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Applications for 2021/22 entry are now open



The University of Exeter and The University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD scholarship program provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions.

Eight generous, fully-funded scholarships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four offered by The University of Queensland. This select group will have the chance to study in the UK and Australia, and will graduate with a joint degree from both the University of Exeter and The University of Queensland.


Application deadline:

24 May 2021 (BST)


Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,609 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of up to £10,715 are available over the 3.5 year studentship

Duration of award:

per year

Contact: PGR Admissions Office

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, supporting statement, academic transcripts and details of two academic referees. Your supporting statement should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project, with particular reference to the collaborative nature of the partnership with the University of Queensland, and how this will enhance your training and research.

Applicants who are chosen for interview will be notified week commencing 28 June 2021, and must be available for interview week commencing 12 July 2021.

PhD start date is expected to be 10 January 2022.

Please clearly quote the project reference number on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


University of Exeter projects


Professor Frank Vollmer College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Science, University of Exeter

Professor Warwick Bowen ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, The University of Queensland

Project Description:

The detection of single-molecule processes and dynamics inside cells requires optical sensors of extraordinary sensitivity and that are miniature in size. This proposals seeks to develop a state of the art sensing approach based on silicon nanosensing structures that can be fabricated on chip and attached to the end of a fibre. The needle like sensor can be inserted into a single cell. In contact with the cell, they can interlaise them in their cytoplasm. By developing advanced optical techniques for reading out the sensor signals, we will develop the first single-cell single-molecule sensors that are label-free and operate on microsecond timescales. This will allow us to track dynamics process such as the conformational movements of enzymes,  and the contacts with specific proteins inside of cells that mediate biological signals. The collaboration between the Bowen (silicon nanochip sensors) and Vollmer (single-molecule sensing and cell analysis) will enable us to translate state-of-the art sensing techniques into a chip-scale platform that we use for fundamental studies of proteins structure, dynamics and folding, and for developing applications such as in vivo and single cell sensing in collaboration with Alan Rowan, who's the director of the AIBN in UQ.


  1. develop silicon chip sensor for single-molecule sensing of biomolecules and their dynamics, combining silicon microcavities and optical fibre as a first testbed of the technology that can be inserted into single cells; the sensor probe is attached to the end of an optical fibre; read out resonance shift from reflected /transmitted light.
  2. develop readout of the sensor with free space beam (Bowen/Vollmer). Specialised sensors structures are fabricated on chip and shipped to Exeter. The nanosensors will be picked off chip and dispersed in cell culture medium. Sensors signals will be acquired from the cell culture and from sensors taken up by single cells in processes called endycytosis and pinocytosis. The sensors will be modified (functionalised) with specific proteins and enzymes to test how the enzymes funcition, how the proteins recevie and mediate signals and how they change conformationa and fold inside the cell.  We expect sensitivity similar to the one of state of the art single molecule sensors developed in the Vollmer lab.
  3. The microsensors will be custom functionalised for specicfic detection tasks in vivo and in cells. The in vivo sensing applications will be tested in Vollmerlab with cells as well in organisms such as  in experiments ongoing at the LSI with small rag worm Platynereis Dumerilii and Zebrafish. The goal is to acquire physiological sensing signals in cells and in living organims.

 Approach and Expertise:

The approach involves a combination of both state-of-the-art nanofabrication, and precision optical probing of biosystems. At UQ, the primary focus will be to develop a new class of nanocavity devices for biosensing. A key parameter in these sensors is the ratio of their quality factor ""Q"" to their mode volume ""V"". The Q quantifies how long they are able to store light for,  and the V quantified the size scale in which it is stored. UQs nano- and photo-lithography tools, within the CMM and ANFF-Q are capable of fabrication of devices with resolution as small as a few tens of atoms. Bowe's lab has extensive expertise in using these machiens to create extremely small optical cavities with very high quality factors. In this project we will develop the capability to  fabricate ""snap-off"" cavities on a silicon chip, that can be release onto the end of an optical fibre for robust sensing application. Thousands of cavities could be fabricated on a single silicon chip. The devices will be engieered to maximise the signal from biomolecules.

The fabricated devices will be shipped to Exeter where the QUEX student will use them for single-molecule sensing experiments.The student will prepare biomolecular samples, develop methods to attach them to the sensor, integrate the sensor with and use microfluidics and  perform sensing in organisms. They will leverage expertise in Vollmers lab in optical sensors, biointegration with cells and organisms , preparation of the sensors with biomolecular samples and analysis of the single molecule signals.

How to Apply:


Professor Gavin Tabor, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Science, University of Exeter

Professor Damien Batstone, Advanced Water Management Centre, The University of Queensland

Additional Supervisors: Professor Slobodan Djordjevic, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Science, University of Exeter; Dr Daniel Jarman, Hydro International UK

Project Description

Typically, wastewater treatment equipment is serviced on a periodic or reactive basis. Consequently, Water and Sewerage Companies (WaSCs) often over maintain or undermaintain process equipment, resulting in unnecessary expenditure and possible periods of non-compliance in their discharge consents, to the detriment of the consumer and the natural environment.

