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  Prof Andy Tyrrell, Dr Simon Hickinbotham  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The power of natural evolution is all around us in the major branches of life that fill our world, underpinned by a genetic code that describes all creatures from bacteria to bananas to baboons. By contrast, our modern industrial world with its impressive range of engineered designs has no common factor apart from the human brain, which is itself a product of biological evolution.

Whilst evolutionary algorithms have been applied to design problems, there remains significant challenges in managing the required complexity of designs and encoding these on a genome such that variants on the design can be generated and evolved. These ‘adjacent possible’ designs could offer significant improvements, which an evolutionary algorithm should detect, allowing a chain of ever-better designs to be generated. 

This PhD will draw inspiration from the organisation of the genetic code to examine how to formulate, organise and deploy feedback to optimise the mutational pathways between designs for a range of engineering challenges, with the goal of generating real physical artefacts and products that exploit modern simulation and manufacturing methods to their full potential.

You will be working with researchers on the EPSRC platform grant "RIED: Re-Imagining Engineering Design". Key to this approach is the study of the encoding of gene regulatory networks, which govern the development of a primitive `seed' design into an optimal form which meets or exceeds the design brief. The research challenge is to identify a tractable representation that simultaneously organises both the evolutionary pathways of the genotype and the available developmental pathways of the phenotype.

This PhD is due to start September 2024

Entry requirements:

Candidates should have (or expect to obtain) a minimum of a UK upper second class honours degree (2.1) or equivalent in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics or a closely related subject.

How to apply:

Applicants must apply via the University’s online application system at Please read the application guidance first so that you understand the various steps in the application process. To apply, please select the PhD in Electronic Engineering for September 2024 entry. Please specify in your PhD application that you would like to be considered for this studentship.

Computer Science (8) Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

This PhD studentship will cover the tuition fee at the home rate (£4,712 in 2023/24), an annual stipend at the standard research council rate for a period of up to 3.5 years (£18,622 in 2023/24) and a research training and support grant (RTSG). A limited number of full studentships are available for exceptional candidates of any nationality; International applicants are therefore also welcome to apply. Please refer to UKRI website ( for full eligibility criteria.

Where will I study?