Postdoc vacancy in the group

We’re hiring! Blurb below, but get in touch if you have any questions…

Correlative Imaging Assistant/Officer (Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) Facility)

Link for applications: VACANCY
Closing date: 18-09-2016
Salary: £28,143 to £37,768 per annum

The normal expectation is that the successful applicant will be appointed to the minimum of the agreed scale with annual increments on 1 October each year (subject to completing six months service).

This is a fixed term position for 3 years, with review after 12 and 24 months. The salary will be on the Grade 7 or 8 salary scale for Research Staff together with USS benefits:

This profile is available at:

The University is committed to supporting and promoting equality and diversity in all of its practices and activities. We aim to establish an inclusive environment and particularly welcome applications from diverse backgrounds. 

Main Purpose of the Post

Swansea University seek to recruit a Correlative imaging Research Assistant to conduct research in the area of multi-length scale and imaging, utilising X-ray and electron microscopy.

Based at Swansea University’s state-of-the-art £9M Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) Facility in the College of Engineering, the successful candidate will work primarily across imaging platforms; focusing on Ziess X-ray microscopy/tomography, and Zeiss electron microscopy with focused-ion beam (FIB).

We are seeking an excellent candidate to join our collaborative team, working in partnership with Carl Zeiss, to develop correlative imaging workflows across a diverse range of materials systems, including structural alloys, energy materials, coatings, biomaterials, soft tissue, rare and valuable archaeological specimens, and geological materials, among others.

The successful candidate will work with the AIM team and their academic and industrial collaborators to develop novel imaging and characterization methodologies across a wide variety of materials, and develop new avenues of research across disciplines. The successful candidate will also work closely with the development and applications teams at Carl Zeiss in Pleasanton, California, and in Germany.

The applicant should have (or shortly expect to obtain) a PhD in Materials Science, Chemistry, Physics, or a closely related discipline and with an undergraduate degree (2(i) minimum) or M.Sc. in a relevant field are essential. He/she must be motivated, independent and hard-working with a strong research/technical background in areas relevant to this project. Knowledge of the following research techniques and expertise is essential: X-ray imaging and tomography, focused ion beam techniques, electron microscopy and image analysis. Evidence of the ability to generate high-quality research output through the publication of peer reviewed research papers is a requirement.

The successful candidate must possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills with the ability to manage. As a self-motivated individual you will be expected to initiate, manage and develop research collaborations within the facility. Therefore, the ability to liaise with both academic and industrial collaborators is essential.

Specific Duties and Responsibilities
  • To undertake research, as directed by the AIM Facility Co-Directors, Dr Cameron Pleydell-Pearce and Dr Richard Johnston.
  • To undertake and develop correlative imaging workflows across X-ray tomography and electron microscopy/FIB.
  • To apply cutting-edge X-ray tomography and electron microscopy/FIB to diverse research themes.
  • To collaborate with research partners including national and international travel.
  • To write journal papers for submission in peer-reviewed journals.
  • To assist with demonstrations of the Zeiss X-ray microscopy and FIB-SEM capabilities to potential Zeiss customers.
  • To contribute content and assist with the maintenance of the laboratory website.
  • To initiate, manage and develop research collaborations within the facility.
General Duties and Responsibilities

This appointment in the College has a number of generic objectives common to research appointments.  These relate to developing and generating novel research concepts, designs, directions, and outputs in areas related to the discipline.

