PhD Studentships 2023
Three fully funded PhD Research Studentships in Future Societies
Applications are invited by Centre for Future Societies Research for three fully funded PhD studentships at the University of Hertfordshire. These research studentships will be part of the University Alliance (UA) Doctoral Training Alliance in Future Societies. The studentships are offered on a full-time basis for three years from September 2023 (subject to satisfactory progress) and provide a bursary of a minimum of £17,668 per annum, including a full tuition fee waiver for three years. Awards increase every year in line with UKRI recommendations.
Please note that the studentships are available and therefore applicable to UK nationals/UK resident applicants only, as result of the available source of funding. The University particularly welcomes applications from British Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic applicants.
Available PhD project titles
Applications are welcome on any of the research project titles set out below. Please note that we will not be able to consider applications outside of these project titles. Please click on specific project titles below to see details:
Design and development of improved, sustainable and low-cost cementitious composites for building and construction applications
Enquiries: Dr Sikiru O. Ismail
Supervisors: Dr Sikiru O. Ismail, Dr Antonios Kanellopoulos, Prof Ljubomir Jankovic
Originality: Application of plant fibres is increasing today among manufacturing industries, such as building and construction. The wide use of natural hemp, flax and other fibres can be attributed to their outstanding inherent properties: sustainability, renewability, recyclability, availability, environmentally friendliness, low-cost, non-toxicity and relative ease of fabrication. These can be innovatively tailored to benefit building structures.
Significance: This proposed project aims at designing and developing improved, sustainable and low-cost cementitious composites for building and construction applications. In comparison with synthetic fibres (carbon, glass and Kevlar), natural fibres emit little or no carbon content during processing and usage to support zero carbon emission policies and environmental protection directives, in addition to benefit of their hybridisation. Therefore, durable composites of cementitious matrices reinforced with treated and untreated uni/bi-directional and/or various orientated woven natural/plant fabrics will be fabricated, using hand lay-up moulding technique. Proposed matrices for the masonry structural applications include natural lime-based mortar with water-soluble salts, lime-based grouting, natural pozzolans and carbonated filler.
Rigour: Firstly, design and development/manufacture of some sets of improved cementitious composites, with various woven natural fibre ply/mat stacking sequences, their hybrids and fibre orientations. Secondly, conduct mechanical (impact, ductile/tensile, flexural, compressive, fracture toughness, among others), thermal, fire retardancy, acoustic, water absorption tests on both fabricated wet and dry samples. Thirdly, develop both analytical and finite element (FE)/representative volume element (RVE) predictive models and carry out simulation, using experimental data obtained and/or in reliable literature. Fourthly, conduct life cycle assessment to evaluate embodied carbon content, among other constituents, and finally, validate and optimise both developed predictive analytical and FE/RVE models.
Potential contribution to knowledge: The natural fibre reinforced cementitious composites will be characterised, using experimental and numerical simulation approaches. With fabrics, masonry structures are held together against impact/destructive actions, such as earthquake. The proposed structures will produce required building material properties towards energy optimisation, poverty reduction and affordable houses, among others.
Upcycling Mineral Wastes for a Sustainable Future Built Environment
Enquiries: Dr. Antonios Kanellopoulos
Supervisors: Dr. Antonios Kanellopoulos, Prof. Andreas Chrysanthou, Dr Corinna Datsiou
The vision of this project is to lay the foundations for a significant transformation in the exploitation of natural resources for a sustainable future built environment. The proposed research aims to deliver scientific outcomes that fit within the objectives of three of the UN goals for a sustainable future: (i) sustainable cities & communities; (ii) responsible consumption & production; (iii) climate action. For the cement and concrete sectors to be in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change their annual emissions will need to fall by at least 16% by 2030. In addition, these two sectors cause a massive environmental burden to the planet as they deplete tens of billions of natural raw materials each year. Meanwhile, core industrial operations such as mines, quarries and major excavation sites for construction generate billions of tonnes of mineral wastes. The disposal of such waste is a major environmental challenge and liability, especially in the light of some recent disasters involving the collapse of mineral waste dams leading to considerable loss of life and ecological damage. In addition to such catastrophic events, stockpiling such vast amounts of wastes can significantly alter the natural habitat and the biodiversity of the surrounding communities.
The objectives of the research project are:
- Create a comprehensive mapping of properties of suitable mineral wastes for use in construction materials.
- Utilising the mineral wastes at different scales (supplementary cementitious compound; filler) in the production of construction materials, thoroughly assessing the short- and long-term properties of these materials.
- Perform life cycle analysis to fully understand and assess the potential of using mineral wastes in the manufacture of construction materials.
Investigating electrochemical based analysis systems for water quality monitoring
Enquiries: Associate Professor Christabel Tan
Supervisors: Associate Professor Christabel Tan, Dr Nikolay Dimov
Description: Human activities impact the environment constantly, bringing already fragile ecosystems to the brink of extinction. The climate change caused by the excessive release of harmful gases in the atmosphere is producing acid rain that interferes with soil biota and the presence of different types of contaminants in underground water that impacts the health of species [i] and the wider ecosystem. Ubiquitous, reliable, and affordable environmental monitoring has become necessary for the preservation of species and the responsible utilisation of limited natural resources. Water is directly or indirectly linked to environmental monitoring; its universal characteristics allows its interaction with different types of molecules hence displacing inert/harmful materials. By monitoring water quality, we can define or predict the level of pollution present in the environment[ii].
Electrochemical devices have been used for many decades for monitoring water quality, including analysis of trace metals, monitoring of carcinogenic molecules and organic pollutants (pesticides, phenols, drugs). This project aims to combine Lab-on-a-Chip (LoaC) technology with electrochemical analysis systems such as sensors and biosensors for environmental monitoring. The broad objective of this project is to develop a detection system integrating wide-spectrum, electrochemical-based sensors, and biosensors for water quality monitoring. Such system would facilitate the multiplexed qualitative and quantitative detection of common pollutants and their biproducts. The resulting data might be used to track, reduce, and eventually eliminate manmade pollution from sweet water sources.
[i] Notarnicola, B.; Tassielli, G.; Renzulli, P. A. Castellani, V.; Sala, S. Environmental impacts of food consumption in Europe, Journal of Cleaner Production, 140 pp.753-765 (2017).
[ii] Yasin, H. M.; Zeebaree, S. R. M.; Sadeeq, M. A. M.; Ameen, S. Y.; Ibrahim, I. M.; Zebari, R. R.; Ibrahim, R. K.; Sallow, A. B. IOT and ICT smart water management monitoring and controlling system: A Review. Asian Journal of Researcher in computer Science, 8 (2) pp.42-56 (2021).
This project is in collaboration with researchers at Instituto Senai de Inovação em Biotecnologia.
Explore novel antiviral air-filtration systems without fabrics: Design, validation and 3D printing aided by UV spectrum
Enquiries: Dr G Ren
Supervisors: Dr G Ren, Prof Ljubomir Jankovic, Dr Andy Timms
Novelty of the PhD proposal: The novelty of our proposed filtration system for one or two PhD students is to use antiviral polymers to make air filter lattice aerodynamic structures to replace conventional filter fabrics in filtration systems which aided by electrostatic absorption and UV eradiation to attract, and then kill any of the airborne viruses including SRAS-CoV-2 and common flu viruses. The new filtration systems will use novel, low-cost and greener antiviral membrane materials and creative designs that can be co-produced using current 3D printers as their critical component.
Problems with current air filtration systems for hospitals and public settings rely on fibre based-fabrics to stop dust particles and most of them are not effective enough to stop small particles less than 10 𝝁m while viruses are smaller than 0.1 - 0.2 𝝁). The fibre gaps in current filtration membranes are mostly > 10-40𝝁 in the HEPA filters in hospital and public settings, even the fabrics within N95 facemask are > 10 𝝁m. In addition, these fabric membranes within filtration systems are costly due to the high-frequency replacement while the worst scenarios are that these fabrics generating substantial risk as 2nd contamination resources when end their working life cycle.
PhD students and our approach: PhD student to work on this novel air filtration-clean air-system will take the opportunity to design the key filtration complex using 3D printers for antiviral lattice structures using antiviral polymers that are washable/autoclave-able and reusable. The new antiviral filtration system is aiming to replace the conventional fabric-based filters or air filtration systems used in the healthcare and public settings.
Design and Materials: Polymers embedded with antiviral nanoparticles on the surfaces can be used for producing lattice architectures-that designed for filtration parts and fabricated by the latest 3D printers a fast prototyping or a scaled productions for air-filtration systems. We all know that HEPA fabric filters are widely used in air filtration systems to physically remove air contaminants in air-streams such as viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens including moulds. However, these filters are under operation conditions requiring air-pressure with high-energy consumption, which are non-reusable or non-recyclable (contributing to climate changes). Once used, they often caused serious environmental contaminations, or secondary pathogen spoil-out, and some of them were littered randomly causing environmental pollution (life the used face masks), and spreading infectious diseases. Therefore, the uses of 3D printed filters without fabrics aided with the electro-static and UV irradiation will eliminate the fabric types in air filters, which might be a prominent solution for the old issues and challenges regarding secondary contaminations.
