Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment

Alex Newton

School of Arts

Alex Newton joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2015 and the title of his thesis is ‘Liminality, the uncanny and the sublime: a practice-based exploration of thresholds of experience’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I’ve lived in Oxford for almost 15 years so knew about Oxford Brookes, though I also did an MA in Contemporary Art here prior to beginning my research.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

Studying here for my MA played a big part in my decision to conduct my research at Brookes. The School of Arts is a very friendly and intimate environment and I’d always found it to be an open and very supportive place.  

What were you doing before?

I was and still am a secondary school art teacher.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Understanding the approach to research in art felt new and slightly strange initially, but I feel as though I settled in quickly. I’ve really benefited from discussions with my supervisors and the group seminars, which are vital in developing my work.

Tell us about your research.

My research is concerned with investigating strategies of representing or embodying the liminal; an uncertain, transitional realm where several planes or existential states may be present. I have been working predominantly with the moving image, finding ways to create experiences that have a degree of ambiguity and that at some level disorientate and dislocate.            

The driving force behind this inquiry is a desire to locate strangeness and uncertainty in experience, using Viktor Shklovsky’s technique of ‘ostranenie’ or ‘defamiliarisation’ as a starting point. Shklovsky posits that the purpose of art is to impede our perception of the familiar by making forms difficult to apprehend;    I’m interested in exploring ways to provoke this disruption of experience.            

These inquiries have since taken the form of digital recordings of the figure in strange horizonless landscapes in Iceland, the Lake District, the Peak District and also in the more comfortable surroundings of the photo studio in Brookes.            

I’ve more recently been experimenting with the projection of these recorded moving images onto the surface of layered screens of tulle, which provide both a sculptural presence and the illusion of a virtual space.  The intangible materiality of these digital projections certainly feels like a step into the liminal domain and then subsequently translating photographs of the projected figures into stilled intaglio prints has created new insights for me.              

An interesting dialogue between the various grounds that support or mediate the image has emerged and the results of these experiments have raised several questions, specifically regarding the relationship between the dynamic and the static, the ephemeral and the permanent and the significance of the digital.  

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I love being in a position where I am lucky enough to have the space to indulge my curiosity and to explore my particular field of interest.  It has at times been a challenge to manage what I’m doing around the demands of my teaching job, but it’s been such a pleasure to be able to have those two sides to my life that I make    sure that there is always time.

What do you think about the research training offered at Brookes?

The PhD art group has been a space that has allowed me to share my research with other students; it has been incredibly helpful and has provided me with a space to experience the exciting work that others are exploring and to reflect on various aspects of my own research. It is undoubtedly a learning process and being able to share work and to see how others are progressing is invaluable.

What are your future plans?

I haven’t had much time to think too far into the future. Since doing my MA at Brookes I’ve been back at university, albeit on a part-time basis, for around 4 years and I’ve loved learning in this environment again. I actually don’t really want to stop… though I suppose I may not say that in 3 years’ time.

Photo of Alex Newton

Amnard Pimmasri

School of Arts

Amnard Pimmasri is originally from Thailand and joined Oxford Brookes in January 2016. Amnard's thesis is titled ‘Dynamic Document-Film; digital, mobile phones, participatory film-making, in and for documenting gay everyday experiences in rural Thailand’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I had studied here before.

What were you doing before?

I was running my own business.

Tell us about your research.

What kinds of insights can digital forms of documentation and dissemination offer on the challenges faced by gay men in rural Thailand? This project aims not only to explore film-making as a critical creative practice, but also to dynamic document and express everyday experiences of gay men in rural Thailand, through practice-based research.

Dynamic document-film is a digital participatory film-making project in the essay film tradition that explores not only alternative film-making, but also rural gay Thai men’s lived realities on film. This enables the researcher, author and/or filmmaker, as well as the participants, to express thoughts, stories, experiences, activities, behaviours, pleasures, and relationships through mobile phone and participatory reporting. This is a dynamic way to remember the past as well as to bridge experiences, thoughts, desires or ideas between one and their viewers, and even oneself. The medium and its method are created through the combination of arts, digital film-making and reporting experiences.

My research offers awareness alongside new understandings of Thai gay men as well as their everyday experiences. It explores whether this is a category that they subscribe to while ensuring that their stories no longer remain under-reported or unsaid. The information and materials gathered are processed manually through film, autoethnography and thematic analysis, with a focus on experimentation and thought through both the experience and the material.

There has been a recent movement towards advancing Thailand’s LGBTIQ rights. LGBTIQ activists and media representatives have reported that the community currently struggles with lack of acceptance in many different areas, including employment opportunities, access to health care, housing, and education. Traditional Thais still view LGBTIQ relationships negatively and the Samui Times and the Bangkok Post claim that same-sex Thai partners and their families are not given the same legal protections as heterosexuals in medical emergencies.

At the same time, several modern film directors have depicted gay themes and characters: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (2004) represented rural male (obscured) relationships; Poj Arnon’s romantic, crime action drama Bangkok Love Story (2007) explored the everyday life of gay relationships between masculine males; and Anucha Boonyawatana's Malila: The Farewell Flower (2017) tells the story of a man who returns to his old village to care for his ex-boyfriend, who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Yet, in filling gaps and knowledge (including in film-making and research), there are still fundamental challenges about gays and/or queers that remain unexplored through film. Little research has been carried out through this medium about rural gay men in Thailand.

To generate research into what mobile phone and participatory reporting can offer in the field of film and digital media production, I extend the work of Sue Sudbury’s Village Tales (2015). In “visualising the everyday”, Sudbury explored “The Potential of Participatory Documentary Filmmaking in Rural India”. Sudbury's studies pointed out that, with the camcorder, participants had limited access to several means, which prevented numerous materials from being documented. Sudbury’s work is extended from the practice of “participatory video” pioneered by Don Snowden in the 1960s – the concept of using visual media to document-report on the residents of a community as they face their everyday realities and struggles. Although cameras are considered a tool for visualising the everyday while negotiating about lives and the living, the camera is also considered a weapon that can be used by the participants. In my project, where a mobile phone is already being carried anywhere with the holder, cameras are seen not only as a tool to document the lives or to negotiate the living, but also a personal tool in and for one’s own expression regarding their everyday experiences.

   The main objectives of my project are:

  1. To explore methods of digital mobile phone (video) reporting and participatory film-making.
  2. To review the context regarding gay male relationships in rural Thailand and the everyday, as well as experience about gay men in general. Offer dynamic information of what is related and valuable to this research with a sense of dynamic document that consists of experiences, works, thoughts and interpretations that can be used interpretatively for further exploration.
  3. To document stories of gay males in rural Thailand and utilise the archive as an interpretative tool for understanding the rapport between their relationships, story, reality, desire, mobile media and rural Thailand.
  4. To examine the dynamics of mobile phone recording and participatory reporting in and for film and digital media production (dynamic document-film), as well as in and for the everyday experience.
  5. To analyse the impact and significance of the thesis film (dynamic document-film) in and for one’s expression, communication, and the documentation of the experiences, thoughts, and under-reported stories of gay Thai men. 

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

There are numerous challenges but I engage, practice and document anything and everything that I can research.              

What are your future plans?

To continue to research and document under-reported everyday experiences.

Anja Tschortner

School of Arts

Anja Tschortner is from Berlin, Germany. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in the School of Arts in 2011. Her thesis title is 'Idyll and Ideology: A comparative study of English and German popular fiction for girls in the First World War.'

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I knew about Oxford Brookes because I used to live in Oxford for several years when working for Oxford University Press. Many people who worked with me at OUP had a degree from the OICPS at Oxford Brookes.  

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

In my case, a particular researcher was the main reason for applying to Oxford Brookes for my PhD. I knew I wanted to work on popular fiction in the First World War, and I had read Dr. Jane Potter’s book Boys in Khaki, Girls in Print: Women’s Literary Responses to the Great War, 1914-1918 (OUP 2005). I got in touch with her and discussed possible topics for a PhD in that area of research. I was not at that time sure if it would be possible to do a PhD with a British University from Germany, but it turned out not to be a problem at all.

What were you doing before?

I graduated with an MA in English Philology, German Philology, and Medieval and Modern History from the University of Cologne in 1996, and have worked in publishing ever since (OUP, Blackwell, Wiley).

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I had wanted to get back into research for a long time, although it is not easy to do this part-time while also doing a time-consuming job. People who consider doing this need to think long and hard if they are really prepared to give up their rare spare time and weekends in order to spend them on their research instead, and they need to get used to living with a constant guilty conscience (which invariably sets in if one really decides to do nothing for a change, or read a fun book instead of research literature!). But I find the research work that I do very rewarding, and the quality of supervision at Oxford Brookes superb. My supervisor and I correspond a lot by email and have frequent meetings by phone or Skype, and of course we meet personally whenever I come to Oxford, which I try to do as often as possible. Also, there is a strong team spirit within my group of Ph.D. students at the OICPS at Brookes which I find very supportive.

Tell us about your research project.

At the beginning of the First World War the genre of war literature addressed predominantly at adolescent girls developed out of the standard literature aimed at girls aged 13 to 17 years, which at that time was manifold and ample. Ever since the 1870s and the Franco-Prussian War, the topic of war had been taken up in German girls’ literature quite frequently, mostly by depicting historical contexts like the Napoleonic Wars or the Thirty Years’ War, but it was never before as relevant and up-to-date as from 1914 to 1918. War-propaganda plays a huge role in these stories. While before the war storylines often focused on a tomboyish girl who needed to be turned into a marriageable housewife and future mother, this character is now replaced by the new concept of plucky and patriotic girl character who tries to find her space in her society-at-war. Some of the then best-known, prolific German authors are Marie von Felseneck, Marga Rayle, and Bertha Clément. – A similar type of literature existed in Great Britain. Girls in wartime had been a relevant topic in fiction here only fairly recently in connection with the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), and just as in German girls’ fiction, propaganda was one of its main objectives. The notorious German spy and ‘evil Hun’ are recurrent elements of the storylines, immediately recognizable to the frequent reader. Notable English authors for girls’ fiction include Angela Brazil, Bessie Marchant, and Dorothea Moore.                
The approach of my thesis focuses on the age group of 13 to 17 year old German and English girls as readers against the backdrop of the growing enmity between their countries, culminating in the Great War. The oeuvre of German and English female authors who wrote for this audience in particular, not only during the War, but also in the decades leading up to it will be investigated, since the development of this kind of fiction and of the historical and social background of its authors and readership need to be taken into account in order to fully understand its impact. The relevant primary sources will be reviewed and compared, by concentrating on the aspects of propaganda and construction of concepts of the enemy in these stories. Furthermore, the role of publishing houses in the flourishing of this literary genre will be highlighted, and the question of whether and how it was influenced by governmental bodies of the two countries looked into. Finally, the thesis will assess to what extent war literature for girls may have participated in creating a lasting impact on the image that Great Britain and Germany had of each other after the First World War had ended.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

What I enjoy most of all about being a research student is the deep digging into a topic that I am really interested in and excited about! The challenge is of course to stay interested in it for the years that it takes to finish a PhD. The most important thing before starting a PhD is therefore to really make sure that the topic you consider doing is not just a research-gap that needs filling, but a project that you are (and ideally have been for a long time) passionate about.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

There are excellent offers for workshops at Brookes to organize one’s research and writing. The One-Day Writing Retreats which are frequently organized and which I mostly join by Skype I find particularly helpful and effective, and for me personally they have the added bonus of making me feel like I am part of a group even though I am far away from the university most of the time.

