Two PhD positions available in my lab

  1. PhD in Animate materials to solve plastic waste issues

Restoration of forests is part of the strategy to achieve net-zero target emissions by enhancing the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The UK has pledged to plant 2 billion trees by 2050. The most common afforestation strategy uses tree shelters to protect planted seedlings from predation by animals such as deer, sheep and rabbits. The shelters are generally made of plastics, such as polypropylene.  However, there are two environmental concerns about their deployment which have become acute now that 2 billion will be planted. Firstly, after their useful period, tree shelters are often left at planting sites and become plastic waste that harms wildlife and pollutes the environment.  Secondly, the resources used to manufacture and transport tree shelters affect the environment by producing greenhouse gases and other polluting substances [1]. Our industry partner The Woodland Trust is urgently seeking a solution to this problem. We propose to develop a biodegradable tree shelter that maintains its structural integrity until the sapling reaches maturity at which point it biodegrades rapidly and completely. Recent work has reported 3D-printable enzymatically active plastics with poly(caprolactone) (PCL) [2]. In related work polylactate (PLA) with nano-dispersed enzymes have been reported with rapid degradation profiles, again with commercial enzymes. Previous research by the supervisory team has described chemical catalysts that can be incorporated into 3D-printed polymeric structures, where these 3D-printed constructs retained the activity of the original catalyst. This PhD project seeks to extend this work to develop a novel animate material that will biodegrade only when it receives a signal for the growing tree [3]. To apply follow instructions here and look up Project ID: 2228bd1078 


Chau, C., Paulillo, A., Lu, N., Miodownik, M., & Lettieri, P. (2021). The environmental performance of protecting seedlings with plastic tree shelters for afforestation in temperate oceanic regions: A UK case study. Science of the Total Environment, 791. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148239

C. DelRe, Y. Jiang, P. Kang, J. Kwon, A. Hall, I. Jayapurna, Z. Ruan, L. Ma, K. Zolkin, T. Li, C. D. Scown, R. O. Ritchie, T. P. Russell,  T. Xu, Nature, 2021, 592, 558.

Animate Materials – A prespective. Eds. Miodownik & Morris:

2. Interdisciplinary PhD in Net Zero – the repair economy

I am looking for a PhD Candidate to do research on the role of the repair economy in meeting UK net zero targets. This fully funded scholarship aims to examine ‘what works’ for local residents, communities, and businesses and in the East of London and the Thames Gateway. The research is connected to our work on the Big Repair Project ( and will involve work across disciplines.  The ideal candidates have backgrounds in the Arts and Humanities with an interest, and/or experience working with engineers and scientists on the net zero transition. Candidates with backgrounds in law, economics, and policy are particularly welcome to apply. Contact me for details.

Home Compostable Plastics Dont Work

Our new research paper published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainability is based on a 2 year citizen science study on home compostable plastics. We engaged with 9,701 UK citizens geographically spread across the UK to examine their capability, opportunity, and motivation to do this. Of this cohort 1,648 citizens performed home compost experiments to test the environmental performance of compostable plastics. We report on the type of plastics they tested and their disintegration under real home composting conditions. The results show that the public are confused about the meaning of the labels of compostable and biodegradable plastics. 14% of sampled plastic packaging items tested were certified “industrial compostable” only and 46% had no compostable certification. Of the biodegradable and compostable plastics tested under different home composting conditions, the majority did not fully disintegrate, including 60% of those that were certified “home compostable.” We conclude that for both of these reasons, home composting is not an effective or environmentally beneficial waste processing method for biodegradable or compostable packaging in the UK. Read the full paper here.

Big Repair Project

We have launched the Big Repair Project to study the lifetime of appliances and electronics in peoples’ lives. Currently repair is on the decline in many economies which is accelerating climate change and producing mountains of waste. We need to urgently reverse this trend to design for repair and make appliances and electronics to last much longer, eg. smartphone to last 10 years, washing machines 30 years. This change will be as much social, cultural and economic as it is technological. The Big Repair Project allows citizens to get involved in how they want this change to happen. Get involved here.

Illustration of people repairing items