  • Pro-actively contribute to and conduct research, including gather, prepare and analyse data, generate original ideas and present results.
  • Prepare reports, draft patents and papers describing the results of the research, both confidential and for publication.
  • Be self-motivated, apply and use their initiative, aiming to determine suitable ways to tackle challenges and seeking guidance when needed
  • Interact positively and professionally with other collaborators and partners within the College and elsewhere in the University and beyond as appropriate such as in industry/commerce, public organisations, hospitals and academia.
  • Contribute to College organisational matters in order to help it run smoothly and to help raise its external research profile.
  • Keep informed of developments in the field in technical, specific and general terms and their wider implication for the discipline area, commercial applications and the knowledge economy.
  • When requested act as a representative or member of committees, using the opportunity to extend their own professional experience.
  • Demonstrate and evidence own professional development, identifying development needs with reference to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, particularly with regard to probation, appraisal, and performance reviews, and participation in training events.
  • Maintain and enhance links with the professional institutions and other related bodies.
  • Participate in and undertake other research or administrative activities appropriate to their experience and skill, and as directed by the Head of the College / Institute or such other person delegated to act with their authority.
  • Observe best-practice protocols in maintenance and retention of research records as indicated by HEI and Research Councils records management guidance.  This includes ensuring project log-book records are deposited with the University/Principal Investigator on completion of the work.
  • To promote equality and diversity in working practices and to maintain positive working relationships.
  • To fully engage with the University’s Performance Enabling and Welsh Language policies
  • To conduct the job role and all activities in accordance with safety, health and sustainability policies and management systems, in order to reduce risks and impacts arising from the work activity.
Person Specification

Essential Criteria


  • Demonstrable evidence of taking pride in delivering professional services and solutions
  • Ability to work together in an environment of equality, trust and respect to deliver services that strive to exceed the needs and expectations of customers
  • Demonstrable evidence of providing a caring approach to all of your customers ensuring a personalised and positive experience


  • PhD in Materials Science, Chemistry, Physics, or a closely related discipline and with an undergraduate degree (2(i) minimum) or M.Sc. in a relevant field are essential


  • Motivated, independent and hard-working with a strong research/technical background in areas relevant to this project
  • Knowledge of the following research techniques and expertise is essential: X-ray imaging and tomography, focused ion beam techniques, electron microscopy and image analysis
  • Evidence of the ability to actively engage in and contribute to writing and publishing research papers, particularly for refereed journals.
  • A demonstrable ability to conduct research in line with the objectives of the project
  • Evidence of planning skills to contribute to the research project

Desirable Criteria 

  • Evidence of commitment to Continuing Professional Development
Informal enquiries contact details and Further Information

Informal enquiries are welcome and should be directed to Dr Richard Johnston:   and   Dr Cameron Pleydell-Pearce:


Fixed Term Contract end date/ Notes on Application

This is a fixed term position for 3 years, to be reviewed every 12 months


PhD vacancy within the group – Correlative imaging of structural biomaterials

Applications in the form of a CV and covering letter emailed to Dr Johnston are required as soon as possible. Informal enquiries are encouraged.

Title: Correlative imaging of structural biomaterials

Sand Dollar X-Ray CT

Objectives of the project:

Working within the Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) facility and research group, the successful PhD applicant will use correlated X-ray microtomography and electron microscopy to investigate the complex hierarchical structures within biomaterials, in particular mineralised structural biomaterials. This class of materials is extremely interesting to materials scientists. They are formed in ambient conditions and with limited resources in a specific environment, yet have properties that often exceed those of human-made materials which are conversely manufactured using costly processes and use expensive or limited material resources.

There is huge potential to use natural materials and architectures for engineering design, yet these biomaterials aren’t fully understood. This project will investigate nano/micro structures, while considering their form and function, and adapting this for potential engineering applications that benefit society.

The PhD is within Dr Johnston’s research group, part of the new £10M Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) research group and multidisciplinary research facility, with a focus on correlative imaging.

This project will also work closely with the Oyen Group at Cambridge University; experts in investigating the nanomechanical properties of biomaterials. This collaboration will facilitate the coupled investigation of structure (from μCT and FIB-SEM) – property (nanoindentation) relationships of biomaterials, creating a powerful partnership for bioinspiration projects and beyond. Nanoindentation, and μCT correlated with FIB-SEM will be used to characterise the material properties and nano/microstructure of a number of enigmatic biomaterials, possibly including marine organisms, insects, and vertebrates. Accurate material properties coupled with advanced imaging of micro/nanostructures are essential for modelling mechanical performance and function.



Applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree (or its equivalent) in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, physics, chemistry, or biosciences, or a Master’s degree in a similar subject area to the project.

Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is open to UK/EU candidates only. 


