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Dr Melis Sutman


Understanding of the behaviour of saturated and unsaturated soils under subtle flow, temperature and pressure conditions is crucial and often involves coupled thermo-hydro-mechanical (THM) processes. For instance, variations in temperature and water flow lead to changes in effective stress and soil volume (thermo-elastic or –plastic depending on the soil type, overconsolidation ratio, as well as drainage conditions), which are consecutively linked back to the heat transfer and water flow processes since the thermal and hydraulic properties of soils are strongly dependent on the porosity. Moreover, the intrinsic nature of the THM coupling may also have consequences on the integrity of the surrounding structure and infrastructure due to the soil-structure interfaces. There is a considerable number of experimental and numerical investigations that have answered fundamental questions on the response of cohesive and cohesionless soils to changes in temperature and water flow conditions over the past several decades. However, new challenges such as diverse topics related to energy geotechnics (i.e. energy geostructures, thermal energy storage) and effects of climate change on civil infrastructure and the corresponding resilience to these effects lead to the identification of new challenges related to the THM behaviour of saturated and unsaturated soils. Moreover, establishment of new techniques, development of advanced apparatus, as well as interdisciplinary research opportunities bring outstanding momentum to the research on multi-physical behaviour of soils.       


The purpose of this PhD research is to administer a thorough knowledge on the response of soils subjected to variations of temperature and water flow conditions through an exhaustive experimental campaign involving both conventional and state-of-the-art laboratory testing. The project involves fundamental research on the effects of temperature on the relative expansion and contraction of multi-phase soils, associated volume changes and excess pore water pressure generation as well as their mechanical implications. The project will not only forge an experimental framework in understanding the fundamental mechanics of soils but will also serve opportunities of upscaling from pore-scale phenomena to larger scales in order to perceive its consequences on the existing and future civil infrastructure.     


You will join the Institute for Infrastructure & Environment within the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society at Heriot-Watt University. You will get full access to the state-of-the-art facilities of the Geotechnical and GeoMaterials Laboratory which includes equipment for unsaturated soil testing (e.g. unsaturated triaxial, oedometer and direct shear apparatus, pressure cells, temperature & environmental chambers) as well as standard geotechnical testing apparatus.


This project is available to ALL students, whether home, EU or overseas. The successful candidate should possess at minimum a masters and undergraduate degree in civil engineering, geotechnical engineering, earth science or a similar field.

Strong interest and experience on experimental investigation of soils is an essential requirement of this project. Background on thermo-hydro-mechanical behaviour of soils is desirable but not a necessity.  


The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of £15009.00 per annum for the 36 month duration of the studentship.

How to apply

Please complete our online application form.

Please select PhD Civil Engineering and include the project reference, title and supervisor on your application. Please also provide a 1 page supporting statement/cover letter, a CV, a copy of your degree certificates and relevant detailed transcripts and at least one academic or technical 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.


Complete applications must be submitted by 21st October 2019 and applicants must be available to start by January 2020.