1) Air-filtration systems in hospital, healthcare, and public settings
2) Aerospace air filtration systems within airliners
3) Automotive and transportation air-filtration systems
Applications of Antimicrobial filters for indoor ventilatory systems to tackle disease transmissions
Enquiries: Dr Yuen-Ki Cheong
Supervisors: Dr Yuen-Ki Cheong, Associate Professor Christabel Tan
Description: In January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) identified the threat from the highly contiguous Coronavirus (Covid-19) and declared Global Health Emergency. A year on, 84 million cases and nearly 2 million deaths were recorded worldwide. Approaching to end of the Pandemic, despite rolled out of various vaccination programmes and threads from other type of infections, over 648 million cases and 6.65 million deaths related to Covid alone still recorded globally. Strong evidence suggests that many of these harmful viruses/bacteria pass from one person to another through droplets in air, which is known as the primary route of transmissions for Covid and other flu viruses. Thus, infections are most likely to occur in crowded environments and inadequately ventilated spaces, such as schools, hospitals, public transport, and other indoor venues. Hence, to reduce disease transmission, measures to improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) must be developed. Current ventilatory filters, including HEPA filters, that claim to have antimicrobial functions rely on mechanically or electrostatically trap live particles (i.e. viruses and bacteria), without actually killing them. Over time, these pathogens grow and are accumulated onto the filters in exponential rate. Cutting-edge research showed that antimicrobial and antiviral nanomaterials can be fabricated onto different type of bulk materials, which enables deactivations of wide spectrum of pathogens. This project aims to develop super antimicrobial nanoparticle formulations and to investigate their integrations onto existing and novel filter fibres for the use in ventilatory systems in public settings. The project scope extends to microbial/cell evaluations of both nanoparticles and the hybrid filters, as well as the identifications of mechanistic pathway to viral/microbial deactivations. Successful development of the antimicrobial filters would help to reduce cross contaminations within the ventilatory systems installed in public indoor spaces, improve air quality and subsequently reduce disease transmission rates from airborne diseases.
Encoding social values of local communities in algorithmic-driven building design methods
Enquiries: Assoc Prof Dr Silvio Carta
Supervisors: Assoc Prof Dr Silvio Carta, Dr Ian W. Owen
Originality. With a new PhD student, we would like to apply and further develop our ongoing research on data-driven spatial configuration and modelling. We want to develop a novel design and development model that encodes social and cultural values (aspiration, aims) of multi and diverse communities into a data-driven approach to ensure that future housing schemes strongly cater for resilient, net-zero and sustainable communities. This aligns with UN and UK targets for net-zero communities, housing and sustainable living.
Significance. By developing and testing a new workflow and design guidelines, this research will bring significant contribution to both the academic field of computational design and design studies, as well as to practical applications, specifically in the domain of housing and construction in the UK.
Rigour. The PhD student will work following the methods we developed in previous research (e.g. Carta et al. 2020, Jankovic and Carta 2021, Carta et al. 2021), as well as well-established computational models, already explored by the proposed supervisory team (e.g. Papadopoulou et al. 2022). Methods include Squarified Treemap (Marson & Musse, 2010), spatial graphs (Tabari 2021), space syntax (Hillier et al. 1976; Dawes et al. 2021), Magnetizing Floor plan Generator (Bielik 2019; Egor et al. 2020; Hellguz 2021).
Contribution to knowledge. This work will advance the existing knowledge and body of work on computational and automated approaches to spatial design, with the encoding of key factors (including social, cultural and sustainable aspects of communities) in the design and construction of housing in the UK. Such aspects are currently overlooked if not neglected, and the proposed work will offer a simple and streamlined way to include them in the design process.
Problem. This study tackles the housing crisis in the UK. Currently, designers, developers and policymakers prioritise financial and legislative elements, including investments return, national and local regulations, and health and safety measures. If focusing on such aspects ensures financially viable and regulation-proof new developments, the quality of living, resilient, net-zero and sustainable communities is almost entirely considered with lower priority. From a sustainable community viewpoint, these new developments will suffer from social and sustainable issues in the mid/long-term. Local values are often ignored or underrated, especially in communities with diverse social and cultural backgrounds.
Background. Our research focuses on the encoding of human aspects in algorithmic-driven approaches. In particular, we have been developing methods to generate spatial configurations using social aspects in healthcare settings with NeuroEvolution of Augmenting Topologies (NEAT) (Carta et al. 2020) and nature-inspired methods (Jankovic and Carta 2021). We apply these methods to measure the resilience of communities and suggest ways to improve it (Carta et al. 2021). We defined the extent to which automated processes based on ML have limitations in including human aspects (Carta 2021).
Research question. With this funded PhD, we would like to address the question of: how resident aspirations, values and living qualities of local communities can be encoded in algorithmic-driven design methods (mainly self-organising floor plans) to ensure that the future UK housing design and developments will address resilient, net-zero and sustainable communities?
Bielik, M. (2019). Magnetizing Floor Plan Generator. [Online] Available from:
Carta, S., 2021. Self-Organizing Floor Plans. Harvard Data Science Review HDSR.
Carta, S., Pintacuda, L, Turchi, T. and Owen, I.W., 2021. Resilient communities: A novel workflow. In Jankovic, L., Carta, S. Pathways to Resilient Zero Carbon Cities. Frontiers.
Carta, S., St Loe, S., Turchi, T. and Simon, J., 2020. Self-organising floor plans in care homes. Sustainability, 12(11), p. 4393.
Dawes, M.J., Ostwald, M.J. and Lee, J.H., 2021. Examining control, centrality and flexibility in Palladio's villa plans using space syntax measurements. Frontiers of Architectural Research.
Egor, G., Sven, S., Martin, D. and Reinhard, K., 2020. Computer-aided approach to public buildings floor plan generation. Magnetizing Floor Plan Generator. Procedia Manufacturing, 44, pp.132-139.
Hellguz (2021). Magnetizing Floor Plan Generator [Online] Available from:
Hillier, B., Leaman, A., Stansall, P. and Bedford, M., 1976. Space syntax. Environment and Planning B: Planning and design, 3(2), pp.147-185.
https://toolbox.decodingspaces.net/magnetizing-floor-plan-generator/ [Accessed: 26th March 2021]
https://www.food4rhino.com/en/app/magnetizing-floor-plan-generator [Accessed: 26th March 2021]
Jankovic, L. and Carta, S., 2021. BioZero—Designing Nature-Inspired Net-Zero Building. Sustainability, 13(14), p. 7658.
Papadopoulou, F, Carta, S. and Owen W. I. Safe Houses: Design Principles, Potentials and Limitations. An Analysis through Data-Driven Approaches. 12th Annual International Conference on Urban Studies & Planning 30-31 May & 1-2 June 2022, Atiner. Forthcoming (2022).
Net-zero building design grammar for wide deployment
Enquiries: Prof Lubo Jankovic
Supervisors: Prof Lubo Jankovic, Assoc Prof Dr Silvio Carta
Structured methods for net-zero building design exist in the form of performance simulation based on the first principles, including the methods developed by the members of the Zero Carbon Lab at the University of Hertfordshire (Jankovic, 2017). However, the use of these methods requires significant technical expertise and expert design tools. Thus, in practice, key design decisions are made by architects before or without the involvement of simulation consultants. The absence of rigorous building energy performance design results in suboptimum designs and missed opportunities for achieving net-zero emissions.
Originality: The originality of this research is in the development of a conceptual framework of design interventions for net-zero housing design and retrofit that translates each intervention into quantified contributions towards achieving net zero building performance.
Significance: The significance of this approach is in bringing net-zero design and retrofit of houses, that normally requires significant technical expertise, to a wider audience
Rigour: The research will be based on defining a set of design interventions/design grammar rules and on rigorous analyses of these rules using dynamic performance simulation and multi-objective optimisation, until causal relationships between the grammar rules and their quantification are achieved for different climate conditions.
Potential Contribution to Knowledge: The main contribution to knowledge will be in a replacement of specialist knowledge of building performance simulation with design based on a combination of grammar rules that achieves quantifiable net-zero performance and an expanded deployment of net-zero building design.
Jankovic, L., 2017. Designing Zero Carbon Buildings Using Dynamic Simulation Methods, 2nd ed. Routledge.