The studentship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees, plus a tax free stipend of £14,296 p.a for three and a half years, in line with standard RCUK stipend levels.

The successful candidate is expected to start their studentship between 1st October 2016 and 1st January 2017.

Paid summer internship vacancy

I have an opening in my group for an internship this summer.

You’ll be analysing and  visualising X-ray imaging data from our microtomography equipment. We create large datasets of the internal micro-structures within natural and human-made materials, and want someone with curiosity, enthusiasm, and dedication to come and work with us. You’ll be working with a diverse team, on a broad range of materials, from marine biomaterials to jet engine alloys. High-quality videos and flythroughs produced by you during the internship will be showcased at the British Science Festival in September 2016, with full credit.

You’ll get to work within the £10 million Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) facility in the College of Engineering at Swansea University’s Bay Campus, learning how to use different software packages (Drishti, Avizo, VGStudio, ImageJ). Our lab around 250 feet from the beach, so you’ll be encouraged to take lunch while sitting on Swansea Bay. You’ll also be working with the research team, using X-ray micro/nanotomography equipment, light microscopy, and 3D printers.

You can be involved in writing lab blogs, tweeting, and engaging different audiences with your work while in the lab.

Laura North s

The position will be for 8-10 weeks between June and September 2016, and provide a stipend of £220 per week. Start and end dates are negotiable. You must be in the middle years of a first degree, and fulfil all of the following eligibility criteria:

  • Must have settled status in the UK, i.e. no restrictions on how long you can stay
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for two years prior to the start of the internship. i.e. must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences)
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

Applicants will be currently studying for a degree in engineering or science, and be on course for a 1st class degree, with an average of >70%.

If you have any questions, email me. Apply by email with a paragraph of no greater than 350 words stating what you hope to gain from the internship, and also attach your CV.

Closing date: 9th June 2016


How to come top in the Guardian subject league tables

The Guardian subject league tables have always been a bit of a mystery. I admit, I only look at my particular subject area. And when I say ‘look’, it’s more of a glance because someone has mentioned it in the corridor, or at a meeting. The mysterious methodology used to herald a particular institution as top in a subject, means looking at the overall ranking of  institutions is a stacked cluster-suck of not very complicated maths, combined with unfathomable decisions, which ultimately lead to a reaffirmation of the establishment.

Here’s the league table for my subject; Materials Science:


You’ll notice the top institution, and you should congratulate them, for they are the best at, erm, let me find the definition of what these league tables are supposed to reflect…oh yes, here it is. Well done Oxford for being the best at teaching materials. Here’s the explanation from the Guardian: ‘Eight statistical measures are employed to approximate a university’s performance in teaching each subject’.

No person lecturing within a subject really believes any of these league tables (right?), of which there are many. But what if we look more closely at the individual scores. The first three measures are of satisfaction. This is based on responses from the actual students studying at each institution.

Reordering the table, firstly on the proportion of current students who are satisfied with the course:Screenshot 2016-05-24 08.43.38.pngWell done Leeds! You’ll notice the number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ is bottom-but-one.Screenshot 2016-05-24 08.51.28

And now reordering based on the proportion of current students satisfied with the teaching on their degree:Screenshot 2016-05-24 08.46.31.pngCongratulations Swansea. My own institution. But I’m not going to shout about it, because, yes, there are huge problems with any league table or metric. Also, you’ll notice the number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ is dead bottom.

Let’s reorder based on the proportion of current students satisfied with the feedback they’ve received during the degree:Screenshot 2016-05-24 08.51.28Pat yourselves on the back Sheffield Hallam. Perhaps you’ve also noticed the number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ does a little better here, only coming fourth from bottom.

Those are the only measures in this entire league table that are based on responses from actual students studying materials at the listed institutions. This is also a good time to point out that there are biases and problems with surveying students and getting too carried away with the results and rankings. This isn’t an attack on Oxford, as I knowtheir degree is terrific, and the academics there will probably put as little stock in this league table result as I do.

If the three measures I’ve looked at above have the ‘top’ institution near the bottom, then what could be pushing them to be the number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘? Let’s look at the other measures.

