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The Social Lives of Batteries and New Energy Materials

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, April 30, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

One of the most profound changes to society over the next 20 years will be the replacement of conventional fossil-fuelled vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs) for public and personal transport. The key enabling technology for EVs is the rechargeable battery, which is one of the great success stories of materials science, and continues to be intensively developed and optimised for future EV applications. However, many assumptions framing current materials research for EV batteries are based around the notion that present travel demand will be undisrupted, with new technologies providing the same services as private fossilfuelled cars, but in less carbon intensive ways. This is problematic. Despite the advances that have been made in battery materials, it is doubtful that EVs will ever match conventional vehicles in terms of vehicle range and ease of refuelling. Additionally, many materials used in current battery technology are either toxic, difficult to recycle, or increasingly scarce. And in any case, the demand for travel is changing, and in some cases private car is declining as new forms of mobility and ways of life emerge.

Specifically focused on new energy materials, battery technologies and electric vehicles, the PhD will follow batteries through the laboratory and into the possible forms of mobility and everyday futures which they might be part of. To achieve this aim, the successful candidate will i) conduct empirical research on how ‘the battery’ exists in the discourse and practices of material scientists that are working on new energy materials; ii) analyse how such assumptions have implications for the development of new materials and battery technologies; and, iii) creatively develop ‘everyday futures’ drawing on resources from the social sciences and design, mobilities research and debates on futures of travel. The ultimate aim is to explore some of the alternative socio-technical lives of future batteries through focussing on futures of travel in different countries, in transformed vehicle ecologies, and in relation to changed end use practices (e.g. online shopping and third space working). Through the Material Social Futures doctoral training centre, there will be many opportunities to engage in dialogue with material scientists (both staff and students), for example, through the MSF training programme, and with a thematically linked PhD in Chemistry on sustainable battery materials.

Person Specification -

The position will suit a candidate with a background in Sociology, Anthropology, Material Culture or Science and Technology Studies. Experience of qualitative and ethnographic methods, and an interest in fields such as mobilities, science and technology studies, social practice theory, sociology of the future, and design anthropology are desirable.

Knowledge of relevant academic debates will be a significant advantage. Candidates must have qualifications of the standard of Bachelor’s degree at first or upper second class level, and must also have 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.

The successful candidate will need to demonstrate the desire to work in a multidisciplinary environment, willingness to learn, a collaborative attitude, and excellent written and oral communication skills.

How to Apply -

Informal enquiries prior to submitting an application are encouraged and can be made directly to Dr Nicola Spurling (). Applications should be made via Lancaster University’s online application system ( Applicants must put LEVERHULME under ‘source of funding’ in the application form.

Funding Notes

- Open to UK/EU citizens
- Payment of academic fees; A Maintenance Stipend (£15,009 pa);
- Access to Research Training Support Grant (£800 pa) for reimbursement of research-related expenses including conference attendance, training, equipment.
- Additional research costs (entailed in fieldwork) will be supported as appropriate.
- Access to research seminars, workshops, reading groups and intellectual parties through the Centre for Mobilities Research and Practice Theory group in the Sociology Department, and the Institute for Social Futures.
- The Material Social Futures PhD programme will offer optional internships (including international placements) in the second and/or third year of training.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Sociology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.75

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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