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Plastics recycling challenges: a combined physical modelling and AI/data science approach


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Friday 28 April 2023
Country eligibility
UK only
Source of funding
External organisation
Dr Luisa Cutillo and Professor Daniel Read
Additional supervisors
Dr Johan Mattsson
School of Mathematics
Research groups/institutes
Applied Mathematics, Complex materials and industrial maths, Statistics
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Our society has a need and desire to significantly increase plastic recycling rates. However, a very significant challenge is the typical current quality of recycled plastic materials, which limits the usability of recycled material. A second problem is that molecules in plastic degrade (either breaking up or reacting together) each time the material is reused. As a result, recycled plastic is typically used in lower value applications, continuously downgrading the material. One reason for this is that we have limited knowledge on the characteristics of the recycled material. Using modern theories of polymer flow together with data science methods, this project explores the optimal methodology to understand as much about the material as possible as quickly and efficiently as possible. Advanced and detailed material characterization is time consuming and expensive, so it is not economic to perform a complete set of measurements on any material. Instead, it is far more likely that only a small number of simple measurements on a given recycled material might be made, to determine its quality and possible uses. We also seek to understand the plastic degradation process, so that we can account for it in any recycling strategy. We have a number of mathematical and physical tools available to help us do this. Leeds is at the forefront of research in theoretical molecular polymer rheology (MPR) &ndash; we have developed methods and software that allow us to predict the flow properties (rheology) of polymers from a knowledge of their molecular structure [Science 333, 1871-1874 (2011); Journal of Rheology 64, 709-722 (2020)]. We have also developed tools that allow us to model the effect of chemical reactions (such as degradation) on polymer molecular shape [Macromol. React. Eng. 13, 3 (2019)]. This project aims to combine these tools with modern AI and data science methods [e.g. PNAS 119, e2202234119 (2022)] to help us infer molecular structures from physical measurements. Dependent on the student, there is also opportunity to run a small experimental program to investigate the effects of repeated recycling on polymers. We will give training in all of the above. This post is fully funded by the Dutch Polymer Institute under the project &ldquo;Closing the Loop via Molecular Polymer Rheology&rdquo; (CLOMPR) and interact with the wider community of scientists and industry. This would suit a candidate with a mathematics, physical sciences or engineering background and a good aptitude for mathematical and theoretical investigations.

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study section that you are applying for <em><strong>PHD Applied Mathematics</strong></em> and in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is <em><strong>Closing the Loop via Molecular Polymer Rheology (CLOMPR): Plastics recycling challenges: a combined physical modelling and AI/data science approach </strong></em>as well as&nbsp;<a href="">Prof. Daniel Read </a>as your proposed supervisor.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</em></p> <p class="MsoNoSpacing">Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application by the closing date of 28 April 2023:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> <li>Funding Information:&nbsp; Dutch Polymer Institute Studentship</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p class="x">A highly competitive Dutch Polymer Institute Studentship under the project &ldquo;Closing the Loop via Molecular Polymer Rheology (CLOMPR)&rdquo;, consisting of the award of fees at the UK fee rate together with a maintenance grant (currently &pound;17,668 in academic session 2022/23) for 4 years.</p> <p>This opportunity is open to UK applicants only.&nbsp; All candidates will be placed into the Dutch Polymer Institute Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.<br /> <br /> Please refer to the&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for&nbsp;information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For general enquiries about applications, contact our admissions team:&nbsp;<a href=""></a><br /> For questions about the research project, contact <a href="">Prof. Daniel Read</a>&nbsp;(<a href=""></a>) Luisa Cutillo (<a href=""></a>) or Johan Mattsson (<a href=""></a>).</p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>