed project aims to address this global challenge through the development of low-cost indirect SHM systems, which utilise the dynamic response of a vehicle passing over the bridge and/or pavement to detect damage. The vehicle is fitted with sensors, providing an efficient approach which reduces the need for on-site installations. Combining recent technological advances in global positioning, wireless sensors and statistical pattern recognition for structural damage detection, the ultimate goal of the project is the implementation of the proposed system in vehicle fleets as a real-time diagnostic tool for integrated smart transport infrastructure monitoring. This will be realised by vehicle-bridge interaction analysis via finite element modelling, scaled laboratory experiments and multi-discipline full-scale field tests under various damage scenarios.

Supervisors: Dr P. McGetrick, Dr D. Hester and Prof S. Taylor

Determining Human Health effects of Potentially Toxic Elements in Soils using Badgers and Foxes as a Proxy for Humans 

Recent work at QUB has using data from the  Geological Survey of Northern Ireland TELLUS project has developed novel methodologies for  identifying and mapping ‘domains’ of Potentially Toxic Elements (PTEs) in soils1. A domain is an area where a single controlling factor (e.g. geology, urban activities) exerts a control on the concentration of PTEs.  Further work has also identified that how bioaccessible a contaminants within domains are likely to affect humans using in vitro methods2. Direct in vivo studies on the levels of PTEs in Humans are difficult to undertake. Here we propose using Badgers and Foxes as a proxy for humans illustrating the potential risk that humans may experience in different domains. In collaboration with (Prof. Bob Hannah) we will have access to over 300 culled fox and roadkill badger carcasses that are routinely collected by AFBI. The PhD project will analyse for selected potentially toxic elements in the kidneys and livers of the animals based on the geographical element domains where the animals were located. This will provide much needed validation of human health risk assessment models for PTES in soils. Further stable isotope work on soils from the same areas (Carbon and Nitrogen ratios) will provide an idea of how the PTEs are bound in soils giving a further indication of bioaccessibility. The same stable isotope ratios will also be applied to hair samples from the animals which will give an idea of their likely distribution and diet3.

(1)          McIlwaine, R.; Cox, S. F.; Doherty, R.; Palmer, S.; Ofterdinger, U.; McKinley, J. M. Comparison of methods used to calculate typical threshold values for potentially toxic elements in soil. Environ. Geochem. Health 2014.

(2)          Palmer, S.; McIlwaine, R.; Ofterdinger, U.; Cox, S. F.; McKinley, J. M.; Doherty, R.; Wragg, J.; Cave, M. R. The effect of lead sources on oral bioaccessibility in soil and implications for contaminated land risk managment. Environ. Pollut.  in press

(3)          Robertson, A., McDonald, R.A., Delahay, R.J., Kelly, S.D., Bearhop, S. Individual foraging specialisation in a social mammal: the European badger (Meles meles) Oecologia, 2014. 176: 409-421. 

Supervisor:  Dr R. Doherty

Geomorphological and Geological Controls on Blanket Bog Ecohydrology.

Blanket bogs dominate the landscape over large parts of the UK and Ireland. Human activity to date has largely focused on their drainage and development for other land uses, leading to widespread alteration of the hydrological conditions that support their ecosystems (Ecohydrology). This has resulted in intact blanket bogs becoming rare habitats, both across the UK and Ireland, and across Western Europe as a whole. The EU Habitats Directive, and associated national legislation, now requires areas of intact blanket bog to be protected from further damage, and where damaged, restored.

Development of suitable conservation/restoration plans requires an understanding of the geological conditions which influence groundwater flow. Recent findings by QUB researchers suggest that our understanding of the role played by geology may be inappropriate and require further research. Geomorphology, coupled with geological, geophysical and hydrological data, provides a means of understanding how geological conditions can influence bog conservation and restoration.

This multi-disciplinary PhD project will pull together expertise from SNBE staff from these backgrounds to investigate the geological controls on blanket bog ecohydrology. The PhD candidate will complete a programme of geomorphological characterisation of blanket bog sites across the spectrum of settings. Remote sensing will permit reappraisal and modification of current blanket bog hydrological models to evaluate how hydrology is influenced by geological conditions. This will be complemented by ground truthing using hydrological, geophysical and geological techniques. Work will support existing blanket bog research at SNBE, while further strengthening the school’s expertise in this developing, yet hitherto neglected, topic. The candidate will work with current researchers investigating blanket bog ecosystems and hydrology and will avail of existing externally funded resources from industry and research institutions; these include provision of site instrumentation and travel and subsistence for field work.

Supervisors: Dr Iestyn Barr, Dr R. Flynn and Dr. S Donohue. 

Direct monitoring systems for bridge Structural Health Monitoring

The failure or sudden closure of a bridge can cause transport chaos, e.g. closure of Forth Road Bridge in December 2015 caused massive disruption. The transport networks of the future must be robust against these kinds of shock events. Therefore, the aim of this project is to develop condition monitoring techniques that will alleviate the impact of such events. The project will focus on identifying the condition of the bridge by monitoring its response to external factors (e.g. vehicle load, or temperature) using sensors attached to the bridge, (i.e. direct sensing).  

Ageing and deterioration of infrastructure is a challenge facing transport authorities worldwide. The proposed project aims to address this global challenge by developing novel, direct monitoring systems for bridges. It aims to harnesses multi-disciplinary expertise, and exploit recent advances in low cost sensing technology. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a decision support system for bridge mangers which utilises relevant sensor data to assist decision making.

The project aims to address the challenge of managing our bridge infrastructure through the development of low-cost direct SHM systems. These sensors measure the response of the bridge to external factors (e.g. vehicle load, or temperature) using sensors attached to the bridge. The work will involve studying the kind of damage that commonly occurs in bridges, advanced numerical modelling to simulate bridge behaviour, collaboration with signal/image processors, scaled laboratory testing of various damage scenarios and full scale field testing.

Supervisors: Dr D. HesterDr P. McGetrickDr D. Robinson