Postdoctoral Research Associate in Computational Solid Mechanics

Durham, United Kingdom
£34,304 - £40,927 Per Annum
22 Nov 2021
End of advertisement period
07 Dec 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Engineering

Grade 7: - £34,304 - £40,927 Per Annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 42 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 07-Dec-2021, 7:59:00 AM

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

The Department of Engineering is consistently one of the very best UK engineering departments with an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching, research and employability of our students. We have a long history and tradition of Engineering. Engineering has been taught at Durham University since 1838 making it the first course of its kind in England. The Department provides outstanding course content that equips young engineers with the problem solving skills of the 21st century,  is committed to an ethos of research-led teaching at all levels of its taught programmes, and is ranked 4th in the Complete University Guide 2022, 4th in the Guardian University Guide 2021 and 6th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 in the UK for General Engineering. Ranked 4th in the UK for Research impact at REF 2014, where 90% of the Engineering outputs were graded 3* or 4*, this dynamic department is an excellent place to work. We have helped to shape the past and continue to shape the future. The strategic vision for the Department includes a growth plan of over 50% over the next five years, with a significant enhancement of the research challenge portfolio, and a drive to enrich our undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research provision. It is an exciting time to join this expanding Department and make your mark. The Department has an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, recognising our commitment to diversity in STEM academia and reflecting the supportive and positive environment within the Department.

Research in computational solid mechanics has been a strength of the Department of Engineering for many years, encompassing development of methods (such as finite elements, boundary elements, meshless methods, etc.) and their application to engineering problems. The Department also has a strategic focus on growing offshore geotechnics and renewable energy related research going forward, including the appointment of two new academic staff in 2021/22.  Professors Coombs and Augarde lead an internationally recognised group of researchers developing the Material Point Method for problems involving large deformation, coupled non-linear material behaviour and contact, with a particular focus on problems relating to offshore geotechnics. If successful in your application you would be joining a growing group of researchers solving fundamental issues in the Material Point Method, building on the success of previously funded research and development.

The Role

Offshore Wind (OSW) is critical for the UK's economy and energy security. It is also an area of huge investment, for example £14bn has been committed up to the end of 2021 for new OSW sites - the 4th largest construction programme in the UK.  Beyond this, the UK's current 2030 OSW installed capacity targets will require £48bn of investment and provide direct employment for 27,000 people. However, despite the growing maturity of the OSW sector, certain elements of the installed infrastructure remain problematic. Principally, problems associated with subsea power cables that transport and distribute the electricity generated offshore in wind turbine generators to the onshore transmission system currently account for 75% of the cost of all insurance claims and faults typically take 100+ days to rectify. This leads to breaks in supply and loss of revenue for the windfarm operator which in the long term can lead to longer pay back periods and reduced investment elsewhere in their renewables portfolio. In shallow waters these cables must be protected from anchors and fishing gear and the primary protection method is to bury the cable below the seabed.

The cable burial depth is a compromise between economic cost of burial (going deeper takes longer, requires larger ships and may require more complex operations) and risk to the cable being damaged by anchors/fishing gear penetrating the seabed. Within this context, anchor-cable interactions currently account for 85% of power cable failures. The planned rapid expansion of offshore wind around the UK - installed capacity increasing 7.5 times over the next 30 years - will require new cable installations within some of the busiest shipping/fishing waters in the world and it is essential that these new cables are installed at the appropriate depth. However, the industry currently lacks appropriate scientific tools to determine anchor penetration depths in different soil conditions. Instead, they use simple look-up tables based on very broad descriptive classifications of the soils on the seabed that basically split the huge spectrum of real soil conditions into two categories – soft or hard. This approach has been shown to be highly conservative in some soils leading to unnecessarily deep (and costly) burial. However, it is clearly non-conservative in other conditions (soft clay seabeds) as anchor-cable interactions dominate cable failures. This collaborative research project between Durham University, the University of Dundee and the British Geological Survey (BGS) will tackle the lack of sound anchor penetration models head on and, through physical testing and computational modelling, develop a toolkit to assess anchor penetration in different soil conditions 

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Computational Solid Mechanics with a particular emphasis on large deformation modelling of soil-water-structure interaction problems using the Material Point Method. The EPSRC-funded research project (EP/W000970/1) is led by Professor Will Coombs in collaboration with Professor Charles Augarde in the Department of Engineering. The project aims to provide the fundamental scientific basis to allow engineers to estimate the likely penetration depth of drag anchors based on routine site investigation data. This will allow specification of appropriate cable burial depths in a variety of different soil conditions that balances risk to cable damage with installation cost.

The successful applicant will be expected to develop a Material Point Method-based digital design environment to assess the penetration potential of existing and new anchor designs across a spectrum of soil conditions, including layered soils. They will be expected to implement complex numerical algorithms within a high-performance computing environment as well as run parametric studies to understand the physical process. They will also be expected to collaborate with researchers from the University of Dundee and the BGS and interact with the industrial partners as well as disseminate the research findings via journal and conference publications. The successful applicant will report to Professor Willl Coombs and Professor Charles Augarde, including attendance at weekly project meetings. They will also be expected to engage in STEM outreach activities to promote the research project and inspire the next generation of engineers/scientists.


  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include: research sponsors, academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision, as appropriate, and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by participation in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.   
  • To maintain the research project’s webpages.

This post is fixed term for 42 months duration - the funding is available from 01/02/2022 for this fixed period only.

The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by another colleague. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1st February 2022.

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Will Coombs via w.m.coombs@durham.ac.uk. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above;

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include a panel interview and technical exercise. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment on a date to be confirmed.

The Requirements 


  1. Qualifications
    • A good first degree in Civil/Mechanical Engineering, Applied Mathematics or Physics.
    • A PhD (or be close to submission) in Computational Solid Mechanics or a closely related subject.
  2. Experience
    • Experience in conducting high quality academic research.
    • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked journals.
    • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.
    • Experience in the implementation of complex numerical algorithms in a high-performance complied computing language (i.e. Julia, C/C++, Fortran, etc.)
    • Experience in non-linear solid mechanics (such as large deformation mechanics, plasticity, contact, etc.)
    • Experience in boundary-value solvers (such as the finite element method, boundary element method, meshless methods, etc.)  
  3. Skills
    • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
    • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
    • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.


  1. Experience
    • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
    • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.
    • Demonstrable ability to develop research proposals and designs in collaboration with other academics.
    • Experience of overseeing students with respect to the development of their practical/research skills e.g. acting as a demonstrator; supervising student projects/practicals.
    • Experience in the Material Point Method
    • Experience in Geotechnics/Geotechnical Analysis
    • Experience in coupled material behaviour (solid-fluid)
    • Experience in soil-structure interaction
  2. Skills
    • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.

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