Reference no.
Closing date

Dr Melis Sutman
Professor Gabriela Medero


The global temperature is estimated to rise by 4˚C by the end of the century if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the global temperature increase and the corresponding melting ice sheets and glaciers, sea level is predicted to rise between 0.4 to 1 metre by 2100. Moreover, rainfall patterns are changing with heavy winter rainfall and hot dry summers. During drought periods, due to evaporation, the water content of the soil decreases at the upper layers, which can result in settlements due to soil shrinkage. On the other hand, heavy rainfalls following the drought period can result in swelling or collapse of the soil. Non-homogeneous distributions of soil properties may induce differential settlements after cycles of volumetric variations which may pose significant threat to the stability of existing civil infrastructure. Therefore, there is a need for fundamental research and innovative solutions to increase our resilience to future climate challenges, where geomechanics play a vital role.

In this project, a thorough experimental framework will be established to investigate the response of soils to temperature and moisture content fluctuations under critical conditions, with particular emphasis on investigating the thermo-hydro-mechanics of these geomaterials through laboratory testing. Unique soil testing facilities of the Geomechanics Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University (HWU) on unsaturated soils (e.g. unsaturated triaxial, oedometer and direct shear apparatus, pressure cells, temperature and environmental chambers) as well as standard geotechnical testing apparatus will be fully accessible for this purpose. Moreover, state-of-the-art equipment at HWU (e.g. Scanning Electron Microscopy and X-Ray Computed Tomography) will be employed to study the micro mechanisms in parallel with laboratory-scale experiments. Advanced laboratory and micro-scale testing will not only provide fundamental knowledge on the thermo-hydro-mechanical behaviour of soils but will also provide evidences to quantify their influence on civil infrastructure.

Once a thorough understanding of the potential effects is acquired, second part of the experimental campaign will involve model-scale tests to investigate the effect of temperature and moisture cycles on the soil-structure interaction. For this purpose, model-scale pile foundations, equipped with strain, temperature and moisture sensors, as well as linear variable differential transformers will be constructed in the soil tank which is presently available and functioning at HWU. The research efforts in the second part of the project is also expected to lead to the characterisation of possible remedial solutions, which will open new horizons within this emerging research field.


This scholarship is available to applicants from the UK, EU and overseas.


The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of approximately £15,009 for the 36 month duration of the project. 

How to apply

Please complete our online application form. Please select PhD Civil Engineering within the application and include the project reference, title and supervisor names on your application. If these details are not included your application may not be considered. 

Applicants may only apply for ONE of the project topics offered by the Institute for Infrastructure and Environment.

Please also provide a supporting statement (1 – 5 A4 pages), outlining how you would approach your research. This should be uploaded to the ‘project proposal’ section of the application form. You will also be required to upload a CV, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and one academic reference. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.


The closing date for applications is Sunday 2 February 2020. Please note that this is a strict deadline and applications received after this date will not be considered. Incomplete applications will also not be considered so all supporting documents and references must be provided by the closing date. Applications will be reviewed throughout March and applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by April 2020. Applicants MUST be available to start the course of study in September 2020.