UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Fully funded PhD studentship modelling salt crystallisation in porous heritage building materials

20 December 2022

Applications are now open for a proposed studentship in modelling of salt crystallisation processes in porous heritage building materials, as part of 60 studentships to be awarded by the UCL EPSRC DTP.

The concrete Barbican heritage buidling

About the project

Project title: Modelling of salt crystallisation processes in porous heritage building materials
Project supervisors: Dr Scott Allan OrrDr Matteo Salvalaglio, Sebastiaan Godts
Project ID: 2228bd1080 (You will need this ID for your application)

Why this research is important

Pressure build-up due to salt crystallisation damages porous heritage building materials including brick, stone, and concrete. Understanding of this phenomenon and its effects on materials is limited. As climate change progresses and we implement measures to reduce carbon emissions, salt-related degradation is expected to increase. A detailed understanding of the implications for material and structural longevity is lacking. This project aims to address these knowledge gaps with additional implications for understanding of salt crystallisation in geological and industrial processes. 

Who you will be working with

This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage and the Department of Chemical Engineering, combining expertise on heritage science, particularly understanding environmental impacts on the historic built environment, with molecular modelling of crystallisation and associated processes. This project will be aligned with experimental research conducted by the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK). 

What you will be doing

This project will model salt crystallisation, exploring opportunities provided by molecular modelling to understand the behaviour of soluble salts and potentially complex mixtures in porous heritage building materials. These results will be compared with experimental work (e.g., 4D µCT), coordinated by KIK. This will inform parameterisation of this behaviour, forming the basis for scaled-up risk evaluation using regional climatic data. 

Who we are looking for

An enthusiastic individual to undertake a project that deepens our understanding of how salt crystallisation processes occur in porous media and translates this into implications for heritage management. You should meet the ISH MPhil/PhD Programme Entry Requirements, for which a diverse range of backgrounds are suitable, including, but not limited to, chemistry, heritage science, statistics and modelling, and engineering. The following are desirable:
     - Familiarity with physical modelling software and ability to program 
     - Experience/demonstrable interest in the heritage sector

About the Supervisory Team

Primary supervisor Dr Scott Allan Orr (UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage) is a Lecturer in Heritage Data Science. His research uses data-driven multi-scale approaches to further understanding and management of heritage, with a particular focus on the historic environment and climate change. Recently, he has focused on improving thermodynamic models for characterising dynamics of complex salt mixtures in the historic built environment and how these processes will be modified by climate change. 

Subsidiary Supervisor Dr Matteo Salvalaglio (UCL Department of Chemical Engineering) is an Associate Professor in the department of Chemical Engineering. His research focuses on developing and applying molecular modelling techniques to understand chemical and biochemical processes in the liquid phase, emphasising nucleation from solution, polymorphism in molecular materials, crystal growth and solid-liquid interfaces.  

External (Industry) Advisor Sebastiaan Godts (KIK, Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage) is a Conservation Scientist and PhD Candidate specialising in salt-related decay and built heritage conservation. With 12 years of experience in the sector, he is a frequent guest lecturer and dissertation supervisor at Ghent University, the University of Antwerp, and KULeuven. He is a board member of ICOMOS Flanders Brussels and voting member of the International Scientific Committee of Stone.

Key information

Funder: UCL ESPRC DTP studentship
Value: Fees, Stipend (at least £20,668 per year), Research Training Support Grant
Duration: Up to 4 years (thesis to be submitted within funded period)
Eligible Fee Status: Home, International (EPSRC caps the total number of funded International fee status students across UCL for this award at 30%)
Study Mode: Full or Part time (at least 50% FTE) [Note: Part time is not available to International students]
Primary Selection Criteria: Academic merit
Project ID: 2228bd1080 (You will need this ID for your application)
Application Deadline: 12:00 on 26 January 2023

How to apply

This PhD Studentship topic is one of 19 proposed by The Bartlett School of Environment, Energy and Resources to a competition for approximately 60 studentships that will be awarded across UCL as part of the UCL EPSRC DTP. Prospective students are welcome to apply for up to 5 potential studentships - see the full list of projects from our department and the UCL project database for a comprehensive list across the university. The 60 successful proposals will be chosen following applicant interviews.

Before applying, all applicants must read the full eligibility criteria and application guidance on the UCL EPSRC DTP website. There is a 3-part application process, with a deadline of the 26 January 2023 to complete the third part of the application.