Data-Driven Digital Twin Model for Building Energy Management (D3TBEM)
Enquiries: Assoc Prof Hongwei Wu
Supervisors: Assoc Prof Hongwei Wu, Prof Lubo Jankovic, Dr Soodamani Ramalingam
The shift to net zero carbon requires millions of buildings to be retrofitted with insulation, low carbon heating and advanced controls that help balance the electricity grid. The Climate Change Committee, an independent advisor to the UK Government, has stated that immediate action is required to decrease the carbon intensity of our buildings and to support a transition to a net zero carbon operation, as well as meet our national and international climate-change targets. Smart buildings have been in operation for decades however it is only in recent years that data collected from these systems is starting to be used for building management system. There have been significant advances in characterising the thermal performance of buildings from large time-series data sets of measurements taken by in situ sensors. Internet of Things (IoT) technologies can improve the operational efficiency of buildings, creating Digital Twin – a virtual model of a real-life operational entity. Through this data-driven approach, the proposed models will allow us to monitor operations to head off issues before they arise, or optimise the operations based on changing human-environment interactions. This PhD project aims to develop a novel digital twin methodology to target the net-zero of the building. This project will assess the whole lifecycle cost of data collection, analysis and storage to deliver sustainable digital twins for decarbonisation and demand management. Applying the proposed approach to a building enables estimation of the costs and benefits, and therefore supports effective decision-making.
A new approach to planning for rural land use
Enquiries: Professor John Sturzaker
Supervisors: Professor John Sturzaker, Dr Frances Harris
Rural areas are facing multiple pressures, as competing interests of food production, nature conservation, and demand for housing and associated infrastructure are juxtaposed with the need to mitigate climate change through renewable energy generation, biomass production and providing flood protection. A new drive towards carbon offsetting and net zero farming is challenging traditional farming practices, as farmers adopt regenerative farming or tree planting, and the management of urban waste through biodigesters or composting. New directions include rewilding of landscapes and developing systems to manufacture protein (Monbiot, 2022) are also impacting on rural areas, and how they are used. Meanwhile, food production is back as a priority, as labour shortages are impacting on agricultural production. Responding to these various challenges is likely to require farmers to re-deploy land and buildings.
Originality: Farmers have space, equipment and infrastructure to engage in a range of activities to enhance food production and provide environmental goods and services, but this will require diversification of land and building use in ways which the planning system is unused to responding to. Recent work by Sturzaker et al (2022) identified the scope for rural areas to play a leading role in so-called “just transitions” to new ways of living and working, and called for an integrative and integrated approach to planning rural land use.
Significance: This project will bring together planners, farmers and environmental managers to consider future scenarios for developments in rural areas in England, and the impact on the rural landscape.
Rigour: The project supervisors have extensive experience of rural planning and agriculture, in theory and in practice. The project will most immediately draw upon the recent project cited above and work on transdisciplinary research (Harris, 2020).
Potential contribution to knowledge: This proposed research will explore future scenarios of land management, and consider how planning might adapt to support the transition to a new understanding of the countryside. Using action research methodology, it will explore how a new approach would work in practice, working with partners including rural landowners and businesses.
Changing the Environment with Intrinsically Motivated Computational Creativity
Enquiries: Christoph Salge
Supervisors: Christoph Salge, Assoc Prof Dr Silvio Carta, Prof Christian Guckelsberger
[Relevance to DTA Themes] [Resource Sustainability/energy and Societal Challenges/ housing/climate//transport]. With recent advances in artificial intelligence [AI], particularly the generation of text or images, there is an increased interest to use AI to restructure the world to our benefit. Using AI to design houses, cities, transport systems, for example within a net zero framework, could provide solutions to existing problems, such as addressing many different regulations and constraints at once, or the necessity to address the feedback of many different and diverse stakeholders.
[significance/problem] But AI design or even AI aided design is still facing challenges. Current approaches often rely on large amounts of example data and then produce something that roughly imitates existing solutions. But how can computational creativity  push beyond the boundaries of examples and produce something new? How can it adapt and expand upon a partial existing solution, thereby allowing co-creativity, or amending existing solutions? And finally, how can an AI evaluate the quality of complex artefacts for which there might now be any clear and easily computable evaluation functions?
[originality/approach] The core idea of this proposal is to use different computational models of intrinsic motivation to drive the behaviour of a creative AI system. Computational models of intrinsic motivations are models that try to formalize and reproduce core generic motivations of organisms, such as curiosity, or a desire to be in control of one’s own environment (empowerment).
[Rigour] In previous work we used the principle of empowerment maximization for an agent in a simple grid world to survive and restructure the world to fit its own embodiment [1,4]. The idea here would be to take this approach, possibly generalized to other intrinsic motivations and study if we can scale it to more complex problems, such as restructuring urban environments. We found that intrinsic motivations can produce artefacts that are both adapted to the current situation, and to the agent’s embodiment – without the need for existing examples. It would be interesting to see if those approaches scale, if they produce artefacts that are appreciated through human evaluation, and how they would fare in a multi-agent setting.
[Potential contribution to knowledge] The project overall is interdisciplinary, and backgrounds in computer science, AI, computational creativity, game design, architecture, HCI, or similar would be highly beneficial. There is a degree of flexibility to adapt this project to the specific strength of an applicant, and answering some of the questions above would already be sufficient. The project could, for example, focus more on the fundamental, mathematical underpinnings of how intrinsic motivations might drive creative processes, or on more practical applications such as the adaptations of game environments in Minecraft , or actual city planning . Similarly, it would be desirable to conduct some experiments that evaluate the generated artefacts against human perception – but this could also take different forms and scopes. If you are interested, I strongly encourage you to contact Christoph Salge to discuss possibilities before applying.
 Salge, C.; Glackin, C.; Polani, D., 2014. Changing the Environment Based on Empowerment as Intrinsic Motivation. Entropy, 16, 2789-2819.
 Salge, C., Green, M.C., Canaan, R., Skwarski, F., Fritsch, R., Brightmoore, A., Ye, S., Cao, C. and Togelius, J., 2020. The AI Settlement Generation Challenge in Minecraft. KI-Künstliche Intelligenz, 34(1), 19-31.
 Carta, S. (Ed.). 2022. Machine Learning and the City: Applications in Architecture and Urban Design. John Wiley & Sons.
 Guckelsberger, C., Kantosalo, A., Negrete-Yankelevich, S. and Takala, T., 2021. "Embodiment and Computational Creativity." Proc. Int. Conference on Computational Creativity.
 Guckelsberger, C. 2020. "Intrinsic Motivation in Computational Creativity Applied to Videogames." PhD diss., Queen Mary University of London, 2020.
Democracy & Governance
Researching innovations in the realm of currencies, payments, and exchange
Enquiries: Prof Lubo Jankovic
Internal supervisor: Prof Lubo Jankovic
Thomas Greco, Founder, http://beyondmoney.net
Will Ruddick, Founder, https://grassrootseconomics.org/
Nothing will shape the future of civilization more profoundly than innovations in the realm of money, credit, and exchange mechanisms. Those that have been emerging over the past several decades are mere harbingers of things to come and will challenge the flawed system of banking and finance that has become dominant over the past three centuries or more. Innovations in exchange media fall into four categories, forms of manifestation, means of transmission, essential nature, and locus of creation and control. Of these the latter two are the most significant and by democratizing access to credit are able to promote social justice and economic opportunity and thus reduce poverty and inequality. The resulting dispersion of economic power will lead to better outcomes in ecological sustainability and access to the necessities of life.
Whilst numerous alternative currencies exist around the world, there is no sufficient understanding of their global potential. Increasing our understanding of alternative currencies and their potential in the global economy will lead to new profound insights. How would the new kind of money influence poverty? How could it influence the creation of an egalitarian global society? What would it do to the quality of life and work/life balance? How would it deal with the economic potential of local communities amid shortage of conventional money?
Applicants for this studentship are invited to investigate innovations that produce the means of payment that are independent of the banking system and government fiat currencies, discovering the essence of the new kind of money and its potential impact on future societies and the future of civilization. The best examples of such payment mechanisms thus far have been (1) private and community currencies that are spent into circulation by trusted sellers that are ready, willing, and able to redeem their currencies quickly for real valued goods and/or services, and (2) circles and networks of producers and traders that allocate credit to one another and use the process of clearing to settle obligation without the use of official fiat currencies.
Greco, T.H., 2021. Solar Dollars: A Complementary Currency that Incentivizes Renewable Energy. Front. Built Environ. 7, 785145. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbuil.2021.785145
Greco, T.H., 2018. Local Currencies—what works; what doesn’t? Beyond Money. URL https://beyondmoney.net/monographs/local-currencies-what-works-what-doesnt/ (accessed 1.9.23).
Greco, T.H., 2010. The end of money and the future of civilization. Floris, Edinburgh.
Jankovic, L., 2019. Opportunities for financing sustainable development using complementary local currencies. IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 297, 012023. https://doi.org/10.1088/1755-1315/297/1/012023
Marshall, A.P., O’Neill, D.W., 2018. The Bristol Pound: A Tool for Localisation? Ecological Economics 146, 273–281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2017.11.002
Ruddick, W. (2017) Documentary on Will Ruddick and Kenyan Community Currencies (HD), 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojFPrVvpraU
The role of blockchain architecture in development of self-governance and protection of individual freedoms
Enquiries: Prof Simeon Lockhart Nelson
Principal supervisor: Prof Simeon Lockhart Nelson
Second supervisor: Prof Lubo Jankovic
Cryptocurrencies have fallen into disrepute in the feverish gold-rush of crypto mining. But is their underlying architecture to be dismissed? The blockchain peer-to-peer architecture according to proponents is innately anonymising and retains the promise of bestowing the right to choose what we disclose to whom. For them Blockchain architecture has the power to decentralise, validation and identity and governance. A redistribution radical enough to render centralised hierarchies of government or corporations redundant.