Firstly, ‘student to staff ratio’. The number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ comes third in this…pat on the back. The Guardian have provided a handy caveat for this.

Caveat: This measure only includes staff who are contracted to spend a significant portion of their time teaching. It excludes those classed as “research only” but includes researchers who also teach, even though at research-intensive universities research can take up a significant proportion of their time. It therefore follows that the simple ratio of the number of staff to students does not accurately reflect teaching intensity and also does not reveal who is performing the teaching. Is it the world-renowned professor or a graduate teaching assistant? 

Ok, that’s interesting. And good that the caveat is there, so perhaps you’d give that category a low weighting?

Now the ‘spend per student’. The number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ is top in money. Top by a relative mile. Good. Money is good. But seriously, investment in the undergraduates is important. It would be interesting to see how this is derived. Does it mean those students got brand new, expensive facilities? Is ground rent high? Did they all get shiny laptops?

On to the ‘average entry tariff’. The number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ is top in this. By quite a margin. Good stuff. The students coming into the university have high entry qualifications – on entry. Before they do the course. I guess that’s a measure of the ‘performance in teaching‘ of the course by assessing the entry qualifications of the cohort.

And finally, the ‘value added’ score. The number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ is top in this. I think institutions taking students with lower entry grades did well on this because there was scope to add value. How did the poor number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘, with their super high ‘average entry tariff’, add value, I wondered. Then I read the methodology:

– Based upon a sophisticated indexing methodology that tracks students from enrolment to graduation, qualifications upon entry are compared with the award that a student receives at the end of their studies.

M’kay, well that’s going to be tricky for the number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘ to demonstrate. Wait, there’s more to the methodology:

– We always regard students who are awarded an integrated masters as having a positive outcome.

Thankfully, the number one institution for ‘performance in teachingonly offers integrated Masters in materials.

I’ve left out ‘career prospects’ because so few institutions returned information for this.


All of these measures, including the ones derived from actual student responses, have their caveats and downfalls. So the Guardian league table have weightings associated with each one:

Screenshot 2016-05-24 09.33.16

From this, it’s clear that responses from current students are given the lowest weightings, and the measures that come with caveats from the people who devised the methodology are given the highest weightings.

I’m not a fan of rankings because I’m terrified that our subject/field is misrepresented, or the full opportunities aren’t presented to students. I’m sad that students who are still studying for their entry qualifications may put too much stock in league tables when visiting the departments, seeing the facilities, and talking to the staff may give them more information and present the opportunities to them. This too has it’s problems. Students who don’t have as much family support as others (which could include a necessity for family members or prospective students to work on visit days; typically weekends), or have less disposable income to travel around the country visiting universities.

Providing prospective students with information is important, but are league tables the way to do it? My thoughts are no.

I did promise a guide on how to come top in the Guardian subject league tables. So in light of the information I’ve found in the methodology, to become the number one institution for ‘performance in teaching‘, departments should:

  • Focus less effort and time on ensuring current students are satisfied with things like course content, teaching, and feedback.
  • Identify most of their staff as ‘research-only’ for the purposes of this league table, reducing their student-staff ratio, which gets multiplied by a large weighting.
  • It also helps if they are rich, spending lots of money per student registered. This is multiplied by a low weighting though.
  • Have really high entry requirements. This gets multiplied by a large weighting.
  • Only offer integrated Masters, rather than the more flexible Bachelors, with funded Masters (This model can provide opportunities to students who’s circumstances mean they continue studying at PG level but have an income to support them and their families).


This article was mostly fuelled by snark, and does not represent the view of my employers or any other institutions/bodies I’m affiliated with.


Free tomography visualisation software workshop

Free workshop on visualisation software for tomographic data, hosted by the Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) Facility at Swansea University.

On Thursday March 10th, 9am – 5pm, there will be a free workshop on the use of free/open software for visualisation of 3D tomography datasets, kindly supported by the The Software Sustainability Institute. The workshop will be delivered by invited speaker Dr Russell Garwood, an 1851 Research Fellow and Lecturer from the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University of Manchester, and will focus on the use of three software platforms – Drishti, SPIERS, and Blender.