What are your future plans?

I like working in publishing  and could well imagine staying on in this or in a similar business. However I also enjoy working with people and doing research, so if the opportunity arose I could also well imagine applying for a lecturing post, either in Germany or the UK.

photo of Anja Tschortner

Nektaria McWilliams

School of Arts

Nektaria McWilliams is Greek-Australian and has lived in the UK for nearly ten years. She joined Oxford Brookes in September 2016 and her thesis title is “Diaspora, Identity and Cinematic Memory in Rural South Australia”.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first heard about Oxford Brookes through www.jobs.ac.uk, where I saw the position for a PhD scholarship being advertised.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

The expertise and supervision in new cinema history that Oxford Brookes offers was a major drawcard in coming here. As was the opportunity to apply for a fully-funded scholarship no less!

What were you doing before?

I was a full-time MA Gender and Media Studies student at the University of Sussex.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I have found the support, guidance and resources available to be of a very high standard. I feel extremely lucky to have been offered a place here.

Tell us about your research.

This project aims to offer new understandings of the Greek-Australian migrant experience from the mid-1950s to the present day. It will explore the impact and significance of cinema-going, and watching Greek films, on the Greek migrant community of Whyalla – a small, South Australian country town. The focus of this research is on the social history of cinema and its audiences from a global perspective - that moves beyond Hollywood - to uncover Greek film, its distribution and its far-flung audiences.

At the same time, it intends to delve into the cultural history and memory of this community - their experiences of arriving and surviving, with limited or, in some cases, no English language skills, and the role that cinema played in this.    

Traditionally, film studies has been concerned with film as a text in much the same way as literary studies has viewed and valued novels. But this project draws inspiration from, and hopes to contribute to, a newly established area in film studies known as new cinema history, whose focus is audiences, film exhibition and consumption, film distribution, programming and production.    

In view of the above, the project is inherently multi-disciplinary and goes some distance beyond the confines of film text to pay more attention to questions of identity, social history, migration, cinema as everyday experience, and the construction of its audience. Alongside this, several methods, histories, localities and approaches - such as media, cultural, migration, geography and post-colonial studies - will be drawn from to construct meaning.    

By exploring the history of Greek migrants in a marginal and rural location, this project not only aims to ensure that their stories no longer remain absent from the archives, but it is also hoped that the insights into migration, displacement and identity that this research will unveil, also impacts upon understandings of the political and cultural debates concerning immigration in the present day.    

Surviving audience members will be asked about their memories of watching Greek films during this time. They will be giving voice to an otherwise silent history and will provide further insights and understandings of an Australian cinema history that includes non-English speaking films; that rural screenings and communities matter, and also belong to this history; and that Greek cinema history includes audiences of the diaspora – that is people who have spread or dispersed from their original homeland. 

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I really enjoy the learning and research process very much. I enjoy the opportunities a research environment affords in approaching things from multiple perspectives, histories and disciplines, and then applying this to my own project and thought process. The volume of work and associated tasks involved with PhD work can be overwhelming at times, but breaking tasks up into smaller chunks has proven very helpful for me, as has breaking work time up into 20 minute chunks. This has been a particularly good strategy when I’ve attempted to make a start on something that seems very challenging, invokes much fear and has been the source of much procrastination! Being able to talk openly about any challenges to my supervisor helps enormously too.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

The training offered at Oxford Brookes is wide-ranging, covers many skills needed for the PhD and beyond, but also provides support after the training sessions for when it is applied in the field. I have had an introduction to various coding and software packages that I will need for data analysis and feel that once I begin working with my own data, I will be able to put this to use and can call on and draw from the experts who provided the courses. The training I received in the first year has helped lay the groundwork for my field trip to Australia next year.

What are your future plans?

In terms of my immediate future, I would like to successfully complete my PhD, and make the most that this time has to offer. After that, I would like to remain in a research environment with a focus on people, histories, visual popular cultures, how they intersect, how these intersections have changed over time and what these changes can inform us about our lives now and in the future.

Robert Williamson

School of Arts

Robert Williamson is from London. He joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in April 2018 and his thesis title is ‘The Ministry of Information and the British Film Hero during World War 2’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I originally attended several courses (including Film Studies) at the Oxford Adult Learning Centre. Several members of staff there suggested approaching Oxford Brookes if I was interested in further study. On an exploratory visit, I found the Brookes staff very friendly and welcoming.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I studied an MA degree in Film Studies at Oxford Brookes.  I found my dissertation so interesting that I wanted to continue to explore the subject. And several members of my faculty supported my decision.

What were you doing before?

Prior to my retirement in 2010, I worked for over thirty years as a Software Engineer for several international companies such as IBM and Nortel. My main areas of work included communications software such as Intelligent Networks.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Because I had prior experience of the academics I would be working with, I found the process into the research environment straight forward. The support staff and their courses have been very useful as I move forward with my research.

Tell us about your research.

This project intends to offer new understandings of the complex relationship between the Government and the British Film Studios in feature film content and production during the period of the Second World War. It will explore Government policy and institutional organisation and investigate the impact of these processes upon    the representation of the hero figure in feature films. This project’s uniqueness lies in its practice of historical enquiry being decentred, explored and exposed, in the consideration of government policies that relate to feature film narratives. It will open a dialogue with archival resources, to give a visibility and voice to an otherwise unarticulated history of the British cinema.   

I was well prepared academically to undertake this project given my extensive studies with wartime archive material with my MA in Film Studies (my dissertation was on the work of the Films Division within the MoI). What is more, my background working for industry on very large complex communication projects will be useful in untangling the many processes that interlinked government departments and the film studios. As part of my commitment to this project, I have attended the London University MoI Project conference in July 2017, and I am in close contact with their team of researchers for further involvement.  

The MoI was a wartime department, established in 1939, responsible for conducting overseas publicity to neutral and allied countries and for disseminating government propaganda and publicity at home. Its purpose in Britain was not only to keep the public well informed but also to maintain morale of the civilian population. As part of its remit was the area of feature films via the Film Division. Chapman’s The British At War (2000, p5) states that ‘the role of the Film Division has remained largely unwritten’. This project’s central concern is motivated by this gap in knowledge where a film’s full    production history has not been traced. There are many academic works which focus on film’s part production, as in Aldgate and Richards (2007) Britain Can Take It and Mackenzie’s (2001) British War Films.  Consequently, the overall picture of government control and influence has not been included in these works. As such, this project will be ground breaking in exploring the overall framework of government influence on feature film making during the war, considering the Film Studios interactions with the various government departments. I shall look at the film roles presented of the Special Overseas Executive (SOE) operations and investigate what government influences impacted on these heroic representations in film.     

Through a combination of primary and secondary sources, this study will examine if there is evidence of institutional causal links between its policies and film, and that indirectly the role(s) of the hero was changed and enhanced.  Sonya Rose Which People's War? (2003) illustrates the idea of a national identity being reframed as war progressed and that a hero-figure was significant in that framework. These findings provide a new contribution to film history and provide information for further studies utilising the state diagrams and processes I will create and describe.  

Instead of one single theoretical methodology, this qualitative project will draw from reception and film studies, but will also benefit from primary research in the various National Archives. The project is inherently interdisciplinary, as it does not look at film as a singular text, but pays attention to questions of who/what was involved in feature film production and what were the processes involved. This marks this work as a contribution to the field of “new cinema history” (Maltby, 2011, p.3)   

In terms of challenges and difficulties this project might face, one involves the fragmentary and incomplete archive records within Government and the Film Studios. Addressing such challenges will call for a creative approach in methodology, but the gaps in this knowledge are compelling enough to look for new and different clues, and to seek other ways in which connections might be made. Aligned with this approach will be an emphasis on strong time management skills as some archives may be so fragmentary as to be of no use to the project. As for case studies, I will investigate the inner workings of the Film Studios and analysis the production history of films. This will help form a complete picture of the many political pressures on filmmakers to create the final product. Archive media sources in the UK and the USA, such as fan magazines and newspaper articles involving audience’s reception, will be crucial.  

I will examine and analyse pre-war British war/thriller feature films to determine the types of hero depicted within. With help from Campbell (1993) and Levi Strauss (1978) I shall establish which structures and myths form the framework of heroes within feature film narratives. As to the reshaping of the British hero in war time films, I will use a combination of archival research and close textual analysis of feature length feature films. Quantitative research tools such as the text analysis software Voyant, will be useful in looking for trends in large data sets. One of its most powerful features is to track word usages and it supplies the details of the adjoining words (technically known as KWIC – keyword in context) which will help select words, phrases and narratives that are associated with material in their specific context (an example being feature films reviewed in The Documentary Newsletter digital files).   

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

As my research continues, I really appreciate feedback from my three supervisors. They are always available for a formal or informal chat and I value their input. I also enjoy interacting with other PhD students from other areas of research as we often find ways of helping each other. Since my work in on a part-time basis, I have always an aim to complete tasks on a weekly basis to keep me on track.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Very good. I like the fact that there are courses for all abilities and desires.

What are your future plans?

I want to continue to enjoy the whole experience and maybe publish my finished work as a book. I would like other younger researchers to be influenced by my work and carry it forward.