Project Methodology

We plan to develop techniques of predictive maintenance based on Data-Driven Machine Learning, in which extensive historical data donated  to the project by Hydro International will be used to train Machine Learning algorithms such as Artificial Neural Networks to identify wastewater treatment equipment in danger of failure. In particular, predictive maintenance can use Machine Learning in 4 distinct ways:

Regression models can be trained to predict Remaining Useful Lifetime (RUL)

Classification models can be developed to predict failure within a given time window

Models can be trained to flag anomalous behaviour in the asset set (Anomaly Detection)

Survival Models predict how failure probability will evolve over time

We will develop novel approaches to asset management using these techniques; essentially developing data-based digital twin models of the asset set capable of estimating equipment condition and failure risks, taking into account regional and seasonal variations. We envisage the various stages of the project as follows:

Year 1 (Exeter): In the first year the student will research methods of predictive maintenance applied in other areas and get up to speed with Data Science techniques for Regression, Classification and Anomaly detection. S/he will catalog the different equipment in the data set and study operation and failure modes; this will involve extensive interaction with Hydro International in the UK and possibly US sites. S/he will start to develop Classification models for failure prediction, examining methods such as Support Vector Machines and Naive Bayes methods; S/he will also research methods of feature extraction and selection to fully understand the dataset available.

Output: Classification model for failure prediction; conference paper in Water World Congress/IWA conference/CCWI.

Year 2 (Exeter): In the 2nd year the student will continue with this work and write a paper on Classification Models for predictive maintenance for water systems.S/he will also develop predictive models based on the other methodologies, particularly RUL regression models and anomaly detection models, and compare the different approaches.

Output: Journal paper in Water Research/Comp. in Chem Eng., toolkit for predictive maintenance based on data-driven machine learning methodologies

Year 3 (Queensland): The student will work in Australia for their 3rd year and will apply the models developed in the first 2 years to distinct data sets from Urban Utilities which represent significantly different environmental conditions pertaining to that region. This will demonstrate the adaptability of these techniques to a wider range of conditions. S/he will also interact with WaSCs in Australia, leveraging links from the Advanced Water Management Centre.  The student will also commence the process of writing their thesis, work which will continue on their return to Exeter.

Output: Journal paper on comparative methodologies, 2nd conference publication, thesis.

How to Apply:


Regan Early College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Professor Salit Kark School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland

Project Description

Three elements underlie invasive impacts, for both green crab and all invaders:

  1. Speed, direction, and means of invasive spread.
  2. Invader abundance in a given environment.
  3. How many and which native species are affected by a single invader (‘per capita effects’).

Ecological and economic impacts vary between locations because all three elements are mediated by environmental conditions, particularly climate and climate change, and interactions with native biodiversity12.
Green crab is an influential species in ecosystems, aquaculture, and fisheries in its native UK, but becomes devastating in its invasive range. Moreover, environmental change has meant that green crab can even become problematic for ecosystems in its native range, for example hindering seagrass restoration. A QUEX studentship is a unique opportunity to conduct in-depth comparisons of impact between the UK and Australia under environmental change, and to link to a broader analysis of impacts throughout the rest of the world.
Aims: 1) Provide the first comprehensive analysis of drivers of variation in invasive impacts at continental and global extents. 2) To quantify environmental and biotic drivers of green crab impacts in its native range (UK), an area where it is rapidly invading (Australia), and throughout its global invasive range. 3) Forecast environmental futures for biodiversity, livelihoods, and food security under multiple biosecurity and management scenarios.

Objectives, approaches, expertise:

  • Create the first database of green crab’s global distribution and abundance.
    • Method: Expert consultation and literature review (both PIs expert).
  • Develop the first systematic assessment of variation in invasive impacts for any invader, breaking new ground in an emerging area of scientific understanding.
    • Method: Use Environmental Impact Classification for Alien Taxa (EICAT, PI Early pioneering with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)).
  • Evaluate environmental effects on the species’ current and future spread and abundance globally.
    • Methods: Use cutting-edge statistical modelling13, employing remotely-sensed oceanographic variables that affect green crab recruitment (PI Early expert)
  • Ask which environmental and biotic drivers underpin green crab range and abundance in Australia and UK, and forecast under climate change.
    • Methods: Survey abundance across Australia and UK and construct joint Species Distribution14 models (PI Early expert).
  • Ask whether variation in impacts is due to differing biotic interaction networks.
    • Methods: Analyse gut contents of green crabs across Australia and UK to construct prey interaction networks (PI Kark expert)15. Compare networks, carapace, claw size, and sex ratio (which correspond to impact2,16-18) amongst populations.
  • Contrast management solutions in consultation with aquaculture, fisheries, and conservation agencies.
    • Spatial population modelling of solutions, likely including tightened biosecurity, local control via selective harvest, chemical/biological/genetic control, outbreak early warning system, and altered aquaculture management19 (both PIs expert).
  • Develop existing links with environmental governance organisations and industries, so as to roll out a longer term project improving environmental governance of invaders in the UK, Australia, and beyond.
    • Consult with Australia’s Invasive Species Council, SA and NSW DPI’s Aquatic Biosecurity arm, Victorian Fisheries authority, Natural England all of whom are concerned about green crab, and conduct outreach via Feral Herald.

How to Apply: 


Dr Luciana Torquati College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Prof. Mike Gidley Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), The University of Queensland

Additional Supervisors: Prof Geoff Nash College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences,  University of Exeter; A/Prof Daniel Cozzolino, Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences (QAAFI), University of Queensland

Project Description:

Phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables have known antioxidant activity and cardiovascular health benefits. However, their health effects depend on our ability to absorb the nutrient (bioavailability) and its availability to leave the food matrix during digestion (bioaccesibility). New characterisation techniques are required to characterise phytochemical changes during food processing (i.e. post-harvest storage, thermal treatment) so that their bioavailability, bioaccessibility and health promoting effects are optimised.