Applicants for this studentship are invited to investigate the implications of Blockchain architecture for governance addressing questions and methods such as:
How Blockchains could lead to self-governance? What might these Blockchains look like?
How could they be implemented or self-implement? Would such a system be co-opted and misused, weakening rather than strengthening individual freedoms? Speculative and counterfactual approaches, scenario mapping of possible developments of self-governance whilst preserving anonymity and digital identity of our future selves.
As this is an interdisciplinary call for a topic with potential overlaps with the social sciences, politics, economics, art, ecology, geopolitics, indeed our very means of production and distribution, the successful candidate will have a demonstrable track-record of articulating issues beyond their home discipline and collaborating with other specialists. We are seeking a suitable critically and contextually oriented candidate from a wide range of areas including:
- Fine art: altermodern and cosmodern practice and curation, relational, ecological, activist and participatory aesthetics
- Network engineering expertise and good contextual knowledge of blockchain topology, network architecture.
- Social infrastructure, urbanism, alternative currencies, cryptocurrencies, local currencies systems of exchange.
- Anthropology and sociology familiar with tribal and nomadic peoples living outside the nation-state.
Future Societies - Future methods for social engagement
Enquiries: Associate Professor Steven Adams
Supervisors: Associate Professor Steven Adams, Associate Professor Silvio Carta
To what extent are the tools we use to question societies' future directions still up for the job? How have the challenges of climate change, social justice, education and health, and their various intersectional combinations raised questions about ways in which we do research? How does one area of enquiry, for example, spill into another and how do we tailor our approaches to address these complexities. Certainly, the feminist academic, eco-critic and activist Donna Harraway has insisted that climate change can't be separated from the unsustainable demands capitalism places on the world's finite resources. She has also suggested that the conventional form of research in the arts and humanities have insufficient reach to affect real change and has championed the role of art, film and literature as platforms to involve wider communities in process of cocreating cross disciplinary research. Whatever the challenges that face us and whatever the efficacy of normative forms of research, it is evident that there is a job to do. The complexities that the world faces can no longer be addressed within a single discipline, and polymath approaches are required to increase our understanding of the links between disciplines. We invite applications from those broadly working in community engagement and with collaborative and co-design methodological approaches. We are interested in researchers in the arts and humanities to work on a programme of doctoral research that will take one or more societal challenges and address it/them with a view to exploring new methods and new platforms of research. The University of Hertfordshire with its portfolio of professional doctorates in art, design, heritage where submission comprise a combination of both textual and non-textual outputs is uniquely placed to push at the boundaries of these areas in new and innovative ways.
Designing a Posthuman Democratic Governance for the Anthropocene
Enquiries: Dr Hannah Richter
Supervisors: Dr Hannah Richter, Dr Ignasi Torrent-Oliva
This call invites PhD projects that make significant contributions to the urgent task of re-conceptualising democratic politics in its ontological and normative underpinnings on the one hand, and its local, national and international dynamics for a complex, globally diverse Anthropocene on the other. Targeting innovative research that can help societies in tackling the political challenges that follow from climate change and mitigate impacts on citizens, the call speaks to two of the DTA Future Societies umbrella themes: Citizen Equality and Societal Changes.
In 2022, environmental issues decisively influence voter preferences, election outcomes and thus who holds power. But perceptions of the environment are also changing: the phenomenon of climate anxiety shows that large parts of the democratic public experience nature’s shaping power as insufficiently controllable by human societies and their governments. In the Anthropocene, humanity has become the most impactful geological force. But the resulting ecological changes also compromise the modern concept of nature as passive. Far from this, the Anthropocene reveals that nature is an active force that can shape the power relations that drive political stances. Against this background, the tools of democratic politics, designed to govern Holocene societies exclusively concerned with human matters effectively and fairly, must be re-thought.
In sum, the PhD project seeks to appeal to candidates from the fields of political theory, International Relations or International Political Sociology that employ and advance the theoretical and/or methodological tools of their field to map out problems and design a governance for an Anthropocene politics. This governance frame must be sensitive with a posthuman mode of shaping power, one which acknowledges nature, technological objects and digital information flows as political operator. We encourage submissions from scholars who seek to reconceptualise political citizenship, democratic ideas and practices, security or conflict management beyond the human, not only but especially at the intersection with dynamics of gender, race and colonialism.
Future of pension systems
Enquiries: Prof Hulya Dagdeviren
Supervisors: Dr Bruno Bonizzi, Prof Hulya Dagdeviren
Significance: Pension systems are important for social security in old age. They have been going through major overhauls in response to the challenges associated with demographic change and aging in Western Societies. Many governments undertook varieties of reforms, involving cutting down benefit levels, increasing pension age and the introduction of funded and/or additional voluntary pensions to address the so-called ‘sustainability problem’ of retirement schemes. Moreover, occupational pension systems have increasingly moved away from Defined Benefits (providing guaranteed income in retirement) to Defined Contribution under which retirement income depends on the rate of return to investment and the size contributions made by members and their employers.
The knowledge gap: While these reforms aim to improve the financial sustainability of pension systems, their consequences with respect to poverty and inequality amongst old-age population has not been studied in a systematic way. Demographic change is not the only issue with significant impact on social security in old age. Transformations associated with digitalisation, automation and the gig economy are likely to have further impacts on the adequacy of accumulated contributions and the retirement income. While considerable research has been undertaken in the recent years addressing consequences of such changes for job security and employment precarity, to our knowledge, no research has yet addressed the consequences of automation for pensions.
Originality and contribution to knowledge: This PhD studentship will facilitate a programme of research on the future of pension systems, especially, focusing on
- a) consequences of the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution scheme for poverty and inequality in retirement
- b) consequences of work in what is broadly known as the gig economy for poverty and inequality in retirement
- c) policy suggestions for transforming social security for the better in old age
Data and analysis: The PhD student will use econometrics, possibly Recentred Influence Functions or Difference-in-Difference models, to estimate the impacts of pension reforms and automation and simulate the potential consequences of main scenarios proposed for the transformation of pension systems. The project will utilise longitudinal surveys (English Longitudinal Study of Ageing as well as Wealth and Assets Surveys). The proposers have access to these surveys and have been using them for their own research. Each of these datasets contain a wealth of information and data on pension contributions, pension benefits and pension wealth.
Novel hybrid CSP-Biomass CHP system for decentralised energy production
Enquiries: Dr Daya Pandey
Supervisors: Dr Daya Pandey, Professor Yong Chen
Outline: The use of the abundant solar energy and waste (agricultural and municipal) can be used in a clean and sustainable cycle for energy generation, will pave the path for economic empowerments and development in rural areas (pertaining to the Global South countries), whilst preserving the environment. This project aims to exploit the economic feasibility of deploying hybrid concentrated solar powered (CSP)-biomass combined heat and power (CHP) generation system for decentralised energy production in developing countries.
Background and Originality: The production of clean, economically affordable energy with minimum impact on the environment is posing the most significant challenge of the 21st century. As per the latest available data from the World Bank, approximately 1.1 billion people (~15% of world population) across the globe lacked access to electricity, with over 95% in sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia. The United Nations (UN) set-out an ambitious but achievable sustainable development plan to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and energy services by 2030. To achieve the UN’s sustainable development plan-2030, recovering energy from biomass and waste has an equal importance in both developed as well as in developing countries. The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has proposed that advanced thermal treatment processes (pyrolysis and/or gasification) can be employed to recover energy from the pre-processed municipal solid waste (free from metal and glass).
While years of research have provided rationale on the thermal conversion of biomass, a hybrid concentrated solar powered(CSP) with biomass/waste combined heat and power (CHP) system along with thermal energy storage (TES) has not been widely exploited. Molten salts have been used in the integrated TES in CSP system for power generation. Considering the solar energy inheritance of intermittency molten salt probably be the best TES solution at present but can cause corrosion at an elevated temperature. A recent techno-economic analysis has concluded that integrating biomass-firing in combined thermal-CSP plants show better economic viability. This project aims to exploit the economic feasibility of deploying hybrid CSP-biomass CHP generation system for decentralised energy production in the developed and developing countries. The aim of this project to combat energy poverty and climate change by deploying decentralised clean energy technology in off-grid connected communities by utilising locally available resources. The key objectives that to be addressed in this project is:
a. Increase energy production and plant efficiency from renewable sources
b. System design and optimisation of process parameters of biomass gasification process
c. Techno-economic analysis of novel CSP-biomass CHP system
d. Life cycle assessment and material flow analysis
e. Generalise the model and scale-up to the industrial scale.
