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PhD Students


We offer unique training for a new cadre of future-facing interdisciplinary researchers.

Institutes for Social Futures PhDs

My research focuses on the effects of different types of reading technologies on affective responses toward literature. In particular, I compare the effects of paperbooks, e-readers, iPads and audiobooks on empathy and on immersion, i.e. the feeling of entering into the story world and engaging emotionally with its characters.

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Matthew’s research is concerned with the Future of Making. He is interested in how we make machines that make things, using diegetic prototyping to explore possible speculative futures.

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Material Social Futures PhDs

This project explores the use of thermoelectric coatings for heat recovery as electrical energy in thermoelectric coatings.

For more information see Sophie's Story

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Ariel is undertaking a PhD in Creative Languages. Her topic is exploring the ways in which nuclear energy becomes framed in public discourse and popular culture, and, in turn, how those framing narratives impact upon developments in the nuclear sector. She is especially interested in ways these narratives are framed in France. Her research is part of the energy thematic in the MSF.

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Damien Borowiec; PhD is looking at the relationship between energy use and computational processing. Cloud computer farms consume nearly 7% of the worlds energy, yet computer scientists do not make energy a central concern of their research. Damien is investigating how the energy used in some processing task can be a factor in the design of that task as well as a concern made visible to users of computer power. The thesis, in computer science, is part of the energy theme in the MSF.

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Christina's PhD is in the area of human-computer interaction (HCI) and looks at office building automation from a socio-technical standpoint. The goal is to understand the energy saving potential of office building automation, taking into account the energy footprint of the underlying system and response of building users. For this research, Christina is using the Energy Information System at Lancaster University.

More generally, Christina is interested in research that focuses on the environmental and societal impact of technology, including algorithmic bias, persuasive design and the technology's embodied energy. She is part of the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship Programme in Material Social Futures.

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Improving light harvesting in silicon through alkyl and chromophore direct attachment

The development of photovoltaics (PV) has been spurred by the drive for the production for electrical energy from clean, or low carbon, technologies.

Silicon cells make up 90% of the world’s solar cell production. Due to their poor absorption of sunlight, silicon cells are typically around 200-300 µm thick. These cells are expensive as they require a high grade of purity (parts per billion) and have a high-energy cost to manufacture.

To counteract this problem, we propose a new type of solar cell based on metallic-organic complexes and an ultra-thin silicon substrate in order to reduce the thickness of silicon cells by two orders of magnitude.

However, the fabrication of these metal complexes and the coating of these have an inherent energy cost, and therefore carbon footprint.

This project evaluates the potential gains of improved efficiency (light harvesting) in silicon-based solar cells vs. the “cost” in terms (i) of the additional embodied energy of the coating and (ii) sustainability of the materials employed.

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The fast-growing development of nanotechnology support the idea of 'infinitive' data storage. We are able to store more and more information. This leads us to future where we would be able to store everything. My PhD project is focused on exploring future outcomes of such vision. If we could store everything, would we be able to actually retrieve relevant information? If so, how? Would we need tools to clean our digital dirt? How will we interact with our digital world on the individual but also collective, social level if we had no storage limitations?

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The main technological agenda relating to nuclear power is not just to do with the production of materials for reactors but also the significant residues of radioactive material that is a by-product. Concerns over these residues (and accidents with them) have encouraged the development of Accident Tolerant Fuels (ATFs). These may not address the problem of waste directly, but certainly point towards ways of avoiding some well-known problems with energy production itself – preventing meltdown scenarios, for example, like that tragically observed on the Japanese coast. But ATFs are still immature, technologically. There is a paucity of research reactors that allow scientists to investigate how ATFs perform in reality rather than theoretically, for example. This project is concerned with developing better ATFs through computation.

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Cobalt has been a key element in the fabrication of rechargeable Li-ion batteries, since the original Li-ion battery commercialized by Sony in 1991. Yet, in the ‘tumultuous Copper Belt’ in the DRC, practices in cobalt mines are indifferent to human rights, with thousands of children under 10 being exploited by child labour. Recent calls to major users and suppliers of cobalt-based products for them to sign a declaration supporting the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) have only gone so far; despite the signatures of Apple, Googe and Sony (amongst others) many mines remain unregulated. What is required is a replacement material to cobalt for batteries. This project starting October 2019, focuses on the science of replacement of Co in cathode materials in rechargeable batteries.

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Join the MSF in 2019-20 to expand the energy thematic in the MSF. Her PhD will focus on public understanding of nuclear energy in the Lancaster area and how this understanding is mediated through contemporary media, such as computer games and their narratives. Her PhD is the dept of Creative Languages and it tentatively titled ‘Temporality and Space in the Nuclear Paradigm: Exploring a “Fallout” yet to come’.

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Petter is a PhD student linking data centre placement, features and energy use to HCI principles, sustainability and decision-making. Research interests include interaction design, sustainability, energy, datacenters and aesthetics sciences. Petter is an affiliated member of the Sustainable Consumption Research Group at the University of Borås, and the founder of the OTEC Africa tech/aid organisation (

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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 battery materials research for EVs are based around the notion that present travel demand will be undisrupted, with new technologies providing the same services as their fossil-fuelled predecessors, but in less carbon intensive ways.

In this PhD project, we aim to bridge the gap between materials and social sciences to answer these questions and simultaneously develop a new approach towards materials development. We will focus on the EV and the battery that underpins it as a highly pertinent example of an emerging technology within a rapidly changing landscape of social practices and with evolving material constitutions and properties.

We aim to address the inherent disconnect between the actions of materials scientists, who are often driven by short term targets within the context of current social practices (e.g., to increase battery capacity for larger EV range), and the approaches of social scientists who can identify alternative socio-technical arrangements and emergent social trends and propose alternative, evidence –based starting assumptions for materials science.

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