Photo of Robert Williamson

Abhinav Priyadarshi

School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

Abhinav Priyadarshi is originally from India. He joined Oxford Brookes in September 2018 and the title of his thesis is ‘Influence of ultrasonic melt treatment on the fragmentation of primary intermetallics in Al based alloys’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first came to know about Oxford Brookes University through a list of recommended universities across Europe at which to pursue a doctoral degree in the field of mechanical and material sciences, displayed on my ResearchGate profile. One of the faculty members of the University had posted an announcement regarding a PhD position for the UltraMelt2 project. Apparently, the previous version of this project i.e. UltraMelt was very successful with numerous research publications and noteworthy contribution from the research faculty of Oxford Brookes University and other team members.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

The PhD project at Oxford Brookes University seemed interesting and was aligned very closely to my educational background and previous work experiences. Moreover, the research area of project UltraMelt2 is one the most promising and emerging fields in the metal industry at present, funded by EPSRC. This project funding was in collaboration with two other leading UK universities and three industrial partners. Also, I came to know that Oxford Brookes University has a very strong industrial collaboration which would significantly help me in my career development. And last but not the    least, it would be an opportunity of a lifetime to study in the ‘city of dreaming spires’.  

What were you doing before?

Before coming to UK, I was in Germany as a DAAD funded scholar student from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, India and was carrying out my Master’s thesis work at the Leibniz Institute of Solid State Materials Research, Dresden.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

It was quite easy for me to settle in the research environment as the members of the research group were very sociable and responsive. My supervisors and other friends from India have been very supportive to me allowing me to get very comfortable with the surroundings. I am very much overwhelmed with the help received from the International Student Advice Team and the Research Degrees Team for all the resources, and the Doctoral Training Program sessions and various other researcher training induction programmes. I am very much satisfied with the facilities provided to research students at Brookes. The technical staff in the department are very compliant to the requirements of research students to conduct high quality research. The library and the online resource facilities such as IT services are very active at all times and respond to the demands of research students almost immediately.

Tell us about your research.

Our use of metals is so important that it defines periods of human civilization – from the Bronze Age (3600 BC) to the Iron Age (1100 BC). With our present-day mastery of metals and alloys, the mounting emphasis is now on resources and the environment. The metal industry is looking at new ways to produce lighter, stronger materials in a sustainable, economical and pollution-free manner. Ultrasonic melt treatment (UST) is one such green alternative way to a range of conventional melt processes that embraces these goals. UST introduces high intensity ultrasonic waves into liquid metal to induce acoustic cavitation. Laboratory tests show that UST offers beneficial effects: accelerated diffusion, activation of inclusions, improved wetting, dissolution, cluster breakup, and dispersion of particles. UST has a great potential to significantly improve the properties of metallic materials; with benefits of melt degassing, improved wetting of inclusions, enhanced heterogeneous nucleation, refined as-cast structure, and the deagglomeration and dispersion of reinforcing and grain-refining particles. UST and the resulting production of high-quality light alloys are of great interest to the casting, automotive and aerospace industries (viz. accelerated research currently ongoing in China and the USA). UST adds value to manufacturing by environment-friendly melt degassing without the need for either polluting (Cl, F) or expensive (Ar) gases, also eliminating complex processing steps such as fluxing, and by reducing demand for expensive grain refinement additives (Ti, B). Regardless of the beneficial outcome, allocation of this favourable expertise to industry has been flooded by problems, specifically in modifying large amounts of liquid metal typical in methods for instance 'Direct Chill (DC)' continuous casting for ingot making. A shift to efficient continuous processing of large melt volumes as needed by the industry, as well as the possibility for the industry to adopt and adapt this technology, requires the development of validated computer simulation tools based on the experimental gathered data. 

To determine the optimum parameters for continuous melt treatment relevant to industrial applications, the proposed project endeavours to develop a quantified experimental description of the ultrasonic melt processing, with a particular focus on the interaction between cavitating bubble structures and solid or gaseous phases typically present in the melt. The research hypothesis is that cavitation bubbles generated by the ultrasonic source have a triple role: implode and generate new bubbles (multiplication), grow and absorb hydrogen from Al melt (degassing), and mechanically interact with solid crystals and inclusions facilitating heterogeneous grain nucleation and refinement (we consider cavitation-induced homogeneous nucleation as irrelevant to real solidification). These effects can be translated to large melt volumes through continuous UST in the melt flow based on the two principle observations made in UltraMelt, i.e. the cavitation bubbles are advected downstream still being within the ultrasound field and the flow management through strategically placed baffles in a launder enlarges the areas of high acoustic pressure. 

The metal industry holds the fourth place in sales value among the UK manufacturing industries, representing 7.0 % of the total product sales in 2014, amounting to £25.4 billion. 97% of all metal products manufactured require at least one melting and solidification processing stage, this shows how important it is to understand and control the structures that evolve in solidifying metals, alloys and their composites. After iron, aluminium - the melt of interest in this research - is the most important structural metallic material. This research will open the pathway to the design of more efficient processes that can produce lighter and stronger metallic materials on the industrial scale. The impacts of this research on the environment and society include fuel economy and reduced emissions with the advent of recyclable lighter stronger materials, energy and emissions reduction in the processes involved and avoiding the use of polluting and contaminating fluxes, gases and refiners in manufacturing. 

Until the recent research outcomes of our collaborators Brunel University and University of Greenwich via a number of related projects (UltraMelt, UltraCast and ExoMet), only few ex situ and in situ quantified studies of ultrasonic melt treatment in the metallic melt had been reported. Acoustic spectra and pressures    were for the first time measured in the aluminium melt in Brunel University with an advanced calibrated high temperature cavitometer. The effects of various factors (operating temperature, transducer power, and distance from source) were quantified. Using particle-image velocimetry (PIV) and high-speed imaging, the acoustic streaming and cavitation profiles in different liquids were characterised and the behavior of liquid aluminium under sonication was inferred by dimensional analysis. Water was found to be a suitable transparent analogue to liquid aluminium for studying acoustic cavitation. High speed and high-energy X-ray imaging (in collaboration with Manchester, Oxford, Hull, DLS) enabled the observation and quantification of cavitation bubble dynamics and sonocapillary effect, and the effects of nano-particles on cavitation development. A unique technique was developed in Brunel University allowing in situ observation of intermetallic fragmentation by cavitation bubbles. Numerous ex situ studies confirmed the effects of UST on degassing, structure refinement, and particle dispersion. On the technological level, proof-of-concept experiments at Brunel University supported the promising scheme of UST in the melt flow. The proposed plan of work further advances these experimental techniques to the industrially relevant phenomena of crystal fragmentation, particle deagglomeration, and ultrasonic processing in the melt flow, providing both a greater insight into the fundamental mechanisms and the validation of the developed models.                              

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

With the continuous evolution of science and technology, research may have become a challenging task, but all the hard work that helps you appreciate the amount of work involved in the innovation and discoveries and also makes you feel honoured to be contributing towards humankind. Being a research student takes you beyond classroom knowledge and allows you to think more critically, deeply, ingeniously and independently, which not only helps to expand the horizons of human knowledge, but also helps you to grow as an individual. It also helps in building a professional network with people across the globe.

It has been 5 years now since I entered into the research discipline. Challenges in research are inevitable and are bound to be present. It all depends on how well you manage and execute your objectives. The major challenge for a research student is to first obtain meaningful data from the work/experiments and then to justify your findings with some concrete explanation. Publishing work and articles in renowned journals is another big challenge that many researchers face, and the best way to overcome this challenge is through a comprehensive literature survey. It is important to have a significant amount of background literature knowledge on the proposed area in order to comprehend, accomplish and articulate your novel methodology. It’s as simple as that.                  

What do you think about the research training offered at Brookes?

I have found it very worthwhile attending the various research student training sessions at Oxford Brookes. The training provides understanding of research integrity i.e. rigour, ethics, transparency and contribution of others while carrying out research work in different areas. The training is especially useful for people who have just entered into the research environment. 

The training has allowed me to look into various stages of research work with an unbiased approach and to understand the intricacies of the same through proper management and planning. I truly believe that attending these research training programmes will always give you some sort of moral and intellectual support to undertake work in a more useful way.

What are your future plans?

After completing my doctoral degree, I intend to work in an industrial research sector wherein I can put my knowledge and skills to develop something new that can directly or indirectly benefit humankind, gain different experiences and professional knowledge, and ultimately I would like to attain a leadership role somewhere in the metal industry. I also wish to be able to extend my technical expertise and offer help to other deprived sections of society through social services.

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Gokhan Budan

School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

Gokhan Budan is originally from Turkey. He joined Oxford Brookes in April 2016 and his thesis title is ‘Non-signalised Intersection Control for Connected Human-Driven and Autonomous Vehicles’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I am currently working full-time as an Electronic Design Engineer at Zeta and undertaking a part-time PhD as a member of the Low Carbon Vehicles Research Group within the School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics. I heard about Oxford Brookes University through Phil Shadbolt OBE, who is the Chairman and CEO of Zeta. Phil also graduated from Oxford Brookes University.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

One of the main attraction points for me is the fact that about 95% of the research work at Oxford Brookes University is recognised by the latest Research Excellence Framework. This was a clear indication for me to conduct my research here. In addition to that, the School of Engineering is well-known for its automotive and motorsports technology and engineering courses. This was also an important decision factor for me during my application process, as my research work is within the automotive sector.

What were you doing before?

Upon my graduation from Newcastle University in 2013, I started working as a Systems Verification Engineer at Schrader Electronics, the designer and manufacturer of tyre pressure monitoring systems in the automotive industry. The pursuit for knowledge and experience has always been one of my goals in life. Therefore, to satisfy my professional curiosity and to fulfil my ambitions, I started working at Zeta as an Electronic Design Engineer in 2015. This gave me the opportunity to work on many diverse projects such as advanced All-Wheel-Drive electronic control unit design for the automotive industry and solar powered smart LED lighting controller design. By working in today’s challenging automotive industry, I learnt the intricacies of algorithm development, embedded system design and programming.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

From day one, I felt at home thanks to the support of the research administration team, who made my registration and introduction process easy. Moreover, my supervisors were very supportive especially in terms of project planning and technical feedback on my research subject which helped me settle in the research environment. The University has some state-of-the-art computing and laboratory equipment and resources which are all available to research students.

Tell us about your research.

There is an urgent need to address the urban traffic congestion issues caused by increasing numbers of vehicles. Traffic congestion has a significant impact on the national economy, environmental pollution and high fuel usage. The introduction of traffic light control for intersections has helped to improve the congestion issues. Moreover, several recent studies investigating adaptive signal-control, based on real-time data, under non-deterministic traffic conditions have been carried out, and argue that they outperform traditional traffic light control methods. However, traffic lights still lack coordination to detect the spatial and temporal evolution of traffic congestion within the control regions and they do not take advantage of the increased sensitivity and precision of connected and autonomous vehicles.          