Key aims are:

Assess how emerging techniques for infrared (IR) spectroscopy [1], a powerful analytic technique that can be used to characterise phytochemicals [2], can be applied to the manufacture of plant based foods
Provide a toolkit that can be used by industry to develop products with improved bioavailability of nutrients to benefit human health and wellbeing (UN sustainable goals 2030, target 3.4)

Approach - Key task are:

  1. Computational chemistry study of polyphenols found in plant foods to create reference for experimental studies and toolkit
  2. Use of IR spectroscopy to determine how the amount/state of polyphenols vary through the manufacturing process
  3. Measurement of bioaccesibility and gut-derived metabolites through in vitro simulated digestion and fermentation. Validation of IR spectroscopy to measure in-vitro gut-derived metabolites
  4. Measurement of bioavailability of polyphenol in vivo (humans) using IR spectroscopy, including its validation as a tool to measure gut-derived metabolites in human samples
  5. Development of an analytical toolkit

Expertise and Capability

UoE: Spectroscopy will be undertaken in Prof. Nash’s newly refurbished laboratories, which include workstations running the computational chemistry package Gaussian. Sport and Health Sciences has a state of the art kitchen lab facilities for food preparation and tasting, phlebotomy and biochemical analytical lab of clinical markers associated with dietary interventions.
UQ: Bioaccessibility models are well-established at UQ in Prof Gidley’s Centre, and there is long-standing expertise in the use of In vitro digestion models to measure microbial metabolites of phytochemicals as a function of fermentation time [3]. Molecular analysis of polyphenols and metabolites will use HPLC and GC-based methods to quantify bioaccesibility and gut metabolism.

Studentship plan

Months 1-12: Study design and training at UoE with the expertise of Torquati (task 1) and Nash (task 1 and 2).

Months 12-24:  Validation of the IR technique at UQ, with the expertise of Gidley and Cozzolino in food matrix effects (task 3), making use of complementary facilities to UoE

Months 24-36: Complete tasks 4 and 5 with Torquati, Nash, and industry partner (PepsiCo). Approximate three month visit to UQ analyse biological samples (task 4) with gold-standard methods at UQ, validating infrared measurements taken at UoE.

Months 36-72:  writing up main publication in a high-impact journal and completion of a PhD thesis.

How to Apply:


Dr Asami Oguro-Ando, College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter

Dr Victor Anggono, Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland

Project Description:

AD is the most common cause of dementia. Pathologically, AD is characterised by the deposition of toxic materials such as Aβ peptides resulting from the aberrant cleavage of APP. It has important physiological functions in neuronal plasticity, memory, and neuroprotection in the mature and ageing brain. sAPPsa has physiological properties that suggest great potential in both understanding healthy living/ageing, and as a therapeutic target for AD.

Our proposal builds on our recent discovery that the cell adhesion molecule CNTN4 is associated with AD and interacts with APP in neurons. Interestingly, our data suggest that Cntn4 KO mice display phenotypes, such as synaptic plasticity dysfunction, observed in many AD mice models. In addition, our preliminary data from QUEX initiator grant suggests that CNTN4 and APP trans-synaptic interactions regulate synapse development, and CNTN4 regulates the expression level of APP. We hypothesise that CNTN4 is essential for regulating the normal function and trafficking of APP in mammalian central neurons. In addition, GluA1/2, AMPA receptor subunits crucial for maintenance of synaptic plasticity, interact with CNTN4 (Unpublished). To take this work further, we are using a new genome-editing toolbox called ORANGE. This is a knock-in library for the detailed study of the distribution of endogenous proteins, and these new plasmids allow us to track endogenous neuronal signalling molecules and neurotransmitter receptors. Combined with super-resolution microscopy, these tools reveal the dynamic organization of the relationship between the behaviour of CNTN4, APP and neurotransmitters (GluA1/2; AMPA receptor subunits) in neurons at the nanometre scale. This will enable quantification of the expression and distribution of target proteins by image analysis.

Aim 1: Investigate the functional role of CNTN4 and APP interaction in neurons.
Q1. How do CNTN4 and GluA1/2 interact at the synapse? (Immunoprecipitation, Cell aggregation assay: determine cis or trans interaction)
Q2. How does CNTN4 KO affect the expression of AMPA receptor subunits? (Subcellular fractionation: investigate whether CNTN4-APP interaction regulates GluA1/2)
Q3. How does CNTN4 KO affect the optimal amount of AMPA receptor content at the synapse? (Antibody-feeding assay: quantify GluA1/2 at synapses)

Aim 2: Determine whether dysregulation in CNTN4-APP signalling pathways underlies Aβ-induced synaptic dysfunction using CNTN4 and/or APP knockout neuroblastoma cells.
Q1. How does the CNTN4-APP interaction contribute to neuronal morphology and toxicity, and does Aβ amplify its phenotype? (Morphological and toxicity assays: determine how interaction between CNTN4-APP influences neuronal morphology and toxicity, plus the effect of soluble oligomeric Aβ peptides)
Q2. Is the CNTN4 KO phenotype exaggerated by APP or APP domain-specific overexpression? Can we subsequently rescue the phenotype with CNTN4 overexpression or double knockout? (Design of domain specific constructs and phenotype rescue assays analysing morphology and toxicity)

Aim 3: Track the nanoscale dynamic organisation of the relationship between CNTN4 and neuronal transmitters in neurons.
Q1. Does CNTN4 change the localisation of AMPA receptor subunits in neuron? (Super resolution microscopy: investigate the endogenous AMPA receptor subunit (GluA1/2) localisation in WT and CNTN4 KO mouse primary neurons.)
Q2. The existence of Aβ peptides change the amount and localisation of AMPA receptor subunits in CNTN4 KO neuron? Is it possible to rescue the phenotype by changing APP expression? (Soluble oligomeric Aβ peptide preparation and phenotype rescue assay analysing localisation)

This PhD opportunity will enable the candidate to develop knowledge and skills in neurochemistry (Anggono), molecular/cellular neuroscience, including CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing (Oguro-Ando), live-cell imaging and confocal/super-resolution microscopy (Soeller). The PhD candidate will be based primarily at the University of Exeter, but Aim1 experiments will be performed under the supervision of Dr. Victor Anggono at the University of Queensland.

