Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
The Chinese University of Hong Kong Featured PhD Programmes

Investigating the infestations: Understanding and communicating Deathwatch beetle activity on HMS Victory

   Cranfield Defence and Security (CDS), Shrivenham Campus

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Fiona Brock  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Bedford United Kingdom Archaeological Science Archaeology Digital Media Forensic Science Heritage Studies

About the Project

The conservation of historic ships is a constant challenge, and ships like the Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Victory present a unique combination of issues that are not otherwise found in museum environments. The Deathwatch beetle (DWB) population on HMS Victory is so well-established that it is necessary to investigate their behaviour in order to understand the extent of damage that has occurred over the last century before effective conservation strategies can be implemented.

This fully-funded studentship will bring together non-invasive imaging and sound recording techniques with new approaches in digital heritage storytelling to investigate DWB activity of Victory and communicate the findings to museum visitors and the wider conservation community.

Surprisingly little is known about Deathwatch beetle activity as most heritage studies focus solely on how to eradicate them, but this understanding is key for developing effective conservation strategies. Replacing damaged timbers with new ones without additional processes in place could simply provide a new food source for the existing beetle community, risking the population multiplying and becoming unmanageable, thus negating the conservation programme. This project coincides with the early stages of a 15-year conservation programme aimed at preserving Victory for the next 50 years with only routine maintenance.

As part of the PhD, you will use digital photography, surface (laser) scanning and micro-CT analysis to record and investigate active infestations and historic damage in decking planks and internal structural timbers on HMS Victory. The tapping sounds from the beetles’ mating activity in early spring will also be recorded to determine if they can pinpoint the location and extent of infestation, and investigate if the beetles emerge from the tunnels to tap, and how far they travel to find a mate.

You will also use the imaging and sound data to design and build two early prototypes to inform on DWB activity on Victory (which might include 3D sound, virtual or augmented reality installations) before comprehensively testing their impact with members of the public using creative methodologies such as arts-based and embodied methods, as well as traditional social science techniques including focus groups and surveys.

The PhD will be co-supervised by Dr Fiona Brock (Lecturer in Cranfield Forensic Institute, Cranfield University), Dr Jenny Kidd (Reader in Digital Culture, Cardiff University) and Diana Davis (Head of Conservation, NMRN) and supported by Dr Zoe Hazell (Senior Palaeoecologist, Historic England). You will be based in the Cranfield Forensic Institute at the Cranfield campus. The CFI has considerable expertise in Archaeology/Archaeological Science, Cultural Heritage, and Heritage Crime, as well as brand new laboratory facilities and taught MSc courses in Forensic Archaeology & Anthropology and Forensic Investigation of Heritage Crime.

You will be able to undertake a placement with the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s conservation and learning teams to understand the ship, its conservation challenges, on-going monitoring and investigative works, and current methods of visitor engagement. You will have access to archived materials including historic material taken from the ship due to past infestations, and can meet with shipwrights and learn about traditional maintenance techniques. You will also have the opportunity for training in wood anatomy with Dr Zoe Hazell at Historic England.

You will be trained in a range of imaging analysis techniques and social science research methods, and will develop skills relevant to museum engagement and science communication. You are encouraged to develop your communication skills through written publications in peer-reviewed journals and/or at a conference, as well as presenting your work to relevant local groups (e.g. the South Region Conservation Group, the Friends of the NMRN).

Funding Notes

Sponsored by Cranfield University and the National Museum of the Royal Navy/The Victory Preservation Company, this fully funded studentship covers tuition and other fees for UK/home students only, a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15609 for the 2021/22 academic year) and an allowance towards travel and subsistence.


Applicants should have a minimum BA/BSc (Hons) 2.1 in archaeological or biological sciences or similar, with an interest in museum conservation, cultural heritage and/or digital humanities. An MSc in a relevant subject is desirable, but not essential.