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Evolving the adjacent possible for engineering design

   School of Physics, Engineering and Technology

  , Dr Simon Hickinbotham  Sunday, April 16, 2023  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 1st October 2023

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 October 2023 entry. Please specify in your PhD application that you would like to be considered for this studentship.

Funding Notes

This studentship will cover the tuition fee at the home rate (£4,596 in 2022/23) and a stipend at the standard research council rate for a period of up to 3.5 years (£17,668 in 2022/23). International candidates are also welcome to apply but will be required to pay the difference between the UK and international tuition fee rates (approximately £20,000 per year for the duration of the programme).

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