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Micro-Bio-Mechanical Modelling of root growth in soils

School of Science and Engineering

About the Project

The extent and the way roots grow in the ground is known to have a fundamental impact on the growth of crop plants as well as on the resistance to lodging induced by storms. Considering that in the UK approximately £60 million per year are lost because of lodging, a better understanding of how and to what depths roots grow into the ground is desirable.

Despite advances in laboratory techniques which have proven to be effective for visualization of root architectures, reliable predictive models capable of quantifying the pull-out strength do not exist. As the pull out resistance strongly affects lodging vulnerability, reliable numerical models capable of quantifying the pull-out strength would improve existing breading techniques which are known to have a big impact on the agricultural sector by influencing root screening procedures.

Whilst modelling the growth and penetration of a variable stiffness object in a granular media would be extremely complicated using continuum approaches such as the finite element method, the discrete element method (DEM) is particularly well suited to handle such a challenging task. Nevertheless, to model root growth correctly the mechanics, physics and biology of the processes involved must be properly taken into account.

In this PhD research project the candidate will interact with a cross-disciplinary research team in order to develop a new numerical model capable of simultaneously: i) modelling root growth and ii) subsequently quantifying root pull-out strength. Roots will be modelled as bonded DEM particles. By means of simple artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the model will include features such as gravitropism, time dependent root stiffening (thickening), root branching and root tip reorientation based on penetration resistance.

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Matteo Ciantia ()
For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact

Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK in a relevant discipline.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 5.5 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s English language requirements are available online:


Step 1: Email Dr Matteo Ciantia () to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Dr Ciantia, formal applications can be made via UCAS Postgraduate. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Civil Engineering: Select the start date and study mode (full-time/part-time) agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the ‘provider questions’ section of the application form:
- Write the project title and ‘’ in the ‘if your application is in response to an advertisement’ box;
- Write the lead supervisor’s name and give brief details of your previous contact with them in the ‘previous contact with the University of Dundee’ box.

In the ‘personal statement’ section of the application form, outline your suitability for the project selected.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding.

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