There are 20 places open to researchers from any field, available on a first come, first served basis. Email to confirm a place. You will need to bring your own laptop with the three software packages installed before the workshop. This will be held on the Bay Campus, Swansea University. Further details can be found below.

The aim of this day, supported by the Software Sustainibility Institute (SSI:, is to introduce open source software solutions for processing CT (tomography) data. This will start with a talk, highlighting, some of the packages available, which will be followed by workshops in using three freely-available packages for both the visualisation and analysis of tomographic data: SPIERS(surfacing), Blender (ray tracing), and Drishti (volume rendering). Complementary software highlighted in the talk will include Meshlab (processing surfaces), ImageJ/Fiji (processing), Slicer (surfacing), OsiriX (processing and visualisation), and IDAV Landmark Editor/Geomorph R package (morphometric data acquisition). The intention is to highlight the efficacy and range of freely available software, higlighlighting that it is possible to tackle a broad range of research questions using tomography and freely available software – whilst also demonstrating those areas which are weaknesses within open source solutions, such as quantification.

After the workshop, those who wish to, can join us for an evening meal and drinks somewhere in Swansea.

Many thanks


The day I left home for ISIS……ISIS neutron source

A photo diary of our brief time firing neutrons into metals.   


I said farewell to our precious kitty, telling her in human words that I was ISIS-bound. Her superficial indifference masking a very real concern – this revelation, when considered alongside my recent beard growth, was perhaps a sign of impending awfulness. “You have nothing to fear littleun’, we’re just going to be firing neutrons into aerospace materials at high temperature and stress”. She rolled around for me to rub her soft tummy fur; happy that I wasn’t joining a terrorist organisation.

The train rolled backwards out of Swansea station, pushing through the cooling sea air. With the platform still below my window, my phone rang. It was Sam, my EngD student, who was at ISIS early for some other experiments. There were problems..a few problems. It looked like we weren’t going to be able to do the sciencing that we’d planned; planned and written a beamtime proposal over six months ago. Do I leave the train at the next station and go back home? I told Sam I’ll carry on to ISIS, and we’ll work it out. There was something about having plenty of space around me on a train journey that had lent me a certain level of optimism. A few hours later I was at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories. Home to the marvellous and inspiring Diamond Light Source and ISIS neutron/muon source. 

I met postgrads, Sam and Rob, on the beam line.  

It appeared that we had 99 problems, if you rounded up to the nearest 99. The new detector we needed wasn’t available so we couldn’t run the experiment and specimens we had planned. Sam had brought a spare but different specimen, incase we had time at the end. So working with the ISIS beamtime scientists we devised an alternative.  
 We’ll look at the stresses within the specimen after applying cyclic loading, which is known as fatigue. And we’ll do this at high temperature. Saurabh and Joe, ISIS beamline oracles, wrote a script to apply load and perform the neutron experiment. We could leave this to run overnight. I was a little disappointed. I’d been looking forward to no sleep, coffee, and staring at screens of confusing coloured lines that mean either there’s an exciting research finding, or that the experiment has destroyed earth as we know it. Inbetween those two polar possibilities lies ‘going back to my Alan Partridge-style room and dealing with emails’. 

At least 4million emails later, and it was the next day…the warmest day ever…probably. Perhaps trains could spill their cooling ocean air from Swansea at Harwell. But today they were not. As the day went on, we’d find out that it wasn’t only my face that was feeling the heat.

Ooh a fracture surface, that’s good. That’s what you materials scientists love, isn’t it? Breaking things.

Unfortunately not in this case. The specimen was supposed to survive at these conditions. And it had. This picture shows part of the machine used to hold the specimen. Not all metals are strong at high temperatures, and this one wasn’t as strong as our specimen at this temperature, so it failed. 

  I’ve done mechanical testing for years, so I know things like this can just happen, but frustrating nonetheless. The change to the original plan because the detector wasn’t available meant we were running a spare and different specimen. We scrabbled around for parts to fit it into the machine so not to waste our time here, and unfortunately ended up with inferior connectors. Fortunately, the data had still been generated overnight and we were able to set up more scans for the remaining time. 

