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Data-driven spatial models of human societies

Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2019.

The PhD will be based in the School of Mathematics and Physics and will be supervised by Dr James Burridge and Dr Michal Gnacik.

Project description

Despite rapid advances in the connectivity of our modern world it remains true that “everybody’s got to be somewhere*”. The mathematical significance of this statement is that the networks of human connections through which innovations, ideas, language, political opinions and money travel, are embedded in two dimensional space. It is well known to statistical physicists that the spatial dimension of a system of interacting particles has a profound impact on their collective behaviour. This observation also applies to human social systems: recent work [1] has shown that analogies of classical two dimensional models of interacting atoms may be used to predict the spatial evolution of human language. At the same time there has been an explosion in the availability of geographically located social, economic and textual data generated by governments, charities, social media, local newspapers, businesses and online forums. The aim of this project is first to make use of techniques from statistical learning to search for features from this human output, which exhibit significant spatial or spatial-temporal variations, and are therefore powerful predictors of location. The discovery of these features may then been brought together with our understanding of the ``social physics’’ of human societies to construct models for the evolution of these measurable features, inspired by classical models of statistical physics.

*In the words of Johnny Dollar.

Entry Requirements

General admissions criteria
You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class
or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements
We’d welcome applications from candidates with Knowledge of Probability and Stochastic Processes, Python or other programming language and experience with working with Data.

How to Apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr James Burridge () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Mathematics and Physics’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code MPHY4460219 when applying.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available.

The bursary is available to UK and EU students only and covers tuition fees and an annual maintenance grant in line with the RCUK rate (£14,777 for 2018/19). Bursary recipients will also receive a £1,500 p.a. for project costs/consumables. The Faculty of Technology may also fund project costs/consumables up to £1,500 p.a.


[1] J. Burridge Spatial evolution of human dialects. Phys. Rev. X 7, 031008 – Published 17 July 2017

How good is research at University of Portsmouth in Mathematical Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 11.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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