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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): Development of remote optoelectronic sensor systems for long-term component monitoring (AWE and Heriot-Watt University)


School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

Prof D Reid , Dr W N MacPherson , Dr Matthew Kingston Monday, May 31, 2021 Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Edinburgh United Kingdom Electrical Engineering Electronic Engineering Optical Physics

About the Project

This project aims to develop novel sensing solutions for demanding engineering environments in which conventional sensors are unsuitable. These sensors will provide information that aids planning of effective routine maintenance and allows component performance to be assessed. Optical fibre technology allows for flexible deployment of optical sensors in hard to reach or difficult environments. This project is a collaboration between the Applied Optics and Photonics research group and AWE plc which aims to develop bespoke instrumentation for long-duration monitoring techniques that will contribute towards AWEs mission to support and maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Uses outside this niche application will also be explored.

In scenarios where electrical based measurements introduce a safety risk, optical-based sensor technologies provide a viable alternative to obtain measurement data. Optical fibre sensors can exploit the benefits of spectral encoding and interferometry to deliver a range of sensing solutions, however the challenge often lies in applying these to practical real-world situations. An additional challenge in this application is to develop techniques ‘in-house’ to provide solutions that are serviceable for 20+years, rather than relying on commercial solutions that could quickly become obsolete and unserviceable.

This PhD project will look to develop solutions for making measurements in challenging environments and explore approaches that combine facets from both the photonics and electronics disciplines. We will explore:

·      Development of bespoke instrumentation for analysing Fabry Perot type sensors, based upon an ‘in-house’ developed interrogation concept. This will involve aspects of optics (sources, fibre routing, detectors), electronics, and microcontroller programming.

·      Application of Fabry Perot sensors for component monitoring in constricted environments. This may require development of custom micro-optics using polishing, laser machining, or microfabrication techniques.

·      Development of miniature gas sensing ‘cells’ using multipass configurations, and integration with the ‘in-house’ developed interrogation concepts.

Successful sensor and interrogation designs will be evaluated on test structures at Heriot-Watt University, to explore the sensor performance in terms of range and resolution. Long term repeatability and reliability testing will form part of the sensor system characterisation.

This work involved significant challenges: development of new interrogation schemes and algorithms, design and testing of engineering solutions to incorporate sensors in complex environments, long term monitoring to understand issues such as calibration drift, cross sensitivity, reliability and translation of lab-based setups to a more practical test environment.

Essential Criteria

A Masters level degree (MEng, MPhys, MSc) at 2.1 or equivalent.

Desire to work collegiately, be involved in outreach, undertake taught and professional skills study.

The candidate should be comfortable in a self-led research project, but able to collaborate with a team of scientists and engineers when required.

Candidates will have an interest for photonic technologies, ideally with some experience in an optics laboratory or similar.

Desirable Criteria  

An interest in electronics and embedded controllers would be useful, however training is available as part of the CDT to help develop skills in photonic technologies and electrical sensing and control.

Site visits may require appropriate security clearance. British Nationals should be willing and able to achieve security clearance if required. Non-British Nationals should contact the CDT centre to determine their eligibility to apply for this project.

This advanced instrumentation project will be conducted largely with the Applied Optics and Photonics (AOP) research group based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.  The student would benefit from the support of the wider AOP research group currently consisting of 4 academic staff and 15 researchers. Our group has expertise in optical fibres, instrumentation, laser material processing, and micromachining. This provides an environment suited for novel sensor system development with a wide range of fabrication facilities available in-house. See www.aop.hw.ac.uk to find out more about our research environment. 

This project is a collaboration with AWE, who will offer access to instrumentation equipment and test facilities as part of the experimental work. Short duration site visits to AWE are envisaged as part of this collaboration. 

The project can be carried out with a degree of flexibility as long as a proper level of commitment and professionalism is provided by the candidate. Specific work arrangements can be discussed with potential candidates. Heriot-Watt University has been awarded a Bronze Athena SWAN award, reflecting its commitment to equal opportunities, family friendly policies, and creating an inclusive working environment.


Funding Notes

The CDT
The CDT in Applied Photonics provides a supportive, collaborative environment which values inclusivity and is committed to creating and sustaining a positive and supportive environment for all our applicants, students, and staff. For further information, please see our ED&I statement View Website. Forming a supportive cohort is an important part of the programme and our students take part in various professional skills workshops, including Responsible Research and Innovation workshops and attend Outreach Training.

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