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The Future of Data Storage and the Future of Data Need: a PhD in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

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  • Full or part time
    Prof R Harper
    Dr B Knowles
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A three-year fully funded PhD studentship for UK and EU citizens in the Leverhulme Trust PhD Training Centre in Material Social Futures at Lancaster University - to start October 2019.


The invention of new materials, such as nanostructures, has created much excitement as well as concern. Nanostructures are in the size range of 1 to 100 nm; minute beyond everyday understanding and capable of being assembled into new shapes and structures. In the computing industry, these structures are expected to be revolutionary; offering, amongst other things, the promise of quantum data storage. This affects not just the way data might be stored and encrypted but the scale of data storage. Indeed, with nanotechnology, manufacturers might be able to produce data storage materials at costs that are so low that the data storage becomes virtually free.
However, and as any economist would observe, when the cost of a commodity becomes almost nil, demand for it is likely to become infinitely large. In this case, users (whether individuals, companies or governments) might stop asking why they want to store data or what they want to do with it once stored, and instead start saving everything – irrespective of worth or value. Indeed, with ‘nano-datastorage’, the world might become flooded with ‘digital dirt’. Is this ‘store everything’ future desirable? If not, why not? What is the alternative? Besides, is this ‘digital dirt’ scenario misrepresenting how users might leverage nano-storage? Their behaviours might be affected by, for example, innovative design that makes them think differently about purpose and value. New forms of HCI might be enabled. Indeed, how will people interact with data storage? ‘Digital housework’ that involves clearing out unwanted data might become a norm.

All these and more are legitimate topics to be investigated in this forward-thinking research project. The appointed candidate will undertake their PhD research alongside PhDs researching the materials science aspects of this topic, in particular related to the devising of nano-scale data storage materials. These and other PhDs will all be members of and participants in a multi-stranded PhD research training programme in Material Social Futures. The future of data storage and data need is one important part of this programme.

The Leverhulme PhD Training Centre for Material Social Futures brings together concepts and approaches from across the disciplines to help produce futures that people want and the world needs. The doctoral training is a major new strategic collaborative partnership between the vibrant research community of the University’s Institute for Social Futures ( and the Materials Science Institute (
Lancaster University is one of the top 10 universities in the UK.

Candidates must have qualifications of the standard of Bachelor’s degree at first or upper second class level, and may also benefit from having a suitable Master’s degree or equivalent (or will have completed a Master’s degree by the starting date October 2019) in a relevant discipline. Candidates will preferably have a background and academic interest in any combination of HCI and computer science, sociology, anthropology or related science and technology studies.

How to apply:

Please submit a full CV, including two named referees (one of whom should be your most recent academic tutor/supervisor).
A copy of your Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree transcript (or copy of equivalent qualifications).
A letter of application (not exceeding two pages of A4) outlining your suitability for a PhD and explaining how you would approach the research.
An example of postgraduate level written work (e.g. a research article, chapter, or essay).

Funding Notes

The PhD is for 3 years duration and awardable to any EU citizen.

Funding includes:

Payment of academic fees.
Maintenance Stipend (£14,777 pa).
Access to a Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) (£800 pa) for reimbursement of research-related expenses (eg. conference attendance, training courses and equipment).
Additional research costs (eg. fieldwork-related) supported as appropriate.

A Bachelor’s degree at first or upper second-class level is required, and a Master’s degree or equivalent in a relevant discipline would be beneficial. A background and academic interest in any combination of HCI and computer science, sociology, anthropology or related science and technology studies is preferred.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Computer Science and Informatics?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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