Intersection management is an important component in urban traffic, and plays a key role in ensuring traffic safety and smoothing traffic flow. Recently, a lot of work has been reported on the theme of connected and driverless vehicles, with increasing interest in autonomous intersection management, where traditional traffic lights are replaced with intelligent roadside units. This has been shown to reduce traffic congestion and delays significantly by taking advantage of the increased sensory precision of connected and driverless vehicles as compared to human-driven traditional vehicles. The concepts of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) wireless communication, multi-agent systems and artificial intelligence are central to achieving robust and reliable autonomous intersection management.            

My PhD project seeks to design an autonomous intersection control system for connected human-driven and driverless vehicles without traffic lights. In this system, the intention is that vehicles will reserve time and space as they approach an intersection, and intersection manager agents control vehicles crossing in a conflict-free way. A machine learning framework will also be included to improve traffic control efficiency in terms of vehicle delays and intersection throughput by learning from experience dynamically. Therefore, intersection manager agents can learn optimal intersection control actions such as vehicle prioritisation, scheduling for crossing and trajectory planning in an iterative way by both exploring new actions and exploiting previously experienced actions for the given situations.            

The proposed project offers a number of features which are innovative, both commercially and technically. The innovation is the application of non-signalised traffic intersection management within this new environment of connected vehicles by utilising vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) wireless communications to reduce average vehicle delay and to increase throughput at intersections whilst ensuring safety and lower carbon emissions.            

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

Researchers are pushing the boundaries of human knowledge every day and I would say this is the best part of being a research student; knowing that your contributions are going to improve the lives of the next generation and make the world a better place. However, the road to success in research is not a straight highway but a bumpy off-road experience. Strong motivation and a clear sense of purpose is important in this journey. Having a project plan with deliverables and milestones throughout a research project is extremely useful and must be stuck to in order to reach the end goal.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Research training courses at the University are diverse and cater for all students. The courses include not only project-related subjects but also more general subjects such as teaching, time management, and career advice, which prepare research students for life beyond university.

What are your future plans?

My prime ambition in life is to become one of the leading engineers in intelligent machines and systems design. Studying for a PhD in this field is my first step towards achieving this goal. I believe that research is of prime importance in understanding the complexities involved in developing such systems. Hands on experience in real-time applications, accompanied by in-depth knowledge of the subject, will help me contribute to this growing field.

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Miguel Fernandes Ferreira

School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

Miguel Fernandes Ferreira is originally from Portugal. He became a Research Student at Oxford Brookes in January 2016 and his thesis title is 'Development of a system of parametric equations for optimal damping coefficients'.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first heard about Oxford Brookes when looking for the best institution to pursue a Master’s degree in Motorsport Engineering. I did not have the opportunity to attend a Postgraduate Fair however all my expectations were met. The facilities are probably what initially impressed me the most with plenty of high end racing cars on display and incredible equipment available. However it was when the interaction with lecturers and technicians started that the real value of Oxford Brookes shined through.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

Having achieved my Master’s degree in Motorsport Engineering at Oxford Brookes I was very familiar with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (MEMS). I had the chance to know the people and the equipment related to my area of interest before and I made the decision to stay and continue to develop my understanding of my area. This decision was made even easier when I was awarded a Research Studentship in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of Oxford Brookes University.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Settling into the research environment was very straight forward. Research students are very approachable and the facilities are organized in a way that promotes interaction, making it easy to get to know everyone. There are also great initiatives from students, Department and University to organise and promote social events. The amount of resources available is fantastic; the University has free access to a great database of journals and other publications with plenty of support from librarians specialised in different subjects.

Tell us about your research project.

The typical automotive suspension system is composed of a spring and damper installed at each wheel of the vehicle. The characteristics of the spring/damper pair are carefully selected in order to confer the desired behaviour to the vehicle. Generically, automotive suspension should promote traction and stability during dynamic manoeuvres while providing the required amount of comfort to passengers. The challenge in automotive suspension design arises from the conflicting nature of the parameters needed to achieve a balanced behaviour.                

Current passive systems employ dampers with nonlinear characteristics that provide different levels of force depending on the velocity, and sometimes position, of the damper. The correct choice of nonlinear characteristics can achieve a compromise that confers the intended characteristics. Achieving the optimal setup is a complex task that typically relies on iterative methods that require a large amount of time and resources as well as testing grounds or specialised equipment.              

Virtual simulation has become an important tool for optimisation. However, due to the complex nature of the problem being addressed this method tends to require a large amount of computational resources. The development of a set of parametric equations capable of determining the optimal damper functions for a wide range of vehicles and applications would address the current issues related to optimising a passive system without the excessive cost and complexity of implementing an active system. 

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

The most enjoyable part of being a research student is having the freedom to pursue knowledge in the area of interest. It is very rewarding when I realise that I am slowly progressing into becoming an expert in the field. It is also challenging as it can be hard to manage all that freedom. Exploring a new topic opens quite a few doors of possible leads to follow and this can quickly become overwhelming if a clear sense of direction is not present. An essential skill that has to be developed and mastered during an MPhil/PhD is undoubtedly time management.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Oxford Brookes University offers a very comprehensive training program for research students. The Doctoral Training Program (DTP) is composed of weekly training sessions/lectures covering different areas that are of interest for researchers. Ethics, data visualisation, and speaking with the media are some examples of topics covered during these sessions which are a valuable addition to the program.

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Rebecca Raper

School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

Rebecca Raper is from Sheffield. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in April 2018 and her thesis title is ‘Autonomous Moral Artificial Intelligence’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I discovered Oxford Brookes University through findaphd.com. The PhD programme appealed to me, so I began to research the University. On first impressions, Oxford Brookes looked to have a good computing department and facilities. The overall University looked welcoming for new students, and Oxford as a city looked beautiful.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

What attracted me to Oxford Brookes University was the nature of the research project offered, which allowed me to progress my previous academic interests, within artificial intelligence and computing. I found the proposed topic extremely interesting and there was funding available which would allow me to study full time. I received a welcoming response when I emailed to find out about the research.

What were you doing before?

I completed a master’s degree in philosophy in 2010, after which I worked for several years in analyst roles. In the year prior to beginning my PhD, I was undertaking a further master’s in psychology, whilst working as a support worker for Mencap.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I struggled at first to find direction and formal structure for my research, but my supervisors were very supportive and gradually things became clearer. Being entirely new to Oxford, I didn’t know any other researchers, but I found other PhD students and staff members in the department to be very helpful and forthcoming. The initial one-day induction was very well structured and gave an overall idea of what a PhD student should do. It was also nice to meet students in a similar position. I have found the networking events throughout the year a good opportunity to meet people.

Tell us about your research.

The aim of my project is to design, create and evaluate autonomous moral artificial intelligence. The topic sits at the intersection of philosophy, psychology and computer science and involves looking at moral theory and finding a way to successfully put this into a machine.        

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a subject that has gained increasing public interest in recent years and it is becoming more popular. Simply put, AI involves re-creating human intelligence in a computer. Recent well-known advancements in this area include IBM’s Watson AI that was able to beat human contestants at Jeopardy, and the programme AlphaGo, created by Deepmind, that was able to successfully beat a human world champion at the board game Go. In the media, we have seen recent controversial advancements in autonomous car technology (the ability for a car to drive on its own), autonomous weapons, and robotics; all using AI. This has provoked a huge public response. Questions arise surrounding whether AI will take all our jobs or – worse still – whether machines will ever become so super intelligent that they pose a threat to human existence (see Bostrom’s Superintelligence).

As AI becomes ever more autonomous and involved in our day-to-day lives, there is the need for it to be governed in a similar way to humans – by morals. We would hope that a robot interacting with us on a daily basis would make appropriate moral decisions or that AI used to make important decisions makes those ethically. However, it is not so obvious how to make an AI moral. The traditional approach to programming an AI does not seem applicable when it comes to morals. A set of morals cannot be simply programmed into an AI (1) because it would be impossible to ever exhaustively think of every moral available and (2) because it’s not obvious how this would help an AI decide how to act in a moral situation.        

The purpose of my PhD is to find a more suitable approach to placing morals within AI. The hypothesis is that the best approach is to mimic the development of morals within children, and so create an AI that learns morals itself in a similar way. I am in the process of designing an AI that will be able to learn appropriate moral behaviours by picking up on social cues from its environment. The AI will then be evaluated by placing it in a game scenario, where we determine whether it behaves morally. It involves understanding the psychology of how children develop morals, sociology to ascertain the appropriate social cues, and some economics and game theory.         

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I find the topic I am researching extremely interesting. It is at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence research and I get to work with enthusiastic and stimulating people here at Brookes. As a PhD student, I have a deep pool of opportunities, including all the resources available at the University and from the Graduate College. I found initial orientation at the University difficult, but supervisors and staff here were very willing to help me settle in. Just asking people lots of questions helped me get the support I needed.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

The research training programme is rich and well planned. The induction helped prepare me for the first phase of my PhD and I have found training courses, from both the Graduate College and within my department, to be well taught and informative. Graduate College training courses have given me general skills to help me within academia, whilst the department programmes have given more specific tools – such as how to use Endnote.

What are your future plans?

At the moment, I am unsure of my future plans, but I feel I have lots of options open to me. If I fit in well to academia through my research, I will pursue a position within a university after my PhD, but I will also look at what kinds of opportunities there are within industry.        

I also have a start-up business that I am in the process of establishing, so this could be something to work on. 

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Xiaohan Yang

School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

Xiaohan Yang is originally from China. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in September 2015 and the title of her thesis is ‘Design Analysis and Tests of Reliable Memristor Based Logic Architectures’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first heard about Oxford Brookes University through one of the visiting research fellows from the University of Bristol.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

There is a lot of impressive work being done by the Advanced Reliable Computer Systems Group (ARCoS) and this attracted me to Oxford Brookes to conduct my research.

What were you doing before?

Before joining Brookes, I was working as a hardware engineer for CETC 28th (China Electronics Technology Group Corporation No. 28 Research Institute).

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

My supervisor, Dr Abusaleh Jabir, provided excellent support when I first joined Brookes and helped me to settle in quickly and access the Cadence (one of the most professional EDA tools).