How to Apply: 


Prof Richard Smith, College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter

Prof Amanda Lee, School of Public Health, University of Queensland

Project Description:

Poor diets have been identified as the major preventable drivers of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs). Moreover, differences in food consumption across socioeconomic groups are linked to health inequalities disproportionately affecting socioeconomically vulnerable groups. Different mechanisms have been designed and introduced to help promote healthier dietary patterns, many of them based in pricing. While food price is regarded as a significant driver of food purchase, it is not the only determinant of food choice.

There is a popular perception that healthy food costs more than unhealthy food; and since price is a major determinant of demand, that addressing this price imbalance will rebalance consumption of healthy versus unhealthy foods. This has been the rationale behind the high-profile rise of various initiatives in recent years. However, when the cost of the whole diet is considered, healthier options can be less expensive than current diets. Additionally, taxing specific products does not necessarily lead to overall healthier dietary patterns. These observations cast doubt on the relative importance of price as the critical driver of food choice in the context of the whole diet, and this remains a significant gap in evidence underlying related health and fiscal policies.

Aims and objectives

Determine the current cost of healthy and current diets in the UK and see how the price differential compares to that observed in Australia.

Investigate the main drivers for healthy and unhealthy food demand.

Analyse those drivers within Australia and the United Kingdom attending too to socioeconomic contexts, including the study of the heterogeneity between both countries’ food markets and socioeconomic and demographic structures.

Develop mechanisms to turn this knowledge into policies and practices that promote healthier food consumption and thus to promote health, i.e. to generate impact from research.


The candidate will develop food-costing tools for the UK based on current and healthy diets, and use these to collect food prices and analyse the cost and affordability of current and healthy diets in the UK. A first step will be to identify baskets and of healthy and unhealthy products and portions representative of respective healthy and unhealthy diets.

Following this, the candidate will conduct a qualitative analysis (based on questionnaires or focus groups) with the objective of understanding non-price determinants of food choices.

The candidate will try to corroborate those findings through quantitative analysis such as the use of discrete choice experiments. This analysis will build up on the previous steps, particularly on the qualitative analysis.
In order to generate impact from this research, the candidate will rely on traditional dissemination channels while attention is put in involving participants.


University of Exeter: Will provide expertise and support on economic foundations of the work, quantitative tools such as discrete choice analysis, and for those aspects related to the case of the United Kingdom.

University of Queensland: Will provide its team expertise and support in developing pricing tools, qualitative tools, and for those aspects related to the case of Australia.

How to Apply:


Prof Clare Saunders, College of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of Exeter

Dr Franzisca Weder, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Queensland

Project Description:

Understanding crisis-driven decision-making is valuable crisis mitigation. Finding new solutions to global crises relies on the quality of decision-making and rates of social change (Decision Making in Social Sciences: Between Traditions and Innovations, 2020). This mixed-method study uses social science and design processes to produce and assess 17 board-game strategies representing each of the UN Sustainability Goals. Observations during gameplay provide insights into the social and environmental decision-making of a broad cross-section of UK and Australian participants.

Board-games provide a tactile face-to-face setting where participants exchange ideas and collaboratively solve a set of given problems promoting problematisation and simulating a set of conditions that safely immerse participants in unfamiliar territory (Weder et al 2019). For example, by playing with the dynamics of the UN Sustainability Goal No: 13 Climate Action and journeying through the lived experiences of those on the frontline of climate change, game participants are inherently more informed and motivated to problem-solve.


To design and assess the impact of a set of sustainability-themed games, providing an opportunity for participants to solve global sustainability problems.


To produce new useful new data in the field of positive behaviour change through three work packages (WPs).
Approaches and Methods

WP1: Co-creating games
The social design process will be undertaken by the PhD student and coordinated by University of Exeter and the University of Queensland supervisors. Game design strategies, objects and narratives will provide a set of sustainability problems taken from the lived experiences of people on the frontline of change. Ethnographic and participant observation, unstructured interviews, conversation analysis, and focus groups are conducted during 4 workshops (2 in each country) for each of the 17 UN Sustainability Goals.

WP2: Performing and assessing the games
Participant recruitment is conducted via a social media digital campaign. Games (also suitable for primary and secondary school children) are played four times by teams of four adults. Point systems, including a subset of choices, pitfalls and wins are embedded within game design, applying economic-game theory models, and speculative creative processes. Qualitative observations and surveys are conducted before, during and after gameplay. Videography contributes to a documentary detailing the project progression and outcomes in WP3.  

WP3: Re-design/showcasing
Through a design thinking cycle, results contribute to new game strategies, which begin visualising the decision-making of a broad participant segment, becoming a series of potentially new social and environmental models. Published research showcases the QUEX collaboration and novel mixed-method approach through selected transdisciplinary journals and coincides with a final exhibition/event and documentary.

Host institutes

The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) the University of Exeter access to research training and resources in a transdisciplinary setting on sustainable futures. Professor Saunders has extensive expertise in environmental politics and transdisciplinary environmental sciences.

The University of Queensland is 14th in the world for Environmental Sciences and is dedicated to sustainable development and is a uniquely diverse and inclusive community. Dr. habil Franzisca Weder, is Senior Lecturer at the UQ and specialises in communications for sustainability, storytelling techniques, and also works across faculties.