Here’s us selfying with beamline scientist Shu Yan. 


..and the flags of the world, outside the ISIS control room  


Failure and flexibility are part of science and research, even on an experiment more than six months in the planning. Staying calm and going along with the ride can be helpful, while you hope for a little bit of serendipity on the way.

Peer review

It must be that time of year.

Not for REF – let’s leave that well alone as there’s enough flag waving to power all of the UK wind farms.

No, it’s peer review time. I’m not alone it seems in having a backlog of reviews to complete. Twitter – magical portal to awesome researchers – revealed a few people also in this situation (@michelleoyen @soozaphone)…now we can wallow in our shared experience of having to give up our ‘free time’ for free. I’m also not going to get into that.

…actually, I briefly* will, despite not planning to write about this. This is specifically about grant reviewing. If you’re running a funding call, should you include legitimate costs for the time of the people you’re expecting to contribute to the success of the call administration? If you have a pool of grant funding you’d like to share with investigators; let’s take a small example, say £600,000. You’ll need academics to give up their home time to review these. It’s unlikely an academic will have time in their ‘working’ day to review a grant.

So, of your £600,000 you expect to fund 20 proposals with a success rate of (lets be generous – 10%). That’s 200 proposals, but you’ve performed an initial sift down to 50. With 3 reviewers each, that’s 150 reviewers. Paying for the reviewers’ time at a sensible rate could mean around £100 per reviewer. In this example that means a total of £15,000 from the budget for reviewing costs. Which is 2.5% of the total funding available for the call.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a money-grabbing academic…everything I do is for free apart from my university wage…and there are a LOT of things outside of my official role and within it that will never fit within my contracted hours. I’m not unique in this. I think it would be rather unique if an academic’s home time wasn’t regularly dominated by administration. And I honestly don’t expect the reviewing process to change either. But as the demand to do administration for free increases, and our time away from work becomes even more filled with administration, how are we to balance this, and more importantly ensure our time is valued?

Right, back on track. Peer review season. The reason I started writing was to briefly gather opinion on whether to sign a publication peer review or not. This morning I reviewed a manuscript and decided to sign my review. I want to be as open as possible, but ultimately don’t want it to screw me over in future. Thinking about it, the decision was based on a few factors. Was my review dominated by negative feedback and rejection: No. I included suggestions of how to make the manuscript better for a couple of different audiences. I was also only reviewing a specific part as an expert in a technique. Again, this made my decision easier. Are the authors likely to be b*stards and douche me over in future? Probably not, given the above. So, it turns out my decision to sign my review wasn’t very courageous at all. It’s just a small step to possibly making the peer review process more open. I’d like to think that a consequence of signing my review could be that if I’m not 100% correct or the authors have good reasons for some of the points I raised, then I can learn from their subsequent response, and maybe talk to them at conferences and events in future, and we can all develop and our science can develop.

Rationally, signing my review wasn’t a very risky decision in this case, but will I do the same in different circumstances? I honestly don’t know, but it will probably depend on variations of the points I raised above.

Today’s review was actually quite a pleasant process, being asked to review specific sections based on my expertise and not being asked to comment on other journal-focussed factors I consider irrelevant to me as a peer reviewer. While completing this review today I came across a previous review I did a while ago and the comments to the editor. In the interests of openness, my response to that editor/journal is pasted below:

Regarding the reviewing process, I would also like to point out that the question “If published, is the paper likely to be cited? 1=Yes; 3=No (please expand below on its importance and where it might be cited)” is in its current form an irrelevant question for a reviewer. In my role as reviewer, I check to see if the science is sound, the literature relevant, the conclusions appropriate, and to put forward improvements…not whether this paper will increase the impact factor of the journal. If this isn’t the intention, then perhaps the question could be reworded.

Here are a couple of links to good advice and guidance for peer review:

*   wasn’t brief at all. Apologies. A good peer review of this blog is desperately required.