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  Project Title: Bioinspired Materials for Healthy Clean Water

   Department of Engineering

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  Prof J Wu  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Durham University is seeking applications from PhD candidates interested in projects at the intersection of materials, their processed form and their application to environmental challenges such as water treatment. This is one of a number of multi-disciplinary projects available in the Group of Professor Jun Jie Wu. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to work with researchers in a number of academic partner institutions and potentially collaborate with leading industrial companies. 

The United Nations considers universal access to clean water a basic human right, and an essential step towards improving living standards and health worldwide. Furthermore, increasing population, urban and industrial development, and excessive water abstraction are putting enormous pressure on groundwater resources. There is thus a need in almost all countries to provide more sources of healthy drinking water whilst reducing adverse ecological burdens and public health problems. Depending upon the skills and interests of successful applicants, various strands of the project can be emphasised. The common tread is the search for solutions that work at scale (because water consumption is at scale) and solutions that are grounded in a full appreciation of the importance of understanding the structure–property-performance relationship of the materials that are separating the water (and beneficial ions) from the harmful substances such as heavy metals and pathogens. One stand is at the experimental end, examining new materials, and at the other end an assessment of the potential of artificial intelligent models to determine the upper bounds in the trade-off between permeability and separation performance. Whilst membrane-based techniques such as ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis are increasingly applied to manage water reuse, waste-water treatment and seawater desalination some strands of this project on Bioinspired Materials for Healthy Clean Water will not be constrained to membrane processes. For example, with regard to the removal of arsenic from water the solution is unlikely to involve membrane processes; all members of the research group are encouraged to take a broad view.

A common thread of the science and engineering underlying Professor Wu’s research on advanced materials over the last 20 years has been a concern to link the processing and structure of materials to their in-use performance. This approach is also guiding the current project on water treatment. Through our experiments on novel materials, or experiments on industrial systems or through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) the aim is to advance our understanding of the links between material properties and performance, and between the materials, as produced at scale, and in-use performance. The application of Artificial Intelligence to membrane processes goes beyond pattern recognition and is to be informed by experimentally observed upper bounds of synthetic and natural membranes and the underlying physics. As project can be flexible, candidates are welcome to be active in shaping their projects to suit their skills and experience. Those wishing to emphasise the experimental side can also be accommodated as easily as those wishing to tackle AI orientated research.

Assessment Criteria

Prospective candidates will be judged according to how well they meet the following essential criteria:

·      A good degree in engineering, materials science, physics or the mathematical sciences or a related field;

·      Strong understanding and interest in problem solving and of engineering applications;

·      Excellent written and spoken communication skills in English.

The following criteria are desirable but not essential

·      Knowledge of and interest in machine learning.

and /or

·      Willingness to undertake experimental activity

If you have the correct qualifications and access to your own funding, either from your home country or your own finances, your application will be considered. Furthermore, there is a limited number of scholarships available at Durham University.

Candidates should contact Professor Wu ([Email Address Removed]) to discuss project-specific requirements.


Funding and Application Process

·      The Department holds an Athena Swan Bronze award, highlighting its commitment to promoting gender and ethnic diversity in Science, Engineering and Technology.

·      Decisions will be made on applicants as they are received.

·      The academic supervisor, Professor Wu ([Email Address Removed]) is available for informal discussions with any interested candidates who would like further details before submitting an application.

·      To apply formally for this studentship, applicants should submit an application using the online system found at

Closing Date for Applications: Post will remain open until filled

Engineering (12)

 About the Project