Contribution to Knowledge and Impact: The results obtained through this work are expected to lay the groundwork for its novel hybrid energy CSP-Biomass CHP application. The outcomes of the proposed work will have measurable impact in demonstrating scalable and economic ways to reduce the environmental impacts and consumption of fossils fuel resources, and will provide reliable, clean and sustainable energy supply. In particular, the proposed project is focused on modelling of the hybrid energy system practicalities and understanding the energy systems value chain of hybrid CSP-biomass CHP system in the UK and/or the Global South (across rural areas or off-grid connected communities).
It is expected that the project will provide the fundamental understanding of hybridisation technology and will provide a basis for further development of circular economy leading to integrated (decentralised) energy systems. In addition, this project will strive towards technology transfer of research innovation to stakeholders (rural community, councils and SMEs) beyond national and European borders (global south). Thus, contributing to challenges of sustainable energy supply by delivering new solutions in regard to hybridisation of renewable energies for decentralised energy production (solar and biomass) while helping the developing world at large to provide the supply of electricity in remote areas.
Statement of Strategic Fit: The current research activities of the school are focused on fundamental and applied aspects of combustion and energy efficiency and this research will help to expand the University of Hertfordshire’s to expand its research portfolio in converting biomass resources into useful chemicals, bioenergy and bioproducts including biochar and catalytic biofuel production. The proposed hybrid CSP-Biomass CHP proposal is in line with the strategy of the School of Physics, Engineering and Computer Science, Centre for Climate Change Research (C3R), Energy and Sustainable Design and the Centre for Future Societies Research. I (Daya Pandey) am a member of the SUPERGEN Bioenergy consortium. The organisations involved in SUPERGEN Bioenergy hub will provide advice to support our research and help realise our full impact on energy policy and climate change. This PhD studentship would therefore allow exciting collaborations within and outside of the university and will lead to more competitive bids for larger grants and strategic initiatives.
 Omenn, G.S. (2006) ‘Grand challenges and great opportunities in science, technology, and public policy’, Science, 314 (5806), 1696.
 Fernández, A. G., Lasanta, M. I., & Pérez, F. J. (2012). Molten salt corrosion of stainless steels and low-Cr steel in CSP plants. Oxidation of Metals, 78(5), 329-348.
 Pantaleo, A. M., Camporeale, S. M., Miliozzi, A., Russo, V., Shah, N., & Markides, C. N. (2017). Novel hybrid CSP-biomass CHP for flexible generation: Thermo-economic analysis and profitability assessment. Applied energy, 204, 994-1006.
Development of advanced heat pump system with nanofluids for domestic hot water applications
Enquiries: Dr Liang Li
Supervisors: Dr Liang Li, Professor Yong Chen, Professor Lubo Jankovic
Globally, the extensive consumption of fossil fuels in hot water production has been contributing increasingly to global warming and energy resource depletion. With innovative new technologies, including advanced thermodynamic cycles and optimised heat transfer fluids and devices, domestic hot water with a temperature range between 60 degree Celsius and 95 degree Celsius can be generated more efficiently and in small-scale facilities. Prior to the widespread implementation of any such technology for domestic use, specific technical and practical issues should be identified and resolved. The heat pump technology has been found to be a promising thermodynamic process for generating hot water for domestic use.
Originality: The originality of this research is in the development of advanced heat pump systems to choose appropriate nanofluids for heat transfer and to design the cycle in a way that achieves greater efficiency and smaller physical size.
Significance: The UK government has ambitious targets to see heat pumps installed in 600,000 homes per year by 2028, if achieved, it will be a crucial part of the UK transitioning to net zero. This project will design and build a test rig for a domestic hot water system using state-of-the-art heat exchangers as heat transfer devices, advanced nanofluids as heat transfer working fluids, and an advanced heat pump system.
Rigour: The novel heat exchangers and nanomaterials technologies involved in the heat pump system are innovative methods to increase the heat pump performance and reduce the physical size for domestic applications.
Potential Contribution to the knowledge: The main contribution of the project will be to increase technical knowledge and data within the research and manufacturing sectors. The outcomes will be a novel heat pump system with nanofluid for domestic hot water application supported with 1-2 patents and 2-3 research journal papers.
New energy futures? Exploring the European Union (EU) shaping of global energy transition
Enquiries: Dr Francesca Batzella
Supervisors: Dr Francesca Batzella, Dr Siobhan Bygate, Dr Ivor Sokolic
This project aims to explore the extent to which the European Union (EU) is contributing to global energy transition towards renewable sources in a selection of case studies from North/Sub-Saharan Africa.
Originality: This innovative project offers a Social Sciences perspective on themes where environmental sciences and engineering are still dominant but insufficient. A political economic analysis of the relationship between the EU and North/Sub-Saharan African countries, is essential to identify the impediments in working towards sustainable energy transition in future societies. These obstacles include historical legacies and economic embeddedness, within a post-colonial political and cultural framework.
The significance of the project lies in analysing the crucial components necessary in building successful EU-North/Sub-Saharan Africa collaboration towards shared development and efficient maintenance of a sustainable renewable energy governance for all parties. Such collaboration is warranted considering the current global energy and climate crisis.
Rigour: The project uses an International Political Economy (IPE) theoretical framework and applies a case study research design to meet the research aims. The candidate is expected to apply both quantitative and qualitative methods including surveys and interviews with economic and political actors in the EU and the selected regions. It is expected that the student will be an integral part of the wider Social Sciences research team’s enquiry while specialising in a relevant area of choice.
Contribution to knowledge: The project will a) identify a taxonomy of impediments in the EU-North/Sub-Saharan African energy and climate cooperation, b) develop a
toolkit of relationship building and equitable governance towards improved sustainable energy futures. This will, in turn, contribute to a broader knowledge of international cooperation to address the current energy and climate crises.
Growing communities? Learning, belonging and diversity in allotments
Enquiries: Dr Frances Harris
Supervisors: Dr Frances Harris, Prof Rebecca O’Connell
Allotments provide a venue for food growing, but offer so much more than just horticulture. Allotmenteers form a community, engaging in knowledge sharing, seed swaps, and learning from each other through observing practices on neighbouring plots. Allotments have been used to support mental health through therapeutic horticulture, and provide opportunities for light exercise, and have been linked with healthy ageing. In the context and wake of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, waiting lists for formerly fallow allotments have grown, as more people have found more time and reason to ‘grow their own’. However, contemporary alternative food movements in Britain have been dominated by the White middle classes. Although some urban food growing projects foreground the experiences and expertise of migrants and people of colour, there is less evidence of the extent of ethnic diversity in allotments outside of cities, or the experiences of allotmenteers from minoritised ethnic groups and how these intersect with other subjectivities such as age, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation and citizenship status. Indeed, whilst allotment communities potentially provide opportunities for learning across generational and cultural divides, less is known about the extent to which different traditions and knowledges are exchanged, embraced or considered authoritative or valuable.
Understanding allotments as ‘communities of practice’, this study will use a rigorous mix of quantitative and qualitative ethnographic methods to explore diversity within allotments as sites of learning and belonging. The study is highly original in combining the three DTA Future Societies themes of Resource Sustainability (food), Citizen Equality (education and inequalities) and Societal Challenges (health). Drawing on and contributing to a mix of disciplinary fields, including education, sociology and anthropology of food, and public health, and with the potential to make vital contributions to the policies and practices of organisations seeking to broaden participation in food growing amid the current revival, the project is both timely and significant.
Exploring and maximising the potential of school kitchens as community resources: a mixed methods study
Enquiries: Prof Rebecca O’Connell
Supervisors: Prof Rebecca O’Connell, Dr Laura Hamilton
To ensure the realisation of the human right to food, local responses to political, economic and ecological emergencies must both maximise collective resources and foster community resilience (Food Ethics Council, 2021). School kitchens served as crisis hubs during the pandemic and campaigners argue that ‘school catering facilities should be used as community assets that encourage integration with the wider community’*. However, the opportunities for, and barriers to, better exploiting the physical school food infrastructure for the benefit of the wider community have yet to be systematically explored. Whilst there is some evidence of the use of school kitchens as community ‘assets’, there is a lack of academic research mapping the extent of this development, the kinds of purposes and communities served and left out, the practical challenges encountered, and what we can learn from the successes - and failures – of school kitchens as community resources.
Disasters teach us that physical infrastructure should serve a dual purpose, not only protecting and promoting current health and wellbeing, but fostering the ‘social solidarities’ necessary to ensure our survival in times of ecological, economic and political turmoil (Klinenberg, 2002, 2019). In the context of the depletion of other public and ‘third’ spaces such as libraries, community and youth centres, this PhD will explore the possibilities of reimagining and reclaiming school kitchens as part of the ‘social infrastructure’. Employing a rigorous mix of methods, including review of international and national evidence, survey methods and comparative ethnographic case studies, the findings will be both significant and timely, including lessons for growing the use of school kitchens as hubs to build communities that are both healthy and resilient to economic and environmental threats. Drawing on and contributing to cutting-edge knowledge in sociology, geography, planning and social policy, the topic is highly original in combining the themes of Resource Sustainability (food), Citizen Equality (justice and inequalities) and Societal Challenges (health, climate).
Improving body balance and reducing falls through stochastic stimulation
Enquiries: Dr Amit N. Pujari
Supervisors: Dr Amit N. Pujari, Dr Lindsay Bottoms, Dr Andrew Greenhalgh, Dr Nada Yousif
Falls are ranked within top three causes in terms of years lived with disability in most regions of the world (WHO). Falls are not only associated with injury and morbidity, but also to reductions in physical, psychological, and social capacities (Myers et al., 1996; Blain et al., 2016; Bousquet et al., 2017). The total costs of falls in the UK is estimated from over 2 billion GBP to up to 4.4 billion GBP/year by the NHS (Public Health England, 2017) and is predicted to rise further. Critically, the consequences of a fall after 75 years old are much worse than between 65 and 75 years old and include fracture, frequent hospitalizations, increased morbidity and mortality. Preventing the occurrence of such events is therefore of paramount importance.
Stochastic stimulation has been shown to significantly improve balance and reduce falls (White et al., 2019). Despite multiple studies showing beneficial effects of stochastic stimuli, in improving balance in elderly, people with diabetic neuropathy and stroke, no device/solutions currently exists on the market to reduce falls. There are a number of challenges which prevent novel solutions from being adopted.
Firstly, as every individual may respond differently to the same stochastic stimulation, foundational, crucial work is needed to identify the relevant parameters that would allow for a personalized, real time and optimal intervention, thus making the stochastic stimulation device adaptive hence personalised, smart and more effective.
Secondly, lack of clear information on whether and how falls disproportionately affect certain groups of society creates further barrier in directing novel solutions (to minimise falls) to those who needs them most.
This PhD study will address both the above aspects by doing experimental and qualitative studies for 1st and 2nd challenges identified above. The study will not only likely produce ground-breaking piece of technology through rigorous experiments but also address qualitative, i.e. inequality aspects of falls. Thus making original contribution to the area of falls prevention which has huge societal significance.
Bio-inspired Bioadhesive Microdevices for Multiple Drug Delivery
Enquiries: Tochukuwu Okwuosa
Supervisors: Tochukuwu Okwuosa, Dr Ian Johnston, Dr Laura Urbano
Medications play a key role in the care of the older population, however, frequent polymorbidity and polypharmacy can adversely affect older adults’ health, functional status, and quality of life, and is linked to a higher occurrence of errors, adverse drug events, general health decline, emergency hospitalizations, and increased mortality. Polypharmacy occurs in both primary and secondary care and is a global phenomenon. Medication safety in polypharmacy is a crucial part of the WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Medication Without Harm (launched Mar 2017) and is essential to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC), moving towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Development of safe, effective, generation-beyond-next oral drug delivery platforms for administering multiple therapeutics via the gastrointestinal environment is of paramount importance. While there have been some efforts in this direction, existing devices rely on sophisticated and costly microfabrication techniques and/or the creation of custom setups, limiting the potential for scaling up and implementation in low-income settings. In this work, we propose to utilise low-cost rapid prototyping approaches for microfabrication and development of novel 3D printed, multiple reservoir, devices for concurrent multiple drug delivery via the mucosal route. We will employ bioinspired geometries and bioadhesive matrices (Interface Focus, 2015, 5, 20140064) to achieve mucosal adhesion and sustained and differential drug delivery of multiple medicines, thus allowing for a customisable and patient-centred approach. The low costs of our novel platform will contribute to improving medication safety in polypharmacy in low and high-resource settings alike.
Low-cost, accessible neurostimulation, experiments and simulations
Enquiries: Professor Volker Steuber
Supervisors: Professor Volker Steuber, Dr Nada Yousif
Originality: The proposed project would for the first time combine experimental cerebellar stimulation and computational modelling, to show the feasibility of low-cost, accessible non-invasive neurostimulation for treating movement disorders.
Significance: The cerebellum is a critical structure for movement. We have previously shown that it is central in controlling pathological activity in epilepsy (Kros et al., Annals of Neurology 2015) and essential tremor (Yousif et al., PloS Comput Biol, 2017). Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been used for decades to treat tremor (Benabid et al, 1998) and more recently epilepsy (Zangiabadi et al., Frontiers Neurology, 2019). However, DBS is a highly invasive surgical technique targeting the thalamus, a structure inaccessible by non-invasive neurostimulation.
Rigour: The project would involve, 1) a detailed biophysical computational model of the cerebellum, based on our previous work, but extended to involve connected structures such as the thalamus; 2) experiments with human participants involving non-invasive electrical stimulation of the cerebellum during normal movement tasks to inform, validate and test the model. Together, this will lead to theoretically based, novel stimulation paradigms for a closed-loop system.
Potential Contribution to Knowledge: We propose that cerebellar stimulation could provide a method of replacing DBS and inhibiting pathological brain activity, and that a model based closed-loop system would provide an optimal approach.
The secretome: could this lead to improved cancer prediction and prognosis in black and ethnic minority communities?
Enquiries: Dr Helen Foster
Internal supervisors: Dr Maria Dimitriadi, Dr Helen Foster
External supervisors: Dr Emmanouil Karteris, Professor Jameel Inal
Few studies have addressed ethnic disparities in cancer, yet these data are vital for improving equality in public health. Certain cancers are more common in black/ethnic minorities, e.g., black women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and there is a higher incidence of liver and cervical cancer in Asian people. This is likely due to a combination of socio-behavioural and environmental factors and the individual’s molecular and genetic background. However, studies are limited due to the lack of cell lines and samples derived from these cohorts.
Cells secrete a range of signalling molecules important for communicating with neighbouring cells and tissues, known as the secretome. Extracellular vesicles (EVs), tiny membrane-bound structures, act as carriers for important cargo in the secretome. Tumour cells can utilise EVs, in contributing towards resistance to chemotherapy, tumour re-emergence, and the spread of cancer to surrounding tissue/organs. Therefore, analysis of EVs may provide vital clues in the identification of cancer prognostic biomarkers.
The multidisciplinary proposal will investigate secretome biomarkers in ethnic minority cohorts with the aim to improve the prognosis of patients via liquid biopsies.
Rationale & Objectives
- Proof of principle in vitro breast cell cancer models will be established from individuals of black or Asian ethnicity. EVs will be isolated for transcriptomic and proteomic investigations into chemotherapeutic treatment and drug intervention (Dr Foster; Prof. Inal).
- Candidate biomarkers will be examined in patient samples at the RNA and protein level to determine their utility in clinical conditions. Furthermore, comparisons will be made between samples from different ethnic cohorts. (Dr Karteris).
- Use C. elegans as a powerful in vivo animal system to evaluate the role of the EV cargo identified (Dr Dimitriadi).
Contribution to knowledge
Identification of secretome biomarkers within liquid biopsies could revolutionise cancer prognosis and the evaluation of treatment regimes in black and ethnic minorities.
Exploring the anti-ageing and neuroprotective properties of edible essential oils: a bi-model approach
Enquiries: Dr Maria Dimitriadi
Internal supervisors: Dr Maria Dimitriadi, Dr Terun Desai, Dr Lindsay Bottoms
External supervisor: Dr Jonathan Sinclair
The usage of non-pharmaceutical supplements such as functional foods has demonstrated to improve healthy ageing as well as reducing disease risk. Essential oils are alternatives to functional foods and are considered a group of secondary metabolites which are obtained from various aromatic plant sources including flowers, leaves, rhizomes, seeds, fruits, wood, and bark. Our preliminary data suggests that supplementation of peppermint or cannabidiol oil in healthy adults improved cardiometabolic health benefits. Following this, we would like to assess other essential oils to better understand their mechanism of action.
We aim to evaluate various edible essential oils on healthy ageing, specifically cardio-metabolic and neuroprotective health on the (a) free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans which has emerged as a powerful model system for studying health and disease followed up by (b) human clinical trials of which there is a paucity of studies.
Rationale & Objectives
Invertebrates, such as C. elegans, have emerged as models for studying healthy ageing, since they are ideal for the rapid identification of molecular pathways relevant in biology.
- A range of tests will be performed in C. elegans with a variety of edible essential oils to determine which provide the most improved healthy ageing effect through increasing lifespan, locomotion as well as protection from oxidative stress.
- We will undertake a human randomised control trial supplementing with the candidates that provided the greatest health benefits in the C. elegans studies to examine markers of cardio-metabolic and neuroprotective health.
Contribution to knowledge
Establishing the potential health benefit of supplementing with essential oils, provides an opportunity to help prevent disease rather than relying on directly treating diseases per se. Understanding the potential pathways would allow for more targeted applications of essential oils and the identification of optimised supplementation strategies.
'What is the role of headteachers in promoting social justice and health?
Enquiries: Dr Frances Harris
Supervisors: Dr Frances Harris, Dr Rowena Senior
Headteachers have always been involved in pupil welfare. However, the pandemic highlighted the role of schools in providing support for children, staying open for families where children were not safe to stay at home, as well as those children of key workers. Effectively, some schools became front-line branches of social services. Although schools are no longer closing due to covid, the cost of living crisis, and especially the provision of food (as free school meals, but also breakfast clubs etc) is the next challenge currently facing head teachers. Further, some schools may be play a role in providing a warm environment for their communities through the winter due to rising heating costs for households (Iacobucci, 2022; Purdy,2022) .
This PhD will focus on the changing nature of leadership among headteachers, and the way in which headteachers learn about, and navigate, these new social issues while also trying to maintain their core mission of supporting teaching and learning in schools. How much of headteachers time does this take? What are the challenges and trade-offs of trying to support both education, and wider wellbeing issues around food and heating? How are difficult decisions about allocation of pupil premium money made? What happens to children during the holidays? What is the impact of keeping schools open for holiday lunch clubs? As the nature of the role changes, how does this impact on job satisfaction? Are their implications for training of headteachers? Fundamentally, is the role of schools shifting as concerns about children’s health (eating) and wellbeing (warmth) come to the fore.
This PhD takes an interdisciplinary perspective, bring together issues around food provision, education, and social justice.
Iacobucci, G. 2022 Cost of living is directly harming child health, paediatricians warn. British Medical Journal 2022; 379:o2286
Purdy, N. (2022) Pastoral care amid the cost of living crisis, Pastoral Care in Education, 40:4, 369-372, DOI: 10.1080/02643944.2022.2145546
Assessing the cardio-metabolic health effects and environmental sustainability impact of plant-based diets
Enquiries: Dr Terun Desai
Supervisors: Dr Terun Desai, Dr Kate Earl, Dr. Rosalind Fallaize
Supervisory Team Mentor: Professor David Barling
As plant-based diets become more socially accepted and its incorporation into lifestyle more popular, future-proofing food and health security by understanding the environmental sustainability and clinical impact of such a radical global lifestyle change is important. Cardio-metabolic diseases are the leading cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide and the single largest contributor to health care expenditure. Literature indicates an inverse association between plant-based diets and all-cause mortality and, risk of cardio-metabolic diseases. However, randomised control trials (RCT) with hard clinical endpoints are required to strengthen the evidence-base. Global food systems impact our environment due to factors associated with greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe), land-use change, agricultural waste, fertiliser usage, and water consumption. In the UK, dairy and meat production has been identified as a significant GHGe contributor. Research has identified fewer GHGe, water and land-use associated with plant-based foods than animal-based. To our knowledge, RCTs have not previously examined the cardio-metabolic and environmental impact of incorporating plant-based dairy and meat alternatives (PBDMA) within a broader whole diet context in omnivorous adults.
This PhD aims to:
- Examine the effect of incorporating PBDMAs as a whole diet change on cardio-metabolic health, in humans as part of RCTs.
- Examine the environmental impact, using a specialist software package (Eaternity), of incorporating PBDMAs as a whole diet change.
- Examine the clinical and environmental differences between plant-based dairy and plant-based meat alternative diets.
- Establish barriers and facilitators to adopting plant-based diets in populations with cardio-metabolic diseases.
This research will increase our understanding of clinical, nutrient and environmental consequences of adopting plant-based diets, and the cardio-metabolic impacts of replacing animal-based products with PBDMA in healthy free-living omnivorous adults and those with cardio-metabolic disease. The data will enable provision of practical recommendations about the facilitators and barriers to PBDMA adoption and its effectiveness to prevent and manage cardio-metabolic disease.
Plant-based diets and their influence on human health. How to manage an invisible “enemy”?
Enquiries: Dr Shoib Sarwar Siddiqui
Supervisors: Dr Esther Garcia-Cela, Dr Shoib Sarwar Siddiqui, Dr. Lisa Lione
Plant-Based lifestyles have grown significantly in recent years. Currently, 19% of the UK population classifies themselves as vegetarians or vegans (FSA, 2019). The UK market for meat substitutes is worth over 500 million euros, making it the largest in Europe (Statistic, 2022). According to recent studies, oat milk drinks, oat flakes and baby food based on oats and soy were found to be contaminated with mycotoxins (fungal toxins), including “emerging mycotoxins” (Dropa et al., 2021, Arroyo-Manzanares et al., 2019). Mycotoxins cause health hazards such as neurotoxic, nephrotoxic, hematopoietic, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic (Garcia-Cela et 2012). In 2019, mycotoxins were the second leading cause of food alerts from the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF, 2022). There are more than 300 mycotoxins known worldwide, but only seven mycotoxins are legislated and monitored; therefore, mycotoxins’ real exposure to human health is underestimated (invisible “enemy”). Around 25% of all agricultural products are contaminated by mycotoxins, and their presence in ultra-processed plant-based food is currently unknown (Eskola et al., 2020). Recent studies have demonstrated that low mycotoxins doses are associated with developing chronic intestinal inflammatory disease and colon cancer (Lo et al. 2021). This project will decipher if a plant-based diet and ultra-processed plant-based food increase the exposure of “emerging mycotoxins” and affect the progression of colon cancer. The selected PhD will work in the following areas i) understand vegan/vegetarian food consumption patterns in the UK through questionnaire-based survey ii) quantification of “emergent mycotoxins” in the most commonly consumed plant-based/ultra-processed plant-based foods, iii) gut microbiota assessment in plant-based diet/ultra-processed plant-based food consumers, and iv) overall carcinogenic potential of “emergent mycotoxins” on colon cancer. This novel research will be published in high-impact journals, increase public awareness of mycotoxins, and inform food safety policymakers with the goal of protecting consumers and public health.
Sustainable Healthcare of Elderly People via Fall Prevention
Enquiries: Dr Wei Ji
Supervisors: Dr Wei Ji, Dr. Raimund Kirner
Originality: We live in a time where the ageing of our population is a challenge to be addressed. It will be desirable to help elderly people to continue to be able to live an independent life. One issue to be addressed is the increased risk for elderly people to have an accident at home, like a fall event. Detecting a fall by a person is a non-trivial task, as the data streams delivered by various sensors produce quite complex patterns for different types of movements. An even higher challenge, though also immensely more helpful, is the detection of an imminent risk of fall, i.e., the fall prevention.
Rigour: There has been numerous research work not only in the area of fall detection, but increasingly also in the area of fall prevention, which emphasises the high relevance of this research topic (Bargiotas et al. 2022, Usmani et al. 2021). It is anticipated that enriched sensor values can provide additional accuracy in the prediction of falls. This research will be done in collaboration with a company to help provide measurement streams with additional sensors.
Potential Contribution to Knowledge: A potential improvement over existing approaches of fall prediction could be the use of different types of sensors.
Bargiotas et al. (2022), "Preventing falls: the use of machine learning for the prediction of future falls in individuals without history of fall", Journal of Neurology.
Liu et al. (2021), "A Machine Learning–Based Fall Risk Assessment Model for Inpatients", CIN (Computers, Informatics, Nursing) 39(8), p.450-459, August 2021.
Usmani et al. (2021), "Latest Research Trends in Fall Detection and Prevention Using Machine Learning: A Systematic Review", MDPI Sensors 21(15), August 2021.
Social credibility of assistive robots
Enquiries: Dr Patrick Holthaus
Supervisors: Dr Patrick Holthaus, Dr Catherine Menon, Prof Farshid Amirabdollahian
Assistive and rehabilitative robots act in a domestic setting to help older people perform household, social and physical tasks. In this way they can support longer independent living at home, with consequent benefits to older people's physical and mental health. Moreover, such robots can potentially lessen the increasing stress on care providers by enabling autonomous care and outreach, thereby addressing the societal challenges posed by an ageing society. Because assistive robots operate within the home, and in many cases are intended to support vulnerable or elderly users, their acceptability to these users is of paramount importance. To be acceptable, these robots must meet certain social criteria which are related to how well they comply with the expected social norms of the domestic environment. The extent to which a robot meets these social criteria determines its social credibility: this being defined as the extent to which a user perceives the robot as displaying a deliberate social awareness and engaging in deliberate, predictable social behaviours.
This doctoral project opportunity aims to explore and refine the concept of social credibility in interactive robots, which has been established only recently. The project aims will include assessing how a robot's social credibility can be defined with regard to its social awareness and how this social credibility might be automatically measured using machine learning. This will then allow the exploration of potential repair mechanisms for degraded social credibility, focusing on different forms of user engagement. At all stages of the project, the relation between robot usability and user trust will be evaluated by means of interaction studies using assistive robots and human participants. Experimental research, such as that exploring the relationship between socially credible behaviours and other required properties including safety compliance, will be carried out within the robot house facility.
Investigating approaches of using social robots to combat loneliness amongst the elderly
Enquiries:Dr Frank Foerster
Supervisors: Dr Frank Foerster, Dr Patrick Holthaus
According to Age UK, more than 1 million elderly people in the UK say that they often or always feel lonely. Being lonely has been shown to negatively impact both physical as mental health (significance).
