EPSRC CDT in Metamaterials (PhD studentship): Combined electromagnetic and piezoelectric energy harvesting from low-speed fluid flows for remote monitoring Ref: 2855

About the award

The studentship is part of the UK’s Centre of Doctoral Training in Metamaterials (XM2) based in the Departments of Physics and Engineering on the Streatham Campus in Exeter.  Its aim is to undertake world-leading research, while training scientists and engineers with the relevant research skills and knowledge, and professional attributes for industry and academia.

XM2 studentships are of value around £90,000, which includes £11,000 towards the research project (travel, consumables, equipment etc.), tuition fees, and an annual, tax-free stipend of approximately £14,500 per year for UK/EU students.

In addition this project attracts a top up of a further £2,000 per year.

Exeter has a well-established and strong track record of relevant research, and prospective students can consider projects from a wide variety of fields:

  • Acoustic and Fluid-dynamical Metamaterials
  • Biological and Bio-inspired Metamaterials
  • Graphene and other 2D Materials, and related Devices
  • Magnonics, Spintronics and Magnetic Metamaterials
  • Microwave Metamaterials
  • Nanomaterials and Nanocomposites
  • Optical, Infra-red and THz Photonics and Plasmonics
  • Quantum Metamaterials
  • Wave Theory and Spatial Transformations

Please visit www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials to learn more about our centre and see the full list of projects that we have on offer this year.

International students are welcome to apply: fees and project costs will be paid, but the stipend can only be provided in exceptional circumstances.  We encourage international scholarship applicants or recipients to contact us directly prior to making their application (metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk).

Statement of Research

Joint supervisors: Prof Meiling Zhu, Dr Mustafa Aziz, Dr Yang Kuang

Industrial partner: assigned.

This project explores the application of piezoelectric composite and magnetic materials for energy harvesting from fluid flows for remote monitoring sensors.

Wireless sensor networks are the very need of the government as well as industries to monitor remote environment and assets. However, replacing the depleted batteries, which are usually the only energy supply for those sensors, brings a significant cost and sometimes is even impossible when a large number of sensors are deployed. This has servery hindered the implementation of wireless sensor networks for remote monitoring [1].

Energy harvesting has the potential to provide a sustainable power source for wireless sensors by converting ambient energy sources to usable electricity, and thus enabling maintenance-free wireless sensor networks. Fluid (liquid) flows in the ambient environment are potentially a sustainable energy source for wireless sensors [2]. While on the large scale hydroelectric power plant has been used for a long period, energy harvesting from low-speed fluid flows in small scale for small electronic devices is still challenging because of the reduced transducer efficiency and reduced kinetic energy available, particularly when the transducer size is restricted by the application. Both piezoelectric (PE) and electromagnetic (EM) transducers work well for high-speed fluid flows. However, for low-speed flows, they are unable to generate enough power [3-4]. This has limited the application of fluid flows as an energy source for remote sensors. 

To address this challenge, the project aims to develop a novel energy harvesting technology from low-speed fluid flows with enough power output to supply remote sensors. Unlike previous approaches where a single transduction mechanism was used, this project will combine the EM and PE transduction mechanisms in one hybrid energy harvester to increase the electric power. New magnetic field configurations and mechanical transmissions will be explored to increase the efficiency of the EM transduction with low-speed flows. The turbulence and vortices due to the EM transducer will actuate the PE transducer, which will use novel piezoelectric composites (e.g. auxetic piezoelectric composite developed in our lab [5]) to increase its power density. The design of the energy harvester will take systematic considerations on the fluid dynamics, actuating methods and transduction mechanisms to ensure an optimised overall efficiency.

The cohort and community training approach of the CDT will provide the PhD candidate with a dynamic research environment with an opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas with other students, and access to essential training and courses provided by the CDT. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of this project, the student will particularly benefit from the multi-disciplinary research environment and supervision team.  Moreover, the CDT will provide a good platform to disseminate research outcomes further and broaden the impact.