How to Apply: 


Prof Saeema Ahmed-Kristensen, Business School, University of Exeter

Dr Chelsea Dobbins, Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology, University of Queensland

Project Description:

Digital technology enables the possibility of fundamental shifts across sectors, impacting organisations, jobs and individuals. Understanding human experiences, including our emotional response, are fundamental for both driving these shifts and understanding their impact. For example, in the building sector gaining knowledge of how users, are impacted in their activities and their emotional responses, can inform their design to increase wellbeing. In the case of healthcare, user experience knowledge, combining data with new contextual understanding, can increase patient satisfaction and reduce the need for more severe interventions.

Aims: This project aims to establish novel methods to collect user experiences, through combining a contextual understanding of users, together with employing digital technologies to collect real-time data.
Novel methods to understand user experiences, enable the possibility of a far richer, dynamic, diverse and inclusive set of data.  Thus, advancing current design theories on emotional design, qualitative research of user experience, and contributing to digital technologies, and human-centred computing.

The objectives:

  1. Develop a contextual model of user experience, based upon qualitative studies.
  2. Explore the use of wearable sensors to capture physiological signals, including ECG/GSR, to measure emotional responses.
  3. Develop overall framework combining data and considering privacy and ethics of data.
  4. Evaluate refine and test model within a specific sector

Envisaged approaches and methods:

Yr1 (Exeter):
Literature review: digital technologies, emotional design, and research methods (both qualitative and quantitative). Research method training will continue throughout the PhD, both with formal courses and informal mentoring through the supervisors, and wider teams.
Scoping interviews: Exploratory interviews with industry to understand users, and context.
Design of qualitative study: Data will be collected with methods such as observations, semi-structured interviews. 

Deliverables: Conference article: Contextual insight of user experience (Objective 1).
Yr2 (UQ):  Design study to conduct experiments to collect physiological data and build an understanding of user emotions. 
Deliverable: Journal article (Objective 2)

Yr 3 (Exeter): Findings from both studies will be drawn into a user experience model, and refined through evaluation. Deliverables: Writing up of thesis, journal publication, evaluated model (Objectives 3,4).

Expertise, facilities and capabilities that each institute offer

The cross-disciplinary supervisory teams: Prof Saeema Ahmed-Kristensen; expertise lies in design, adopting human centred approaches to better understand the intangible aspects of design, user experience, qualitative methods, informing the contextual framework. She will lead study 1, and Dr Dobbins study 2, both will supervise jointly throughout. Saeema is the deputy director of the £12M UKRI Next Generation Digital Economy Centre Digit-lab, with industry partners focusing upon digital transformation. The identification of industry cases, will be facilitated through the centre, providing an opportunity to collect data, and evaluate the framework.Dr Chelsea Dobbins brings expertise in lifelogging/quantified self, human-computer interaction, digital health, signal processing, machine learning. She leverages this expertise to research the detection of emotion using smartphones/wearable sensors and personal informatics. She is Co-Director of the Empathic Extended Reality and Pervasive Computing Lab (EXR-PC) at UQ, leading research around the detection of emotions in everyday life and integration into virtual reality environments.

How to Apply: 

University of Queensland projects


Dr Sara Alidoust, University of Queensland

Professor Victoria Tischler, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Urban green spaces provide key ecosystem services and promote engagement with nature that is critical to our health, social and civic opportunities in cities. Despite such profound benefits, many urban green spaces are disappearing and under increasing pressure from urbanisation and urban development. In addition, design and delivery of age-friendly public green spaces that promote the health of older people remains an unmet challenge in our rapidly ageing societies. Underpinned by a lack of a close alliance between urban planning and health disciplines, the design and implementation of effective intervention strategies and urban policies centred on the health of older populations have continued to be limited. Planning healthy and age-friendly urban green spaces remains poorly understood and poorly implemented and lacks the required empirical knowledge base to drive smart urban green space strategies. Furthermore, little is known about how long or how frequently older people need to engage with urban green spaces and what characteristics of urban green spaces contribute to their enhanced experience of the environment, leading to best health outcomes.

This research project aims to redress this deficit in knowledge and contributes to planning for healthy living. Project outcomes will provide much needed insights into the role of public green spaces in physical activity, social connectedness and mental health of older populations. The research is significant as it will examine the public green space exposure versus experience in older people and the potential impacts they have on the health of this important population sub-group. The project will be the first international comparative study, of Brisbane (Australia) and Exeter (UK), unpacking the role of public green space exposure and experience in the health of older people in cities. The novel research methods will collect data on both objective characteristics of the urban green space and stated perceptions and lived experiences of older people. The findings will provide much needed critical empirical insights that can better inform planning and health policies about the smartest ways to improve the existing and/or develop new public green spaces in cities that best support the process of healthy ageing.

How to Apply:


Dr Alejandro Melendez-Calderon, University of Queensland

Dr Dominic Farris, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Stroke is a leading cause of severe and long-lasting acquired disability worldwide (Global Burden of Disease, The Lancet, 2020), and has devastating consequences on people's ability to participate in society and their overall quality of life. Only 50% of stroke survivors regain the ability to walk in the community (Lord et al., APMR, 2004), 75% of chronic stroke patients report difficulty when walking outdoors (Robinson et al., PT, 2011), and over 50% regularly request a companion (Robinson et al., D&R, 2011). Recovery of community ambulation after stroke is essential, as it is associated with increased physical activity and quality of life (Carod-Artal et al., Stroke, 2000), which could significantly contribute to reduce the global stroke burden on individuals, health care systems and society.