Tell us about your research.

Introduction of the memristor and memristive based systems

Metal Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) transistor-based chips are currently being limited by scaling difficulties and parasitic capacitance. Therefore, chip manufactures are beginning to invest huge resource in order to explore alternative technologies for the evolution of computing devices. A memristor (short for “memory –resistor”), a two terminal nano-scale electronic device, is a highly promising technology as an alternative. The basic concept of the memristor was theorized by Leon Chua in 1971, which indicates the missing link between the charge (q) and flux (φ). Hence, the memristor operates in following ways: the resistance of the memristor is not a constant but depends on the history of the current that had previously followed through the device. It retains its previous resistance value after power has been removed, thereby remaining non-volatile. Since Hewlett-Packard fabricated the first physical memristive device based on titanium dioxide (TiO2) in 2008 [3]-[4], there has been increasing interest in different aspects of memristor applications such as high density memory design, neuromorphic systems, secure and crypto systems and logic design. The memristor can be interfacing with the existing CMOS technology, owing to the fact that they both share the similar fabrication properties. Additionally, it also can be scaled very small geometry and can be fabricated in layer upon layer, thereby providing a 3D compact architecture for hybrid memristor –CMOS chips.  

Proposed memristor based logic architecture

Most of the techniques for designing logic circuits with memristors require multiple sequential steps and complex control logic to realise even the simplest logic function. While there are some existing techniques which operate on single cycle operation fail to work with realistic resistance value and require more power. In MPhil state, firstly we investigate the different behaviour models of the memristor and by modifying and improving those models we generalise an asymmetric hysteresis I-V characteristic for logic design particularly. Then, we propose a single cycle purely memristive logic XOR architecture, consisting of only 4 memristors. We seamlessly integrate this architecture with only one transistor, thereby resulting a hybrid 1T-4M architecture with dual XOR/AND and XNOR/OR functionality. (We have a patent published on this part of work. Further details may be found from my supervisor Dr Abusaleh M. Jabir ajabir@brookes.ac.uk and the RBDO.) Meanwhile, we also propose memristive MIN-MAX functionality by realising that memristor have inherent properties for the multiple valued logic. Recent technological advances are seeing memristors operating at much higher frequencies. Hence, we explore the effects of frequencies on the physical parameters of memristor; thereby propose a reliable high frequency design technique based on our 1T-4M architectures. To this end, with help of memristive full adder design and memristive bit parallel multiplier over GF(24) design, we show that our proposed memristive logic architecture require considerably low power and low overhead while maintaining the reliable performance at low as well as high frequencies.  

Parasitic effects on memristive logic architecture

Since the first physical memristive device was fabricated at HP lab in 2008, a number of memristor models have been proposed rapidly with their own attributes (e.g. symmetricity and operating frequency). However, none of these models are take the parasitic effects into consideration. To meet the reality properly, the    latest released generic memristor model consists of the memristor basic model in parallel with a parasitic capacitor and a current source. Then, they connect in series with a parasitic inductor and voltage source. The parasitic capacitor and parasitic inductor joined here are specifically to emulate those physical effects which might cause pinched point of the I-V hysteresis loop shift from the origin or even disappeared after the circuit operating above the certain frequency. To investigate parasitic effects on proposed memristive XOR gate, we input a unit step function to a single generic memristor model. Owing to the effects of the parasitic elements which form a second-order circuit, hence, the output demonstrates the decaying oscillation. We applied this generic model to our XOR circuit. The experimental results shows that most of the decaying oscillations generated by the parasitic components have been cancelled effectivity due to the bridge connection. These results have been published in our paper. The paper also observed that parasitic components can generate more propagation delay and increase the degree of the randomness for the processing variation. These characteristics lead to a starting point on the memristive arbiter physical unclonable function.  

Physical Unclonability in Memristive Hybrid Systems

Physical unclonability based memristive hybrid system is inspired by the previous work and experimental results which I described above. In the present era, electronic devices are prevalent in our daily lives which lead to highly demand on implementing a reliable cryptographic system. Conventional    crypto-system relied on mathematic or algorithm is basically keeping the binary keys secretly. However, most of these technologies require extra chip area, high power consumption and high manufacturing costs. Unfortunately, those keys can also be exposed easily by cryptographic attack techniques such as modelling attacks, side-channel attacks and Brute-Force attacks. To create a lightweight, low power and low cost system with maintaining the high security level is a challenge. Physical Unclonable Function (PUF) was just invented decade ago. It has been applied for the key generation and challenge-response authentication. Comparing with the conventional cryptographic system, this emerging technology uses the manufacturing variation of the physical device as the source of the security primitive especially when the device scaling down to the nano-meter. For example, uncontrollable random variation of the doping concentration and undesirable difference in physical dimension (e.g. channel length, width etc.) lead to the device being extremely difficult to be re-fabricated. Memristor as one of the most well-known emerging nano-scale electronic devices realises a highly random variation owing to internal parasitic elements which has been shown on paper and state clearly in the previous section. This parasitic inherent property induces the memristor based security primitives much stronger than conventional metal oxide semiconductor based security primitives. Based on our hybrid memristive XOR architecture, we built up a 16-bits delay based arbiter PUF which shows acceptable uniqueness, uniformity and reliability. This is still ongoing research. More analysis and optimisation need to be done.  

Fault Models for Memristive Logic Architecture & Novel Technique to Mitigate Sneak-Path

To achieve high-quality of memristor based circuit, we need to explore test factors and build fault models to identify and diagnose faults. Then apply the test with stress such as high voltage and frequency to detect the potential defects of memristors to achieve high reliability. Some faults that have been identified with the memristor include Stuck-At Fault which means the state of output circuit stuck in state one or state zero; and Undefined State Fault which means the output of the circuit is neither one nor zero.  

Another major challenge in the memristive logic architecture is sneak-path problem, which in turn leads to erroneous results and excessive power consumption. So far, none of the proposed techniques have been able to eliminate sneak-path without any drawbacks.     

The overall aim for this stage is to design large reliable memristive logic system which could lead to high frequency, low power and low area chip design.  

How has the Santander scholarship helped your research project and progression of your research degree programme?

The scholarship has helped me to save money from tuition fees and buy some research related material (i.e. paid Journals). I am able to manage my expenses properly, which has enabled me to concentrate more on my study.

What are your future plans?

I would like to continue my research within this field.

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Zixuan Ran

School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics

Zixuan Ran is originally from China. She joined Oxford Brookes in April 2016 and her thesis title is ‘Development of Advanced Silicon Fibre Reinforced Aluminium Matrix Composites’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

After completing my master’s degree at the University of Dundee, I was looking for a doctorate which allowed me to explore and learn new things in detail. Oxford Brookes University was offering some really interesting PhD project opportunities online (at jobs.ac.uk).

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

What really attracted me to Oxford Brookes University was the opportunity to be involved in a cutting edge project. I was impressed with the research interests and the experience of my supervisors: Dr Neil Fellows and Professor John Durodola. And what’s more, the PhD was fully funded by the Oxford Brookes University 150th anniversary scholarship.

What were you doing before?

I did my undergraduate degree in Tianjin Medical University with the exchange year at the University of Dundee. Then I continued my MSc in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Dundee, for which I achieved a Distinction.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I love the research environment here; everyone is friendly and helpful. There is lots of training offered at Brookes and I have gained really valuable skills in research and self-development. My supervisors have been really patient, supportive and constantly provide me with encouragement, valuable advice and unconditional help.

Tell us about your research.

Long fibre reinforced metal matrix composites have been under development since the early 1990s but had struggled to become commercial due to high manufacturing costs. This lack of commercial success had curtailed investment, hindering proper understanding of the material properties and component design optimisation.        

However, there are niche applications where the strength to weight ratio makes them commercially attractive, for example Al/C composites are now successfully used in a number of countries as over-head power transmission cables. New improved manufacturing techniques are leading to improved material properties at lower cost. This improves the potential for commercial viability and provides an impetus for further research into material characterisation and design optimisation.        

My project aims to utilise modelling techniques to optimise both material and component design. The applications being considered are for automotive engine, vehicle crash and biomedical components.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

The best part of being a research student is the opportunity it provides to improve my ability to understand and solve problems, to explore and learn new things every day and push myself to new heights.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

The research training offered at Brookes is really helpful. It covers a wide range of topics from research time management to technical analysis skills.

What are your future plans?

My goal is to apply my knowledge and skills into practice. Undertaking a PhD is a great experience and an opportunity to challenge myself. It has improved my ability to solve complex problems and helped me develop valuable transferrable skills. It is an excellent training process for creativity, professionalism and confidence.

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Avar Almukhtar

School of the Built Environment

Avar Almukhtar is originally from Erbil Iraq and joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in 2011. His thesis title is ‘Place-identity in historic cities; embracing heritage, globalisation, and conflict in Erbil Iraq’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I did my MA in Urban Design at Oxford Brookes through the Chevening Scholarship Programme in 2010.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I was attracted to Oxford Brookes University for three main reasons. Firstly, my MA experience was a positive one which encouraged me to continue here. Secondly, the University’s successful postgraduate programme in Urban Design alongside excellent and supportive academic staff; Professor Georgia Butina-Watson is an expert in place-identity which is my research topic. Finally, the beautiful historic city of Oxford with its wide and international academic environment, and its location close to London, was an influencing factor too.

What were you doing before?

I was practicing Architecture in Iraq before moving to the UK, working on various projects from housing developments to shopping malls. I worked as an Architect at Costain, a British Construction Company based in Erbil, before starting my own architecture practice.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

The great support from both supervisors and the wider department made it easy to integrate into the research environment.

Tell us about your research.

There is wide concern about the erosion of place-identity in our cities and urban areas. The world has experienced significant changes ranging from globalisation, technology advancement, and rapid urbanisation, to conflict and war. Throughout history, war has caused fundamental political, economic, and social transformations around the world, spatially impacting urban form. Cities that face conflict and war such as the Iraqi and Syrian cities of Aleppo and Mosul are under attack, not only on the human and physical level, but also on intangible elements such as culture, traditions, historical values, and heritage sites and landmarks. As the situation stabilises and political, economic, and social changes emerge, reconstruction efforts begin as a part of the post-war recovery process. However, changes introduced by post-war urban reconstruction may result in challenges that threaten and weaken local identity such as rapid urbanisation and globalisation.  