The project industrial partner is AutoNaut Ltd which  produces wave propelled unmanned surface vessel  for long endurance operation in Southern Ocean or Arctic and requires energy harvesting to power communication systems. This project will also contribute to the engagement of CDT with the industry.

[1] SujeshaSudevalayam et al. IEEE Communications Survey &Tutorials, Vol.13, No.3, 2011
[2] Faisal Shaikh et al. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 55 (2016) 1041-1054
[3] D Hoffmann et al. Journal of Physics: Conference Series 476 (2013) 012104
[4] Eric Molino-Minero-Re et al. Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference, 2012 IEEE International, 624-627
[5] Qiang Li et al. AIP Advances, 7, 015104 (2017)

About XM2

Metamaterials are fabricated microstructures having properties beyond those found in nature. They are an important new class of electromagnetic and acoustic materials with applications in many technology areas: energy storage and improved efficiency, imaging, communications, sensing and the much-hyped ‘cloaking’. Having recruited nearly 70 new PhD researchers in its first four years, the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (XM2) hosted by the University of Exeter (www.exeter.ac.uk/metamaterials) will admit its fifth cohort of PhD students in September 2018.

The first year of the studentship includes an assessed, stand alone project, and a substantial programme of training. Students will choose from a wide range of taught modules, and participate in academic and personal development skills-based workshops, together with creativity events and conference-style meetings. The cohort will also be expected to disseminate their results to the international community via high-impact publications and international conferences. They will spend time working with our academic and industrial partners.  Full details of the programme are available here, or download a copy of our prospectus.

The University of Exeter combines world class research with excellent student satisfaction. It is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive universities. Formed in 1955, the University has over 20,000 students from more than 130 different countries. Its success is built on a strong partnership with its students and a clear focus on high performance. Recent breakthroughs to come out of Exeter's research include the identification and treatment of new forms of diabetes and the creation of the world's most transparent, lightweight and flexible conductor of electricity. Exeter is ranked amongst the UK’s top 10 universities in the Higher Education league tables produced by the Times and the Sunday Times. It is also ranked amongst the world’s top 200 universities in the QS and Times Higher Education rankings.


Application deadline:31st January 2018
Number of awards:1
Value:Approximately £90,000, including research and travel budget, tuition fees and stipend (approximately [£14,500/£16,500] payable to UK or EU students only)
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Prof. Alastair Hibbins (Admissions Tutor)metamaterials@exeter.ac.uk

How to apply

Application criteria

During the application process you will need to upload the documents listed below. Please prepare these before starting the application process.

  • A statement describing why you would like to study for a PhD in Physics or Engineering,
  • A statement describing why you are considering a PhD programme that offers a cohort-based doctoral training model,
  • An academic CV,
  • A cover letter that discusses your preferred area(s) of study and/or your interest in a particular project/supervisor,
  • A document outlining your research interests and any relevant expertise,
  • Degree transcript(s) giving information about the qualification awarded, the modules taken during the study period, and the marks for each module taken,
  • The contact details of two academic referees.

Please note that of all the projects advertised we expect, as a Centre, to fill 15-20 posts only.

Shortlisting and interviews

Applications will be reviewed by members of the XM2 management board and candidates will be short-listed against a set of agreed criteria to ensure quality while maintaining diversity. Failure to include all the the elements above may result in rejection. Criteria will include:


  • Excellence in a lower degree in a relevant discipline;
  • Excellence in written and oral skills in English;
  • Evidence of knowledge of XM2 ethos, research themes and/or supervisors.


  • Specialist knowledge about one or more XM2 topics;
  • Research outputs (e.g. papers) and/or has undertaken training in research methodology (e.g. undergraduate research projects);
  • Ability to work collaboratively

Short-listed candidates will be interviewed by a panel of two academic members of staff drawn from the management board. If successful, a second interview will be undertaken by the potential academic supervisors for the student concerned. Offers are normally made shortly after a successful second interview.