Ankle foot orthoses (AFOs) are commonly prescribed as solutions to reduce walking impairments after stroke. One major drawback of AFOs is that they are passive devices. Although this is adequate to support function in some cases (e.g., restriction of range of motion), it is a severe limitation in stroke rehabilitation because it alters the biomechanics of walking and inhibits active neuromuscular contributions from the user.  

Wearable robots (e.g., powered exoskeletons) have emerged as tools that can revolutionize the treatment and management of mobility impairments and fill the needs that conventional AFOs cannot. Their largest potential for rehabilitative therapy is their ability to modulate the level of assistance as required by the user, working harmoniously with the residual neuromuscular function. This, in turn, promotes neurological recovery and decreases the reliance on the device over time. Besides the impact at the individual level, the possibility of such adaptable devices represents a significant impact in mobility for the overall stroke population, which presents as a vast range of impairment levels. 

The goal of this PhD project is to evaluate the potential of wearable robotic technology to restore walking ability and community ambulation after stroke. We will focus on people that can stand up and walk alone, but that require assistance to walk safely due to, e.g. insufficient foot lifting during swing that increases the risk of falling. The selected candidate will work on: (i) neuromechanical modelling of hemiparetic gait and a methodology for personalization of robotic assistance; (ii) development of a low-profile, flexible, and lightweight wearable robotic exoskeleton for assist-as-needed walking; and (iii) studies to evaluate the feasibility of this approach in clinical rehabilitation. 

How to Apply:


Professor Ryan Ko, University of Queensland

Dr Yulei Wu, University of Exeter

Project Description:

By 2025, there will be over 75 billion Industry 4.0 Internet-connected devices which form the core of critical infrastructure supporting many vertical industries including smart cities and smart factories. These critical infrastructures increasingly face unprecedented cyber attacks and experience potential faults, threatening safety/mission-critical services running on them. This urgently calls for resilient, intelligent and secure critical infrastructures for industry 4.0. However, there are many already-deployed devices that are difficult to upgrade or patch, due to lack of programmability or deployment environments making critical infrastructure inflexible to efficiently handle faults and attacks. In addition, massive data will be available from billions of internet-connected devices. The efficient use of such data to create a resilient and secure critical infrastructure is still a challenging issue. Data privacy is also a concern since data from mission critical services usually contain sensitive information.

To overcome these issues, this project will first develop a programmable critical infrastructure based on design principles of emerging networking technologies (e.g. software defined networking) to facilitate separate network control and data planes, and empower up-to-date firmware. Then, a light-weight intelligent fault/attack detection and prediction embedded software will be developed for industrial devices. Subsequently, a privacy-preserving and secure data exchange and transmission framework will be proposed to overcome attacks such as man-in-the-middle attacks. Finally, case studies will be developed to evaluate the proposed solution, and proofs-of-concept will be made available to advance the industry 4.0 community.

This is a cross disciplinary project covering networking, embedded system engineering, information security and energy harvesting (case study). The PhD student under this scholarship will be jointly supervised by Professor Ryan Ko at the UQ and Dr. Yulei Wu at the University of Exeter. Professor Ko is Chair and Director of UQ Cyber Security with experience translating research into global software at HP, ArcSight, OpenStack and Kali Linux. Dr. Wu is an expert of computer networking and embedded systems. Both supervisors have worked together previously on journal special issues and publications, and can complement each other's research expertise on the proposed PhD project. Developed solutions will be tested at both UQ's Industry 4.0 Energy TestLab (industrial control systems) and Exeter's 5G testbed (Edge computing servers and Raspberry Pi based programmable logic controller (PLCs)). The tests will experiment the protection of energy supply and consumption on a city-scale, using digital twins of UQ's solar farm (Warwick), building management systems and solar research facility (Gatton).

How to Apply:


Professor Matthew Davis, University of Queensland

Professor Janet Anders, University of Exeter

Project Description:

This project aims to develops proposals to realise quantum thermal machines in ultracold atom systems. The unprecedented control of ultracold atoms at a quantum level make them an ideal testbed to study quantum thermal machines [1]. The project will explore experimental proposals in ultracold atoms for utilising coherence and entanglement to gain a quantum advantage in the generation of work.  Particular attention will be given to the role of thermodynamics in quantum computing and possibilities to circumvent or exploit coupling to an environment at the quantum level.
Background and Motivation

At the turn of the millennium, renowned Australian physicist Gerard J. Milburn considered that "We are currently in the midst of a second quantum revolution" [2]. He was referring to the growing research into utilising coherent quantum effects in new technologies. Indeed, the last 20 years has seen an explosion of research into quantum technologies, with companies such as IBM, Google and Microsoft opening their own quantum research divisions.  Governments such as the United Kingdom, USA, China, and Australia have launched quantum technology funding strategies covering both academia and defence.

Quantum technologies rely on two fundamental quantum features: coherence (the ability for a quantum system to be in multiple states at once) and entanglement (the exponential growth of information required to describe - and available as a resource - when quantum systems are combined). Proposals to harness these effects for information processing in computing and cryptography show that it is possible to exponentially improve on current classical technology [3]. It is safe to say that the digital world is at the brink of a major disruption due to quantum technologies.

Quantum thermal machines are an emerging branch of quantum technology that utilise quantum effects to convert heat into useful work. From the perspective of information theory, this is equivalent to transforming disordered information from a reservoir into ordered information [4], and hence is intimately linked to quantum information theory and quantum computing. Quantum thermal machines could offer quantum advantages in work extraction, such as going beyond the Carnot limit [5] and extracting work from a single heat bath [6]. Furthermore, a major obstacle to quantum computing is that they thermalize with the environment, introducing errors into the computation. A greater understanding of quantum thermal machines offers a possibility to circumvent, or even utilise, interactions with an environment in quantum computers.

