PhD position on Geotechnical Engineering (at Durham University)

Department of Engineering, Durham University

About the Project

Start date and duration: 1st January, 2022 for 3.5 years

Durham University is seeking applications from suitably qualified individuals interested in pursuing a PhD programme of study who can demonstrate evidence of academic excellence at undergraduate and/or Masters level, as well as evidence of sufficient research skills to undertake the project.

The research involves the experimental and constitutive study of the hydro-mechanical behaviour (HM) of compacted soils when subjected to the environmental actions of wetting and drying as a consequence of their exposure to the environment.

The efficient functioning of highways and railway infrastructure in the UK is central to the distribution of goods and people around the country. In 2019 alone, 1.44 billion tonnes of goods were lifted (representing a 1% increase with respect to 2018, [1]) and during 2019 about 1 million passengers travelled on average to central London by train on a typical weekday [2]. Such extensive usage of national transport networks generates a strong economic dependence on the serviceability states of such infrastructures much of which relies on the mechanical ability of the soil to support them. Regular inspection, good maintenance and convenient preservation measures are central to minimise the economic losses associated with the progressive geotechnical deterioration of the soil underneath the infrastructure, which inevitably takes place as a consequence of the environmental actions to which the soil is cyclically subjected (e.g. infrastructure delays cost about £48K a minute [4]).

Soils supporting civil infrastructure are typically compacted meaning that they are under partially saturated conditions and exhibit a marked anisotropic behaviour that results from the one-dimensional load applied during compaction. However, most designs and proposed preservation measures are based on first principles of saturated soil mechanics hence ignoring any effect of anisotropy or partial saturation, potentially leading to unsafe designs and improvable maintenance solutions.
It is well-known that adverse weather conditions can cause excessive settlements on major transport infrastructure, potentially leading to local earthworks instabilities and landslips, both associated with major disruptions and delays, and even fatalities [6]. Rather than reducing, the occurrence of these geotechnical instabilities is expected to increase when accounting for the forecasted climatic conditions in the UK [5] and the aim of this PhD research is to understand better how the forecasted change in weather will affect the deterioration of the mechanical properties of the soil underneath infrastructure, as a consequence of its cyclic exposure to strong reversals of wetting-drying cycles. To reach such understanding, a combined approach relating experimental, constitutive and numerical modelling will be adopted, with the objective to facilitate the proposal of creative adaptation solutions that reduce or minimise the occurrence of such geotechnical failures.

Candidate Requirements

We are looking for a highly motivated and creative home/EU PhD student. Ideally, the candidate should hold a degree in Civil Engineering at 65% or above with strong background in Geotechnical Engineering, Geological Engineering, Applied Mathematics or other relevant areas. Strong mathematical, computing and programming and/or strong experimental skills will be highly valued. A good proficiency in English is required (see

How to Apply

General enquiries should be made to Dr Marti-Lloret-Cabot ( or Dr Paul Hughes (, including requests for further information. Applications can be made directly online, designated for the attention of Dr Lloret-Cabot, at:

Your application pack should include: an up-to-date CV, two reference letters on a headed paper, copies of academic certificates and transcripts with English translation and evidence of English language proficiency (as per University regulations).

Supervisors: Dr Marti-Lloret-Cabot and Dr Paul Hughes

Closing date for applications: 30th November 2021 although we may extend this deadline further if a candidate is not found

UKRI Funded PhD Project (UK and EU Students)

Keywords: Durham, United Kingdom, Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Unsaturated Soil Mechanics,

Funding Notes

arious competition based PhD studentships are offered. For UK students and EU students with settled status the studentship covers full tuition fees at the UK rate plus the standard UK stipend to cover the living expenses (2021/2022 UKRI stipend rate for a fully funded studentship is £15,609). For International students the studentship covers tuition fees at overseas rate and the stipend.


[1] Department for Transport: Domestic Road Freight Statistics, United Kingdom 2019
[2] Department for Transport: Rail passenger numbers and crowding on weekdays in major cities
[5] UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report 2017. Evidence Report.

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