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PhD Studentship - I2AM-BirD: Innovative Integration of Advanced Materials for Bird-tracking tag antenna Design

   Faculty of Science & Technology

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  Dr Diogo Montalvao  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

A rare opportunity for a mechanical/materials graduate engineer to advance the study of wild birds at a thriving modern university and alongside an international market leader in the design and manufacture of bird tracking devices, in the lovely south coast county of Dorset. 

This is an engineering PhD with an industrial partner and cross-disciplinary academic support. You will develop your own research project, working within a private company encompassing the disparate fields of wildlife biology and electronics/mechanical engineering, with access to first class academics and resources in Engineering and Life Sciences Departments at Bournemouth University. 


The challenge of this PhD is to develop a novel tracking tag antenna using advanced materials, within environmental and welfare constraints of the application - a device attached to a free-living bird. Typically, external ‘whip’ antennas are used in bird tags, and they must be light-weight yet virtually unbreakable, able to survive extreme high and low temperatures, marine conditions, constant flexing and possible abuse from the bird. The new antenna design should be universal and scalable for use on birds from Wrens to Ostriches, and it must have minimal impact on the bird, whose welfare is paramount.

Existing bird tag antennas are primitive in their design and are typically made from multi-stranded steel cables covered with a heatshrink polymer. Nickel-Titanium (NiTi) wire (~0.2mm diameter), a super-elastic alloy, is used for antennas on smaller tags, but is not sufficiently robust to survive on larger birds, and thicker NiTi wire is too stiff and more prone to fatigue. This research opportunity is to develop bird tag antennas with the integration of advanced materials and manufacturing methods available to the research team at Bournemouth University. Potential avenues of research may include combining polymers to provide structure, with advanced materials such as NiTi, metamaterials or Graphene providing the necessary conductive element.

Although the radio-frequency (RF) electronics performance of an antenna is important to its function, the focus of this project is not antenna electronics. The aim is to optimise physical and mechanical properties of an antenna for a highly-specific and unusual application. The industrial partner (Lotek) will provide electronic/RF engineering support to ensure that any proposed novel antenna meets signal transmission requirements.  

Facilities and guidance

The PhD candidate will be able to work at both partner locations – Lotek in Wareham or Bournemouth University. Initially it is expected that the student will be based mainly in Lotek.

Lotek will provide background information about the application, details of the requirements for a tag antenna and purpose-built test equipment for testing antenna designs. Lotek engineers and biologists will be keen to discuss practical ideas for antennas to meet electronic and bird welfare criteria. Lotek has manufacturing facilities for conventional tag antennas and could (depending on cost) tool-up for use of advanced materials.

At the Department of Design and Engineering at Bournemouth University, the I2AM-BirD project stands at the intersection of cutting-edge expertise and resources in advanced materials engineering. Our academics are dedicated to harnessing the power of innovation in materials to revolutionise bird-tracking tag antenna design. Drawing upon our comprehensive design and testing resources, we are committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. In collaboration with academics from the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences, we are ensuring that our advancements in bird-tracking technology have real-world impact and that we are bridging the gap between technological innovation and practical application. Their knowledge in avian research is invaluable, guiding us towards creating devices that not only embody excellence in engineering but also seamlessly integrate into the intricacies of avian behaviour and ecology. Through this multidisciplinary collaboration, we are poised to shape a new era of bird-tracking technology that is both scientifically rigorous and technologically advanced. 

Person Specification

You must be/have:

Good degree or equivalent in related discipline

Fascinated by materials engineering research and user experience.

Experience of research design and a sound understanding of and ability to apply appropriate research methodologies.

Expertise in relevant data analytical tools

An innovative and creative thinker.

Able to get on well with people with a range of different personalities.

Ability to prioritise and work to deadlines

Ideally, you should be:

Familiar with CAD/CAE, preferably in Solidworks/ANSYS

Ability to design and make simple electronic circuits

Ability to communicate well at all levels with external organisations

Interested in the natural world, especially birds.

During the PhD you will:

Develop in-depth knowledge of advanced materials.

Learn standard test methods, and develop new ones specific to this application.

Learn about the operation of an electronic equipment manufacturing company, from product engineering/design through manufacturing to the interface with customers. 

Learn about life as an academic engineer involved in original research.

Empower your career potential by solving complex problems and making your mark on the World through interdisciplinary research.

Biological Sciences (4) Engineering (12) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

A fully funded Studentship includes a maintenance grant of £18,622 per year to contribute towards living expenses during the course of your research, as well as a fee waiver for 36 months. Associated costs, such as for fieldwork and conference attendance, will also be met under the Studentship.
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