[1]        C. Bennet and D. DiVincenzo, Quantum information and computation, Nature 404, 247 (2000).
[2]        J. P. Dowling and G. J. Milburn, Quantum technology: the second quantum revolution, Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 361, 1655 (2003).
[3]        V. Vedral, The role of relative entropy in quantum information theory, Rev. Mod. Phys. 74, 197 (2002).
[4]        J. Robnagel et al. Nanoscale heat engine beyond the Carnot limit, Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 030602 (2014).
[5]        M. Scully et al. Extracting work from a single heat bath via vanishing quantum coherence, Science 299, 862 (2003).
[6]        M. Ueda, Quantum equilibriation, thermalization and prethermalization in ultracold atoms, Nat. Rev. Phys. 2, 669 (2020).

How to Apply:


Dr Mashhuda Glencross, University of Queensland

Professor Timothy Lenton, University of Exeter

Project Description:

The aim of this project is to design and develop disruptive digital technology to drive changes in attitudes around the adoption of renewable energy and sustainable transport technologies, with the objective of accelerating the adoption of environmentally friendly technologies such as electric vehicles (EVs) in Australia. Tipping points in adoption of technologies indicate a pattern of acceleration of demand for the specific technologies. These can in turn trigger further tipping points in adoption of related technologies, termed tipping-cascades. This can be used to drive consumer-led energy transition towards green technologies.

In Australia, the adoption of rooftop solar is rapidly accelerating with more that 2.5 million rooftop systems now installed. "Social contagion" — people emulating each other — may be contributing to this acceleration. It is reducing domestic dependence on fossil fuels and driving Australia's Energy transition towards a low-emissions future. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), forecasts that in the next 20 years rooftop solar capacity here will double. In parallel, the size of domestic rooftop solar installations are increasing in capacity with 10kW installations being common. However, despite this appetite for energy independence, the uptake of EVs in Australia has been remarkably slow with only around 20,000 EVs in 2020.

This interdisciplinary project will study the contrast in adoption of EVs between Australia and the UK to analyse how close each nation is to the tipping point for uptake of EVs seen in Norway. The project will create visualisations to better communicate and understand this pattern of adoption, with respect to that of rooftop solar and battery storage technology in Australia.

Building upon this, the project will design and develop a set of future consumer-focussed digital applications designed to leverage existing adoption of rooftop solar technologies and to trigger tipping-point cascades in adoption of related technologies. We will test this with tools for driving the adoption of battery storage and EVs in Australia. The novel techniques developed will be transferrable to driving adoption of other low-carbon technologies in Australia, the UK and beyond. 

How to Apply: 


Professor Jonathan Rhodes, University of Queensland

Professor Brett Day, University of Exeter

Project Description:

The natural world provides enormous benefits to people, with these "ecosystem services" valued at over US$120 trillion per year globally (Costanza et al. 2014). Major benefits include the provision of food and fibre, buffering against extreme weather events, regulation of climate, and mental and physical health. Yet, long-term declines in the stocks of natural assets (e.g. forests) is unsustainable if it leads to long-term declines in the benefits that would otherwise be generated from those natural assets (e.g., trade in forest products). Further, there are often strongly directional flows of ecosystem services among regions (e.g., through trade, tourism, information flows, and movement of species and matter). This can lead to high levels of inequality in benefits to people among regions, further hampering sustainable solutions. A major current research challenge is how we track these aspects to inform the sustainable management of ecosystem services. 

The United Nations' System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) is an existing framework that aims to track the benefits generated from nature and how it interacts with the economy. One recent operationalisation of the Ecosystem Accounting component of the SEEA is Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP, Ouyang et al. 2020) -  an indicator analogous to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) used in economic accounts -  but where GEP captures ecosystem benefits. Yet GEP and other recent implementations have primarily focussed on tracking ecosystem service benefits, rather than also capturing the underlying stocks of natural assets. Further, comprehensive ways to track directional flows of ecosystem services and natural assets among regions - analogous to the Balance of Payments used in economic accounts - are currently lacking. These limitations severely hamper the ability to apply the SEEA to assess sustainability and interregional equity in nature's contribution to people.

This PhD project will tackle this important issue by developing implementable approaches to track stocks of natural assets and directional flows among regions within the SEEA framework. This will then be applied to assess long-term sustainability and interregional equity in ecosystem service benefits using two case studies (one from the UK and one from Australia). This work will contribute strongly to global environmental futures through new methods for meaningfully tracking nature's contribution to people. The successful PhD candidate will benefit from interaction with some of the World's leading experts in ecosystem services and environmental economics and develop strong conceptual and analytical skills for solving globally important environmental challenges. The candidate will also gain experience working with policy makers and developing skills for translating research outcomes into impact.

How to Apply:


Dr Sonia Roitman, University of Queensland

Dr Federico Caprotti, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Pacific islands are exposed to severe natural disasters and climate change effects, including sea level rise and cyclones, that disrupt urban lives and urban infrastructure. Simultaneously urbanization continue to rise which leads to an increase of the urban population living in informal settlements and facing high vulnerability. For example, in Fiji, 20% of the urban residents live in informal settlements, whereas in Port Vila (Vanuatu) 30% of the population lives in informal settlements (UN-Habitat, 2020; ADB, 2016). Urban planning, as a practice that aims to improve people's lives through the provision of good quality infrastructure, resources and housing, has a key role to play in urban adaptation, as acknowledged by SDG11 as part of the UN's New Urban Agenda (UN, 2016; Caprotti et al., 2017). However, it is not clear how urban planning contributes to addressing climate change effects in urban areas. 