Compared to cognitive issues such as Aspergers, loneliness has received comparatively little attention in the domain of social robotics. Recently, a new approach involving social robots has been proposed where robots, rather than serving as replacement for human contact, acted as a conduit or trigger for stimulating human-human communication (originality). This approach involved a set of robots, deployed in the flats of a group of friends, where the robots relayed information about the others’ daily activities while preserving each person’s privacy. This “passive” information relay via robots lead to a subsequent increase of human-human communication amongst participants.
While this study was conducted with young and tech-savvy South-Koreans, the proposed PhD project would investigate whether a similar approach could be deployed with elderly, lonely UK citizens (originality).
Given the significant differences between young South-Koreans and elderly English, it is unknown whether the expected effect of increasing communication would manifest itself with the elderly, and if yes, under which parameters (contribution to knowledge).
The PhD student would rigorously assess social and technological factors such as the required degree of pre-existing friendship between users, or the degree and form of privacy-preserving measures. Parts of this research are of participatory nature where elderly people will be invited to a workshop to assess their willingness to adopt this type of technology and to elicit input to inform the system design. A particular focus would be elderly people that live in more deprived areas and the potential technological barriers present themselves in these circumstances.
Investigating the inclusivity issues of Mobility as a Service
Enquiries: Dr Maurizio Catulli
Supervisors: Prof. John Sturzaker, Prof. Jyoti Choudrie, Dr Maurizio Catulli
Originality. Personal mobility through private cars makes up a disproportionate proportion of the environmental emissions of transport. Promising resource efficient alternatives to private cars include Mobility as a Service (MaaS), which enables travellers to manage diverse modes of shared transport through smartphone apps. MaaS encompasses car and bicycle sharing, car clubs and mini scooters for rent, in conjunction with public transport. Whilst this option promises environmental benefits, its implementation beyond demonstrator projects within protected “living labs” has been slow. One challenge that affects MaaS offerings is low inclusivity of several sections on the market. Women, for example, have fewer opportunities to use shared mobility, as they incur risks of unwanted attention from men when traveling so. Inclusivity is also challenged by the “digital divide,” where market segments such as the aged and peoples on low incomes are unable to access and use apps, which is ironic because these are the people who would most benefit from MaaS offerings. Building on urban planning and personal mobility, the doctoral student will investigate strategies to make shared mobility safer and more inclusive for all segments of the market.
Rigour. The topic is supported by extant research which confirms its relevance, cf. Gekoski et al. (2017), Weinreich et al. (2021) and Choudrie et al. (2018). Qualitative and quantitative social sciences methods may be used, with data suitably curated and analysed.
Potential contribution to knowledge. The research will address a gap in knowledge of the accessibility and inclusivity of shared mobility to disadvantaged groups and it is in a policy sensitive topic.
Choudrie, J., Pheeraphuttranghkoon, S., & Davari, S. (2018). The Digital Divide and Older Adult Population Adoption, Use and Diffusion of Mobile Phones: a Quantitative Study. Information Systems Frontiers. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10796-018-9875-2
Gekoski, A., Gray, J. M., Adler, J. R., & Horvath, M. A. H. (2017). The prevalence and nature of sexual harassment and assault against women and girls on public transport: an international review. Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, 3(1), 3-16. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCRPP-08-2016-0016
Weinreich, M., Kingstedt, A., Betina, V., Romani, F., Andersson, F., Kirjanen, A., Larsen, O. M., Leow, B. W., & Bajaj, H. (2021). Gender and (Smart) Mobility.
Total E-Transport – Transitioning to Zero Carbon Transport within a Rural Setting
Enquiries: Scott Copsey
Supervisors: Scott Copsey, Dr Richard Southern, Professor John Sturzaker, Professor Stephen Joseph
The UK Government is committed to reducing carbon emissions from the transport sector, which now accounts for one of the largest sectoral emitters globally, as was clear at the recent COP26 Conference. In the UK, despite a reduction in car use during the pandemic, the transport sector remained the largest emitter of carbon emissions in 2020 (at 29.8%). Therefore, transport is key to any strategy aiming to combat climate change.
The Government is attempting to address this through a variety of technological and behavioural change initiatives. However, recent publications by the Smart Mobility Unit (SMU) and Ebenezer Howard School of Planning (EHSP) at the University of Hertfordshire show that car dependency outside cities must be tackled in order to reduce carbon emissions; areas outside cities are responsible for c.74% of the UK’s total transport emissions.
In these areas, bus services have been cut drastically, leaving few alternatives to private car use. These areas have also been earmarked for the bulk of new housing, yet many developments still lack EV charging points, home-based generation facilities, connected transport modes and services. Providing sustainable transport alternatives here will be key to carbon neutrality. Research shows big differences between areas outside cities in per capita energy use and carbon emissions from transport. This project would explore reasons behind these variations and seek to point to ways to reduce energy demand in transport. Pathways to net zero emissions from transport in areas outside cities could then be identified, including options for reducing transport demand.
This proposed PhD project would bring theoretical understandings of transport infrastructure and behavioural change strategies, energy use in transport, behavioural change and the challenges that decision-makers need to consider on a problem of enormous significance to future societies. It is highly ambitious yet topical, seeking to build the work of the Smart Mobility Unit’sRoundtable Report 2021.
Roundtable research | Study | University of Hertfordshire (herts.ac.uk)
Green and Intelligent Transport System for Smart Cities
Enquiries: Professor Yichuang Sun
Supervisors: Professor Yichuang Sun, Dr Pan Cao, Dr Oluyomi Simpson
Transportation is the most polluting sector in the United Kingdom and produced the equivalent of 122 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019. This represented roughly 27 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions that year. Therefore, reducing emissions from road transport is a significant challenge as the UK looks to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to combat the global climate change. As a major contributor, the rising traffic congestion needs more attention due to the cause of the longer travelling time, higher fuel/E-energy consumption and more emission. This project is highly motivated to develop a novel platform that provides large-scale green and intelligent transport management service to reduce traffic congestion by considering both current traffic conditions on road and the predicated traffic load in the large-scale transport network. The main tasks of the project are to 1) deploy Internet of Things to support low latency vehicle-to-everything communications and real-time tracking, 2) apply artificial intelligence algorithms to predict potential traffic flow, and 3) design large-scale dynamical routing optimization algorithms in transport networks. The developed transport system will provide a solution to minimize traffic congestion and play a significant role in shaping future net-zero emission and smart cities.
Sustainability, Tipping Points and Interventions in Ecosystems
Enquiries:Dr Jan T Kim
Supervisors: Dr Jan T Kim, Prof Daniel Polani
Concerns over the "growth philosophy" of economy highlights the critical role of sustainability for long-term stability and survival of civilisation. However, the concept of sustainability is not well defined. We aim to substantially advance theoretical approaches to quantify sustainability using information- and control-theoretic methods. We use empowerment, a versatile information-theoretic measure developed at UH, measuring the impact of interventions and widely used in current Machine Learning, AI and Artificial Life communities. The proposed supervisors introduced sustainable empowerment for the unified characterisation of sustainability [1, 2] for systems requiring long-term viability. It measures how well a system is under control and provides early warning signs on approaching tipping points. This project aims to develop sustainable empowerment towards larger dynamical systems, measuring the stability of attractors, presaging tipping points and the capacity for effective intervention. We will evaluate it w.r.t. its applicability to scenarios including agriculture, ecosystems, health, energy or transport networks and other complex systems.
Originality: The project aims to provide a unified basis for measuring sustainability, which would be a substantial step from the current ad hoc problem-specific definitions which are often incompatible and incomparable.
Significance: Characterising sustainability in a systematic/coherent way is critical to understanding the stability of ecosystems, their tipping points and potential intervention routes.
Rigour: The formalisms are firmly rooted in information/control theory and dynamical systems. The supervisors have a substantial track record, encompassing theoretical work and its rigorous application.
Potential Contribution to Knowledge: We will be able to formulate and understand the specific requirements of sustainable systems and express them in the universal language of information theory and dynamical systems.
Further particulars on specific projects can be obtained from the corresponding principal supervisors on the email addresses under the details above, to whom informal enquiries can also be addressed.
Applicants must have a UK good honours degree (First-Class Honours or Upper Second-Class Honours) in a relevant field or equivalent and additionally an appropriate Masters qualification would be beneficial.
How to apply
Applicants are required to provide the following documents:
- a completed application form (download the application form)
- a cover letter explaining their interest in the proposed project title and the relevance of their background to the proposed project title
- an up to date CV
- two academic references
- copies of qualification certificates and transcripts
- a copy of passport photo page.
Please send completed applications, choosing one of the available project titles shown above, to Doctoral College at firstname.lastname@example.org, using the following format in the email subject line: Future Societies Research Studentships.
Closing date for applications: 19 May 2023. Interviews will start soon after the closing date.
Studentships start date: September 2023.