This is especially relevant in the developing world where priorities are focused on primary needs and there is a lack of governmental structure that is capable of creating comprehensive policies for urban developments and reconstruction. Nowhere is that more evident than in emerging nations that have been beset with war,     conflict and ethnic tensions as they strive for autonomy and independence without restraints on place-identity and global positioning. Iraqi Kurdistan is a clear example of such a case where place-identity is a struggle between social values, the importance of heritage and tradition, new governance structures, and global promotion of the region through a post-war urban reconstruction process. The city of Erbil specifically is one of the cities in the forefront of these challenges as it is the preeminent capital of the emerging Iraqi-Kurdistan Nation, which is the context of my research.       

Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq is such a city. The city hosts the Erbil Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which dates back to nearly 5000 B.C. The Citadel is thought to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements, which has gone through layers of different civilizations. After war ravaged the country in 2003, a decade of reconstruction ensued with a long period of political and economic stability resulting in a rapid urbanisation. The post-war reconstruction process was a challenge between aspirations of promoting the city globally (as a capital of an emerging nation) and Erbil’s historical roots represented in the Citadel and the old town. This has involved an array of urban actors including international investors and NGOs that have influenced the transformation of Erbil’s place-identity.  

My research studies the transformation of Erbil and its historical identity during the post-war reconstruction period. It employs a morphological analysis of the city’s historic core and contemporary areas combined with key informant interviews with local residents, policy makers, and stakeholders in order to explore the impact of the intensive post-war urban development process on the city’s place-identity. Key findings of Erbil’s morphological analysis indicate that post-war reconstruction process has radically transformed the city’s urban fabric both in the old and the contemporary areas. Arguably, reflecting globalised design patterns and ignoring the historic morphological traces that the city has acquired through centuries. Consequently, post-war urban transformation has been negatively impacting Erbil’s unique place-identity. Additionally, this loss of place-identity has spread to other areas of the city as a result of insensitive and short-sighted redevelopment strategies and policies. Therefore, the erosion of place-identity of growing importance, particularly in the context of historic cities facing, or coming out of, periods of conflict and especially through post-war development interventions, rapid urbanization, and political aspirations to promote the city globally as a capital of an emerging autonomous micro-nation. Therefore, there is a pressing need to address the issue of place-identity within a planning and urban design framework in a post conflict zone context.      

The key challenge of my research is to identify how urban development processes can enhance place-identity within post-war development interventions and rapid urbanisation; a key gap in the knowledge. Using Erbil as a case study, this research aims to develop a methodology and theoretical propositions to support place-identity in this unique context. It further develops a set of urban design strategies and guidelines to enhance place-identity in the process of post-war urban reconstruction to result in a harmonious relationship between historic urban cores and new urban developments. Focus is placed on accommodating the needs for modernisation without compromising historic character and local place-identity. 

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I enjoy the exposure to various researchers through seminars, workshops and talks, where interesting topics are debated. I also enjoyed the opportunity to engage with teaching urban design in the department.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

I am very satisfied with the research training, it’s absolutely great. I feel it has prepared me to face challenges during various stages of my research. I have also received incredible support from both of my supervisors, Professor Georgia Butina-Watson and Dr Laura Novo De Azevedo. Additionally, Graduate College training and events have helped me to acquire skills and be prepared for a career after completion of my PhD.

What are your future plans?

I am open on what to do next. I would like to continue working in research, pursue a career in academia and do consultancy in international urban development.

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Ifonima Essien

School of the Built Environment

Ifonima Essien is originally from Nigeria and joined Oxford Brookes in 2013. He is a research student in the Department of Real Estate and Construction. His thesis title is 'The Impact of Complex Systems Environment on Building Construction Performance: A Case of Lagos, Nigeria.'

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I heard about Oxford Brookes from researching universities online.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

There were three things that aided my decision to conduct my research at Brookes; the erudite supervisory team assigned to me, the Oxford Institute of Sustainable Development (OISD) research group and the prompt feedback received from staff during the application process, especially from Dr. Ramin Keivani.

What were you doing before?

I was teaching in the Department of Architecture at the University of Uyo, along with practising as an Architect/Project Manager in Nigeria.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Settling into the research environment was quite easy for me and the research environment in general, support and available resources are excellent.

Tell us about your research project.

My PhD focuses on exploring the influence of the complexity of the external environment of construction systems on building construction performance in Lagos, Nigeria.            

Prior to joining Oxford Brookes in January 2013, I had gained extensive work experience in the construction industry in various regions of Nigeria. In 2000 I started my professional career in an architecture practice working in a project management role on numerous Government and private construction projects. It was astonishing to note that despite the best practice and intentions of the professionals’, contractors’ and client’s organisations, these construction projects seldom met the performance expectations of the stakeholders. This scenario and other identified inadequacies have mostly informed the motivation for my research. However, I later discovered that these problems are not particular to Nigeria.            

The majority of construction projects around the world consistently fail to achieve project objectives of budget, schedule and quality that were set out at inception. Much of the blame for this failure is attributed to environmental factors, which are outside of the control of construction organisations and practitioners. These are environmental factors that possess inherent subsystems, such as political, socio-cultural, economic, technological, legal and institutional regulatory bodies. These forces interact to yield outputs that act as stimuli for change in the construction industry the world over.            

The change in environment and its effect on the construction industry is encapsulated in the transformation that occurred in construction related professional disciplines in the 20th century. Construction Project Management (CPM) as a discipline evolved in the 1960s in response to the growing challenges of the construction industry and the inability of the traditional practitioners to cope with its complexity. Defined as the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives, CPM offered an ideal approach to addressing some of the problems of the construction industry. However, following almost 60 years of CPM research and development, literature is lacking in sufficient studies that focus on evaluating the complexity of the external environments of construction projects. This is the gap in knowledge which my research seeks to fill.            

The paradigm shift that occurred with the advent of the 21st century has challenged project management thinking and raised questions about the efficacy of current theories. Should practitioners be more focused on conformance to construction specification rather than performance to stakeholders’ expectation? Can construction organisations and their project procurement strategies remain static in an environment of constantly evolving characteristics? These and many more questions have shaped recent discourse of construction development. Without doubt, the project environment poses a strong influence on the performance of construction projects and this study will hopefully heighten awareness of the extent of its impact.            

Furthermore, the external environment of construction projects differs across various countries of the world and developing countries particularly exhibit increasingly complex and dynamic scenarios. This is due to factors such as poverty, poor access to capital, insufficient infrastructure, rapid urbanisation, rural - urban migration, agrarian type economies and inequality in wealth distribution. These have resulted in higher risk environments, which impacts the outputs and outcomes of construction endeavours and requires a greater level of research and management innovation. The case of Lagos, Nigeria is no exception.            

Lagos is Nigeria’s most populous city with a population estimated to attain 25 million by 2015, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, and will rank among the top mega-cities in the world. Lagos was Nigeria’s capital city from 1960 until 1991 and still remains    the country’s commercial hub, having evolved from a trade harbour in the 19th century. It currently accounts for about 52% of Nigeria’s economic activity, which has resulted in massive rural to urban migration. Providing housing, social and infrastructural facilities to match its requirements remains a challenge, which may be due to its peculiar environmental complexities. I recently spent several weeks in Lagos to conduct a pilot study and was pleasantly surprised at the on-going efforts at physical transformation in the state.            

With particular regard to building construction, Lagos has witnessed a boisterous industry in recent times with both public and private initiatives geared towards rapidly reducing the building deficit, especially in housing development. Similarly, I was amazed at the warm reception and enthusiasm with which my inquiries were addressed. Participants were keen to respond to my questions and help out by providing suitable contacts, permitting access to building construction sites, providing secondary data and much more. Ironically, even Government functionaries were open to speak about their experiences and were quick to admit the need for a synergy between industry and academia for the improvement of building construction delivery in Lagos state. I was quite pleased with the cordial reception received and respondents’ deep insight on the conditions of the construction industry in Lagos and its external environment.            

This experience helped me improve upon my research design and to clearly identify suitable respondents for the primary data gathering exercise. A mixed method approach, using both quantitative and qualitative methods, will be adopted to achieve the objectives of my research. To understand the nature and severity of project environment complexity and its impact on construction performance, semi-structured interviews will be conducted in the first instance. These will draw on their lived experiences in the study area, while the completion of structured questionnaires will be used to validate the facts about the causal relationship amongst these    phenomena. This is necessary in order that the different aspects of this investigation can be dovetailed. The research participants will be drawn from the leadership in the construction industry in Lagos, Nigeria.            

Leadership exists in 3 levels in the construction industry; (1) Industry Regulators level (i.e. Government regulators), (2) Professional institutes and trade associations and, (3) Construction companies. Respondents are to be drawn from each leadership level and their selection criteria will include a minimum of 5 years post qualification industry experience in Lagos, to ensure that they possess sufficient knowledge of the study environment. Specifically, participants will be evenly drawn from the 7 construction-related professional bodies which comprise the Nigerian Construction Industry e.g. Nigerian Institute of Architects. Others will include Engineers’, Quantity Surveyors’, Estate Valuers’, Town Planners’, Land Surveyors' and Builders’ bodies.            

The recruitment and selection of participants added an interesting twist to my research. During my visit to Lagos, I was able to acquire the membership directories of these professional associations and have since made efforts to contact likely respondents by telephone. These interactions to solicit involvement in the next phase of the study have proved to be quite fascinating. Whilst some respondents expressed scepticism about the prospect of giving out information to a total stranger, most seemed quite enthused and pleased to be recruited for the study. In all, over 100 respondents have signified their interest in helping out with the study. Without doubt, sharing their personal stories and lived professional experiences will provide an interesting narrative for unravelling the dynamics of the complex construction industry in Lagos.            

Therefore, the study will seek to develop a conceptual framework for evaluating the extent of these environmental influences on building construction projects and proffer methods for operationalizing pragmatic responses. Furthermore, critical success factors for successful implementation of building construction projects in emergent, self-organizing and non-linear environments will be examined in the Construction Project Management context. The direct impact of specific environmental stimulus such as construction related legislation emanating in Lagos, will be examined and wider conclusions drawn for improved understanding and building construction delivery. It is hoped that the results of the study will contribute knowledge for developing building construction projects into learning and complex adaptive organisations, which can respond favourably to environmental forces.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I love the challenge and unpredictability of academic research, as well as the exhilaration of establishing new knowledge. One of the key challenges for me has been finding a clear focus for my study. I have been constantly inundated with the reality of how difficult it is to study the ‘environment’ given its sheer scope, size, complexity, inherent ambiguities and the resources available for PhD research. These challenges were quite daunting but I have persevered and since figured out a rational approach for getting the work done. 

Furthermore, I have found that conducting a good and successful PhD research project requires diligence, intense motivation, good interpersonal relationship skills, excellent communication and sustained passion. 

What are your future plans?

Finish my PhD in Construction Project Management and pursue a career as an Academic and International Development Consultant.

Photo of Ifonima Essien

Sheila Isabel Irigoyen Zozaya

School of the Built Environment

Sheila Isabel Irigoyen Zozaya joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in October 2015. Her thesis title is ‘Defining and restoring the cultural landscape and place-identity of historic cities: The case of Mérida, Yucatán, México’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I heard about Oxford Brookes University through a personal recommendation from my Professor in Merida Arq. Edgardo Bolio Arceo, PhD, who previously studied at Brookes.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I was attracted to Oxford Brookes for many reasons. Firstly, through personal recommendations from some Professors and colleagues in Merida, and the amazing cultural environment in Oxfordshire. Secondly, I was attracted by the Research Group, particularly the research and experience of Professor Georgia Butina Watson. Her research and expertise is well known in Mexico. Thirdly I consulted the University website and other online reviews from students. So far, I must say, I am very satisfied with my decision.  

What were you doing before?

I was combining professional practice with teaching BA in Architecture and Habitat Design at the Faculty of Architecture, UADY, in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.  I also was painting in my free time the human body, experimenting with different techniques as well as urban sketching with ink and watercolour.  I was very busy being a mum too and perhaps that is the reason it took me a long time to decide to start this PhD.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

It was very easy to get used to everything, despite arriving a little bit late (first week of October). Everyone was very helpful from the beginning and that really made it feel like home. The research environment at Oxford Brookes is great. I have been very lucky with my supervisors Georgia Butina Watson and Laura Novo de Acevedo, who have been wonderful. Their guidance and professionalism has been essential to develop my proposal. My PhD colleagues come from different nationalities and I have learnt a lot from them. Therefore friendships and knowledge flourish in abundance because it comes from different sources and costumes. The resources available at the University are very good, although I wish to be more in touch with art groups, so I could learn new ways to involve art in the urban scenery which undoubtedly improves cultural landscapes.

Tell us about your research.

Cultural landscapes are historically intertwined in the urban development of many cities. They provide a sense of cultural identity and help explain the relationship between natural and human processes through time (Radović, 2009; Plieninger and Bieling, 2012). In the past, traditional cultural landscapes were characterized by their symbiotic connection with local communities and their ability to adapt to the environment (Adam, 2011; Brislin, 2012). However, many of them have experienced fundamental transformations with severe impact on the ecosystem of human settlements (Butina Watson and Bentley, 2007; Hopkins, 2015). Unsustainable solutions in architecture and urban design, as well as the homogenization of cultural landscapes are becoming common phenomena affecting their local place-identity (Brislin and Pallasmaa, 2012).   

The city of Merida is a representative case. Merida is the capital of the Yucatan state which concentrates the political, economic and cultural power in the region. For many years, these enticements and its geographic location have attracted changes in the urban scenery. From the sixteenth to the first half of the twentieth century, new trends transformed the Mayan cultural landscape; yet, key heritage values endured and evolved thanks to their effectiveness and resilience (Chico, 2002; Román, 2002; Espadas, 2003; Peraza, 2008).      

Nowadays, these values have been forgotten and the city is becoming an anonymous entity, poorly defined and insensible to the value of environment. New developments usually imitate international consumer trends uncritically forgetting the lessons from the past (Peraza, 2008; Adam, 2011; Canto, 2013). Moreover, weak planning strategies, regulatory framework and governance processes foster the rise of incompatible land uses, impacting negatively on the continuity of traditional cultural landscapes (Alonso 2003; Bolio, 2012). This erosion is a major concern for the residents and various professional groups, who are seeking new ways to preserve their heritage in order to rediscover their identity and to achieve sustainable solutions at the urban level. Then, the challenge will be to promote an innovative approach in urban design that re-evaluates and integrates the essential components of the local cultural landscape and place-identity, to preserve the heritage and also to find equilibrium between nostalgia of the past and progress.   

Therefore, the aim of this research is to develop a conceptual framework and methodology to define the cultural landscape and place-identity in the city of Merida, Yucatan and to develop theoretical and urban design propositions to achieve a positive and sustainable place-identity. This will benefit the local community to: a) preserve and revitalise their cultural landscapes; and b) add value to the urban development encouraging a sustainable design in Merida.   

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I think one of the most difficult challenges so far has been the time management between family chores, painting and research at the same time. My son is 9 years old and requires attention and support.  I remember the first semester I struggled with research training times and deadlines. However, my husband, the staff and other PhD colleagues have been fantastic and really supportive. Another major challenge is that I live in Faringdon, Oxfordshire. It is a fantastic small community but it usually takes me more than an hour to travel to the University. The bus fares are expensive too. Despite the distance and cost, I discovered that the time I take to come to University it has helped me to feel and learn more of British cultural landscapes. I love the different scenery between Faringdon and Oxford, and walking through the city of Oxford which gives me time to read, perceive and analyse many things.

What do you think about the research training offered at Brookes?

The research training at Brookes offers a wide variety of options and they come from different sources: from research seminars, lunch-time and Spark sessions or the research student training sessions.  I particularly like that some courses are available more than once in a year. They are very well organised in advance stating clearly the purpose, duration and what you can expect to learn in each course. Moreover, you are not alone in this task. Your supervisors guide you to choose the ones that help you develop skills or new knowledge useful for your research training.

What are your future plans?

I would like to go back into teaching and continue doing research. I discovered that new knowledge is waiting to be discovered every day. I would like to continue with my art too.

Photo of Sheila Isabel Irigoyen Zozaya

Jonida Murataj

School of Architecture

Jonida Murataj is originally from Albania. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in October 2015 and her thesis title is ‘Investigating the most effective retrofitting strategies for improving comfort and energy use in residential buildings in Albania’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I completed an Msc in Sustainable Building: Performance and Design at Oxford Brookes in 2013.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I did my master’s degree here and I was aware of the high teaching quality and the great support and facilities at Brookes. However, what really attracted me the most to conduct my research at Oxford Brookes was the international reputation and recognition of the Low Carbon Building Group and its Director, Professor Rajat Gupta, for research on the area of buildings, energy and sustainability.

What were you doing before?

For the last five years, I have been developing properties with my family in Brighton. Prior to starting the PhD, I had also been involved in the project of ‘Waste House’ at the University of Brighton; from the building’s construction to installing and commissioning of the monitoring system for collecting environmental data regarding the building’s performance.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

Initially, being a new mum of a four month old baby, it was very challenging. Then, day by day, my confidence and motivation grew together with my motherhood instincts. My supervisor always says: your PhD is as old as your daughter. However, I want my daughter to live forever but want my research project to end this year.        

I have been very lucky to work with two internationally recognised professors: Professor Rajat Gupta and Professor Fergus Nicol, who above anything else have been very supportive throughout my studies. There have also been various sources available at the University that have made this journey even more thoughtful.

Tell us about your research.

In an acknowledged reality, where improving the energy performance of existing housing stock provides the greatest potential to energy savings and achieving national and global carbon reduction targets, different cases of unsuccessful retrofitting activities have indicated multiple barriers, even when they are technical and financially viable. Often, they are associated with relatively high levels of uncertainty of their acceptance or successful outcome because of the number of stakeholders that are involved and their backgrounds, knowledge, position, objectives and interests. Therefore, the retrofits that take place need to be considered in a wider context than purely technical and must include occupants’ behaviours and practices in the housing. 

Against this context, my doctoral study aims to investigate the most effective retrofitting strategies to achieve energy and emission reductions, which are not only technically feasible and affordable but also acceptable to people. This research will bring monitoring, energy modelling and people's perceptions together to develop feasible measures for energy retrofits. Treating households as in-depth case studies and developing better energy modelling informed by reality and pre-retrofit surveys that creates a full picture of the actual performance of the houses, will be central to predicting energy savings.        

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

This is a once in the life-time opportunity for me to be able to focus 100% on one research project, to read and to be able to contribute to knowledge; and to be rewarded for my hard work by being an expert in that small discovery. With no doubt, this has been the most challenging experience for me; where you have to research in every single step of the project, and it is amazing how you can find answers for everything. Not all days are the same, but I try to work at least eight hours a day on my research. I set deadlines and I have always written up after each analysis.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

I liked the fact that most of the training was focused in the first year and gave me the necessary technical and practical knowledge and skills to conduct a research project. It offered a variety of topics and it was related to my area of research.

What are your future plans?

I have found that retrofitting existing buildings is one of my greatest interests. I have also realised that research can take everything to another level. Therefore, my professional future will be related to buildings, design and research. Unquestionably, I would also like to contribute to my country, Albania, through creating collaborations for research projects in the future.

Photo of Jonida Murataj

Luka Oreskovic

School of Architecture

Luka Oreskovic is originally from Croatia. He joined Oxford Brookes in January 2017 and the title of his thesis is ‘Evaluating the Real Environmental Performance of an ‘Exemplar’ Eco-Housing Development in Oxfordshire’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

I first heard about Oxford Brookes University back in 2010 when I was searching for top UK architecture schools and courses about sustainability in architecture. I saw an advertisement for a PhD scholarship at Oxford Brookes and, after arriving in Oxford, I was really impressed with the new modern buildings and great facilities at the Headington campus.

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I had been searching for a while for the opportunity to undertake a PhD programme with the right research topic, and supported by a scholarship. I was interested in learning more about sustainability in architecture, therefore seeing the opportunity to undertake a funded PhD study about an eco-housing development in the UK seemed very attractive. Also, to have Professor Rajat Gupta, a well-known researcher in the field, to be my Director of Studies was an excellent opportunity.

What were you doing before?

Before commencing my research programme, I worked for 7 years in architecture and adjacent fields, such as construction management of domestic projects, consultancy in sustainable buildings and sustainable urban landscaping. I worked in Europe, Central America and South East Asia.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

It was quite challenging to switch from the industry to the academic mind-set and work dynamics. However, the support and resources provided by the University helped with this transition.

Tell us about your research.