The project aims to examine disaster management and climate change adaptation in Pacific island cities through the lens of urban planning. The main research question is: How does urban planning contribute to addressing climate change adaptation in cities in the Pacific Island Countries? The project analyses the intersection between Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 (safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities) and SDG13 (climate change) to examine how cities in the Pacific islands are adapting to climate change to become more resilient and sustainable. Urban planning is considered as encompassing policies, programmes, projects and practices and tools developed towards improving the built environment and urban residents and quality of life. 

The project is innovative in four ways:

  1. It examines the role of urban planning in a context of increasing urbanisation in the Pacific. This is a new phenomenon that has not received considerable academic attention and the role of urban planning as a practice has not been fully discussed. 
  2. It combines the theoretical analysis of urbanisation and Southern urban planning theory with climate change adaption in the Pacific. 
  3. The analysis of urban planning policies, programmes, projects and practices towards climate change adaptation will provide evidence on areas of success and failure and will provide policy recommendations. 
  4. Tools to respond to climate change adaptation in cities will be discussed, especially IT tools (i.e. phone apps) that will open a discussion on smart responses for disaster planning.

More detailed information on this project can be found here.

How to Apply:


Professor Steven Kenway, University of Queensland

Professor Fayyaz Ali Memon, University of Exeter

Project Description:

BACKGROUND: In Australia and the United Kingdom multiple water utilities are aiming to be Net Zero greenhouse organisations. This is crucial as water utilities are often the largest single consumer of electricity in cities. However, the water sector can achieve a much larger vision—that of a Net Zero Water Cycle. 

Over 10% of Australia's primary energy use is consumed in the production, distribution and use of water, and subsequent management of wastewater. Heating of water in households, industry and commerce comprises nearly 90% of the overall effect. Consequently, improving the efficiency of hot water use (and related appliance efficiency and systems losses (eg from hot water tanks and pipes) can achieve significant savings of water-related energy.

In the developed world, the second largest consumption of energy usage in buildings is associated with water heating. Achieving water efficiency within buildings through interventions (e.g. efficient appliances and new technologies such as recirculating showers) coupled with energy recovery from wastewater (e.g. heat recovery, micro-turbines and anaerobic digestion) at different scales, can directly support achieving a Net Zero Water Cycle and, thus, water utilities contributing to Net Zero Cities. Smart meters and sensors are also enabling this by providing with a great evidence base to justify stronger and customised utility support for households and industry to manage energy via improved water management.

AIM: This PhD studentship aims to investigate water-energy interactions and support decision making for an optimal selection of sustainable interventions within households and industry to reduce water/energy consumption and their deployment at different scales. The research is envisaged to include: 

  • Task 1 — Extract and synthesise appliance/end use specific water/energy consumption pattern data. 
  • Task 2 — Develop household-specific models of the energy and greenhouse gas emission impact of water use.
  • Task 3 — Use the models to simulate a range of household types and the anticipated performance of key sustainable interventions.
  • Task 4 — Interpret the results of scenario analysis (modelling) with participating industry partners.
  • Task 5 — Contribute to the convening of a UK-Australia Net Zero Water workshop.
  • Task 6 — Review global data to analyse the impact of the application of selected key interventions at National Scale.
  • Task 7 — Use of this information to create a conceptual framework and/or tool to guide the adoption of sustainable key interventions to achieve Net Zero Water Cycle.

The successful student will be based at the Advanced Water Management Centre (UofQ) but will spend A significant part of their studies (12 months) at the University of Exeter (UK), and with industry partners (in both Australia and the UK).

How to Apply:


Dr Jonas Fooken, University of Queensland

Professor Antonieta Medina-Lara, University of Exeter

Project Description:

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal on healthy living aims at ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all. Although governments in UK and Australia acknowledge the importance of reducing social inequalities in health, inequalities remain resistant to policies aimed at universal health coverage1.  This emerges from beliefs that policies aimed at improving health of the most disadvantaged, such as universal health coverage, simultaneously reduce the gap between the most and least disadvantaged.  This occurs if only the most disadvantaged benefit, and by more than others do.  Recognising the failure of broad public health policies to reduce social inequalities in health, Marmot argued for proportionate universalism in public health policies2 where interventions aimed at improving health are delivered across entire populations, but in ways that favour the least advantaged, in terms of the intensity (frequency, volume) of the intervention. Proportionate universalism assumes that the cause of health risks such as unhealthy behaviour is common across social groups and that the difference between social groups is the intensity of the intervention required to change behaviour–a dose-response relationship in prevention. However, the reasons different groups engage in risky behaviours, as well as the reason why they change behaviours to reduce those risks might differ across social groups.  Proportionate universalism may be counter-productive in terms of its effects on social inequalities in health by giving those in greatest need more of what does not address the cause of their problem.

In this project, we shall contribute knew knowledge for addressing social inequalities in health through “precision prevention”. This extends the principles of precision medicine to broader determinants of health, recognising that disadvantage involves multiple layers of inequalities, for example unequal risks of disease, , of changing behaviour to reduce disease incidence, of health gains from behavioural change and of the valuation of those health gains.  The study will build on the existing economics literature on  the demand for health3, which focuses on the marginal valuation of health changes to individuals and families, together with (2) behavioural health economics4, focussing on cognitive dissonance in individual decision-making to identify context specific pathways to reducing health risks and promoting health gains.

How to Apply: