• PhD
  • Glasgow
  • 28 February 2020

Website University of Glasgow

Proposed start date: 1st October 2020

In this project you will develop a new type of gravity sensor that will be used to help forecast volcanic eruptions. You will be involved in the design, fabrication, data modelling/analysis and field testing (at Mt Etna, Sicily) of this cutting-edge technology.

About the PhD

By measuring tiny variations in the Earth’s gravitational acceleration, g, you can infer density variations beneath the ground.  Since magmatic systems contain rock of differing density, changes in gravity over time can tell us when/where magma is moving. Traditional gravity sensors (gravimeters) were costly and heavy, but with the advent of the technology used to make mobile phone accelerometers (MEMS – Microelectromechanical-systems), this is changing.

At Glasgow University we have already developed the first MEMS gravity sensor (https://www.nature.com/articles/nature17397), which was named by the Institute of Physics as one of the top ten breakthroughs of global physics for 2016. The work continues, and we are now working with four other European nations to make a network of these MEMS gravity sensors around Mt Etna. It will be the first multi-pixel gravity imager – enabling unprecedented resolution of Etna’s plumbing system (http://www.newton-g.eu/).

The sensor you will develop in your PhD will be the next generation design. The first generation sensor consisted of a mass on a spring, which moved in response to changing values of g. This, however, can only ever be used to measure changes in gravity, which means it is very difficult to tell the difference between a geophysical signal and instrumental drift. If we could measure absolute values of gravity, then instrumental drift would stop concerning us, and we wouldn’t need to calibrate the sensors against hugely expensive commercial absolute gravimeters. This reduction in cost is important when assessing volcanic risk because 8/10 of the countries at most risk from volcanic hazards are on the Overseas Development Agency (ODA) list.

One way of making absolute measurements of gravity is to use a pendulum. This method was used for hundreds of years until the scientists and engineers essentially ran out of fabrication tolerance about 100 years ago. But now nanofabrication is at our disposal… We will work together to develop a miniature gravity sensor using nanofabrication techniques in the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre (JWNC), one of the leading academic cleanrooms in Europe. We will also work with colleagues in the Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR), part of the team responsible for the Nobel-prize-winning discovery of gravitational waves. The sensor will work by monitoring the oscillation period of a pair of silicon pendulums. It can be made at least ten times smaller and ten times cheaper than conventional gravity sensors.

This project offers an exciting opportunity to work in world leading research groups and labs. You’ll learn new skills and work collaboratively with a vibrant team of multidisciplinary researchers. You’ll get trained in nanofabrication in the JWNC. You’ll get to work with collaborators in industry and academia from many countries.

Funding is available to cover tuition fees for UK/EU applicants for 3.5 years, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate (estimated £15,009 for Session 2020-21). You’ll also get to travel for field work and conferences around the world. You’ll have ring-fenced funding to engage with the public.

You’ll be encouraged to work hard when at university, but encouraged equally to maintain a healthy work/life balance . Glasgow’s fantastic night life/culture/music/sports facilities/proximity to the Highlands will certainly help with the latter!

A bit about your supervisor

Richard Middlemiss was recently awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship. His last project produced a Nature paper, a patent, and many industrial and academic collaborations. He believes science should be used for societal benefit, and enjoys sharing his work with the public. He wants to widen participation in Engineering/Physics, because diverse teams produce better work*. You won’t just be working in isolation with your supervisor, though –  you’ll join with a friendly group of researchers between Engineering and Physics who work on similar topics.
Richard is looking for a new PhD student with a 2:1 or higher undergraduate degree in a STEM subject (engineering/physics/geophysics/geology etc.). Enthusiasm is essential, as well as a willingness to learn skills in many different areas of science and engineering, which you’ll use to bring this exciting new technology to fruition.

How to apply

To apply for this project, please follow this link: here or click apply below. You will be asked to create an account to apply for this role.

Please note that in the ‘research proposal upload’ section of the application you need only provide a personal statement indicating why you are a suitable candidate for this PhD project. If you have any questions before applying, then feel free to drop Richard an email!

You can contact Richard on Richard.Middlemiss@glasgow.ac.uk

The deadline for applications is Friday, February 28, 2020 at midnight. The proposed start date for the PhD project is 1st October 2020.

About the University of Glasgow

The University of Glasgow is a global leading institution ranked 67th in the world (QS World University Rankings 2020). With more than 29,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students, we welcome students from more than 140 countries worldwide. As a member of the prestigious Russell Group of leading UK research universities with an annual research income of more than £179m, we are a broad-based, research intensive institution with a global reach.

*The University of Glasgow is committed to promoting equality in all its activities and aims to provide a work, learning, research and teaching environment free from discrimination and unfair treatment. Both the University of Glasgow and the James Watt School of Engineering hold Athena Swan bronze awards.