In line with international action on limiting global warming, the UK Government has delivered Planning policy statement 1: eco-towns supplement (PPS1) defining advanced environmental standards of future eco-housing settlements. A housing development in Oxfordshire is the sole project complying with the planning supplement, aspiring to achieve targets such as zero carbon emissions from dwelling use, 80 litres/ household/ day water consumption, > 45% of non-car travels and high waste recycling rates by combining energy efficient design and "green" infrastructure aimed to foster pro-environmental behaviours amongst residents. Energy monitoring results of new low-carbon homes have revealed up to three times more energy used than targeted (performance gap), while assessments of pioneering eco-developments reported difficulties in making their residents’ lifestyles more sustainable.    

Taking a socio-technical approach, this study aims to assess the real energy and environmental performance of the first two phases of the case study eco-housing development in Oxfordshire. Broad assessment includes empirical monitoring (dwelling energy use, energy generation, water use and indoor conditions) and gathering resident feedback in terms of experience and satisfaction with dwelling use and environmental behaviours (transportation, waste recycling and food purchasing). Based on real performance data, case study findings will contribute to the evidence base about real environmental performance of eco-housing neighbourhoods, provide feedback to the project delivery team and planning policy makers, but also inform practitioners in future planning, design, delivery and monitoring processes of similar ambitious projects.    

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I enjoy having access to literature, being able to share ideas and receive and give support to my colleagues during this programme. There are numerous challenges a student faces over 3-4 years of study and it is no wonder many of us struggle, some even stop studying. The main strategy I came up with is to be part of a supportive research community, but also to build up your mental strength, inner discipline, perseverance, flexibility, motivation and patience, in order to cope with continuous work pressure, but also the weather and reduced quality of life as a student.

What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

Research training offered is an introduction to approaches in research and methodologies. Each study is different and requires a deep dive into literature.

What are your future plans?

My old personal and professional future plans now need to adapt to the reality of changing climate, causing multiple socio-economic and environmental issues globally, occurring faster than previously expected by existing scientific models. Once understood, this is indeed an incredibly hard thing to accept, and to still find meaning and joy in the things we do every day.

Photo of Luka Oreskovic

Salem Al Qudwa

School of Architecture

Salem Al Qudwa joined the School of Architecture as a full-time PhD by Design Student in 2015 and his research project is titled "Architecture of the Everyday as a Responsive Possibility for the Gaza Strip, Palestine".

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

The School of Architecture has earned an outstanding reputation as one of the top five architecture schools in the UK.

What were you doing before?

I worked for eleven years in design and construction and also taught architecture in Palestine.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

My first semester was very energetic. I attended most of the academic events for researchers at Brookes, including extensive training sessions and learning about other methodological approaches at the weekly lunch research seminars.

In May 2015, I presented my research with a presentation and a poster at the 3rd Annual Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment Student Research Conference. My colleagues’ presentations were vibrant and, supported by their mapping and works in reality, gave a real value to the essence of our research and its role towards the development of our communities. My poster was judged the most informative and graphically appealing and I was pleased that my work was recognised in this way.

I attended most of the Architecture Society's lectures presented by high profile professionals. Oxford has given me the chance to fulfil my artistic potentials through visiting exhibitions and art galleries. Walking tours enabled me to develop a good understanding of contemporary and modern architecture within the ‘city of dreaming spires’ . 

Trying to give something back to Brookes and the City, I worked as a guest tutor in reviews and tutorials for undergraduate and master studios. I took part in installing the end of year show of the School of Architecture in May 2015 and volunteered with a registered charity caring for elderly people with physical and mental health problems.

With very limited resources, I financed the first year of my study. I was aware of the challenges and financial constraints related to leaving my family and starting a new life as a research student in the UK but I was persistent to take the challenge. I believe that my studies will help me offer something meaningful in return, not only for myself but for the whole community and families in Gaza who are desperate for a change to happen.

In January 2016 I received the Oxford Brookes 150th Anniversary Funding (Architecture Student Award). I am proud to have received this recognition which has encouraged me to push on with my studies and never give up. I became a research assistant to the Design Theory and Practice research group and working closely with design researchers is an exciting research experience.

Tell us about your research.

My research curiosity resides in how to engage local affected communities in the reconstruction process and to empower them to build their own appropriate homes that respond to their socio-cultural practices while making efficient use of scarce resources.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

Being a research student is a transformative experience. I have great supervisors who are always available for advice and checking the development of my research. In my first year, I made excellent progress on the specific topic and also on how to manage my research project, providing a strong foundation for my PhD. I am always surrounded by high quality teaching and research, imagery sketches, drawings and craft models.

In addition to architecture and as a self-taught visual artist, I regularly attended art sessions at the School of Arts. Presenting my research to different audiences facilitated analysis and discussion, particularly at its initial stage. Receiving constructive feedback enabled me to firm up my ideas and further develop my research, which encourages a more cross-disciplinary learning process and networking opportunities.

Achieving such a great deal during my first year at Brookes and being very proud of participating in this lively atmosphere, I am so thankful for my inspiring Supervisors, the Research Team and my cheerful PhD colleagues. It is amazing to have the chance to be in a foreign country and be supported by a great group of people; this will always be the most beautiful part of my journey in Oxford. Time is flying and right now I am carrying out my field work in Gaza, looking forward to returning to Oxford and to Oxford Brookes.

Photo of Salem Al Qudwa

Zoe Jordan

School of Architecture

Zoë Jordan joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in April 2016. Her thesis title is ‘The role of humanitarian response in supporting refugee hosting networks in urban areas during protracted displacement’.

How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

Some friends from school went to Oxford Brookes for their undergraduate degree. I did not think about it again for several years, until I saw the advertisement for my PhD position!

What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

I had an idea of what I wanted to research during my PhDfor a few years before I applied. I had begun looking at different programmes buthad not found the right fit. When I found this opportunity it was perfect - theright topic, a great supervisor, a strong research group, and funding. I wasalso excited to move to Oxford.

What were you doing before?

Before starting my PhD, I was managing a humanitarian programme in Haiti. We worked with people who had lost their homes in the 2010 earthquake. The project helped them get back into safe housing, to develop small business initiatives, and to reduce the impact of future disasters. Our other projects worked to secure people’s access to food during an impending drought, and on cholera response and prevention.

How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

I only came back from Haiti four days before I began my programme at Oxford Brookes, so it was quite a change of environment! I had not seen any photos of the University before I arrived on campus and I remember being impressed by the John Henry Brookes Building. I met my supervisor that morning. She was very welcoming and talked through some of the first steps. She also introduced me to other staff and students in the School. One of my new fellow PhD students gave me a chocolate - a good start! Though I had completed a module of an online MA while in Haiti, coming to the campus was still quite a change of pace, as was adjusting to studying full time. Attending Induction and other training sessions from the Graduate College and the Faculty's Doctoral Training Programme was helpful in finding my feet.

Tell us about your research.

The purpose of my research is to improve understanding of refugee hosting in protracted urban contexts. I chose to look at refugee hosting in Jordan, where I worked with Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Somali people. Most of my work focused on the hosting practices and experiences of young, single, Sudanese men. Sudanese refugees in Jordan often have acute unmet shelter, healthcare, education, and food security needs, and extremely limited income-earning opportunities. Many Sudanese report frequent incidents of racially motivated harassment, verbal abuse, and physical violence. I chose to focus on the young men as they are excluded on multiple fronts. Most humanitarian aid goes to the much larger Syrian refugee population and men are rarely a priority in humanitarian response. They also receive limited support - or even hostility - from other urban residents due to widespread racism.

Refugee hosting happens in situations where refugees are sharing space and resources with someone else. This happens at different scales – from a country hosting a refugee population, as with the Syrian population in Jordan, right down to hosting at the household level, where refugees share accommodation with others. My work looks at what happens at the household level, when people are sharing their homes with others. In towns and cities around the world, refugees live with host families. Sharing accommodation with displaced people is a widespread and longstanding practice, offering vital support to thousands of people displaced by conflict and disaster. Hosting can provide shelter, access to food, water, and sanitation facilities, connections to work, safety and protection, and psychosocial support and advice. It can contribute to a sense of belonging, to maintaining or restoring someone’s identity and sense of connection to their culture, history and place of origin, and to beginning a process of integration in their place of displacement. Hosting can also present a danger – overcrowding, poor living conditions, ill-health, stress, a lack of privacy, exploitation and abuse.

Despite its widespread prevalence and recognition of the importance of host families from humanitarian actors, there has not been much detailed work into understanding it. With so much at stake, I think that it is essential that humanitarian actors better understand how hosting works and the impact that their policies can have. In my PhD research, I am seeking to understand how hosting relationships are created and maintained, how they change as displacement becomes more prolonged, and how they are influenced by the actions of humanitarian agencies. Ultimately, I hope to identify pathways for humanitarian agencies to better support hosting practices. This would recognise the enormous value of affected communities’ actions, and support rather than supplant existing community coping mechanisms.

What do you enjoy about being a research student?

I enjoy being a research student even more than I thought I would. I still think that I am working on an important topic and I have great support from my colleagues at Oxford Brookes. I feel lucky to have this time to read and learn from others’ work, and to study something that I am passionate about. Doing my PhD has given me the chance to live in a new country and to meet people from around the world who participated in my research and at conferences and seminars. I have also begun lecturing, which was an exciting new challenge for me. I have done things that I had not anticipated - learning to climb at Brookes Sport, beginning Arabic classes, and diving with a turtle in the Red Sea.

Some days can be tough, as sometimes you can feel a bit isolated or as though you are not making the progress you had hoped for. I have found speaking to other PhD students to be a good remedy for this. Often they have had similar problems and can offer advice and support. I have a great supervisory team - other students even tell me that they are envious! I also have supportive friends and family. No one else in my family has taken the academic route, so it is not something that they have experienced, but they are always willing to listen or to distract me with a fun activity. The Brookes Wellbeing services can also be a great source of help. 

What do you think about the research training offered at Brookes?

There is a great range of research training offered at Brookes, both from the Graduate College and my Faculty. When I first saw the PhD training planners I was a bit intimidated, but with so much on offer I have easily met the minimum requirements each year. The training covers a huge range of topics, from research skills and ethics applications to career development and public impact. There are also lots of opportunities to present your work and get feedback from staff and your peers, such as lunchtime seminars and annual research student conferences.

What are your future plans?

The first step is to finish my PhD! I am really keen to publish the findings of my research, so that is a priority. Once I finish, I would like to find a role that allows me to continue research in academia or perhaps in the non-profit sector. One of my favourite things about CENDEP is that it blends academic research with practical application. Hopefully I will find a position that allows me to maintain this balance.