PhD in Civil Engineering Discrete Element Method modelling of non-spherical particles: application to geomaterials, process and mining engineering

Newcastle University

Value of award

100% of UK/EU tuition fees paid and annual living expenses of £14,296 (full award). 

Number of awards


Start date and duration

9 January 2017 for 3 years.

Application closing date

15 December 2016 



The Discrete Element Method originally developed to investigate the behaviour of geomaterials is now utilised in several industries, to name a few: process engineering, mining and packaging of pills. Most 3D DEM analyses are run with spherical particles, yet in reality particles are everything but spheres.

Recently, a new class of algorithms based on linear programming have been introduced for non spherical convex particles, called ‘potential particles’, that are described by a combination of flat surfaces with either sharp or smooth edges. These algorithms have proved successful in a variety of rock mechanics problems where blocks tend to be ‘sharp’ polyhedra. The challenge still ahead is to employ these algorithms for geomaterials (such as ballast, sands and silts) and the irregular particles generated by mining and process engineering, so non spherical ‘smooth’ particles. 

The PhD project

The student will develop a methodology to determine the mathematical description of the potential particle that best fit particle shapes from literature data and work out what is the fit required to replicate the main mechanical and hydraulic properties of the bulk assembly. To assess the bulk properties, he will run DEM numerical experiments on the reconstructed bulk assembly. Then, the methodology will be coupled to state of the art image recognition techniques currently utilised to scan particles to obtain a seamless tool from image recognition to DEM simulations.


Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Name of supervisor(s)

Professor Stefano Utili and Dr Vasilis Sarhosis

Eligibility Criteria

This PhD will involve purely numerical work. You must have at least a 2:1 honours degree or international equivalent, in Engineering or any cognate subject (e.g. applied mathematics, computational mechanics, etc.) is acceptable. An academic background in civil engineering is desirable.

The award is available to UK/EU applicants only. Depending on how you meet the EPSRC’s eligibility criteria, you may be entitled to a full or a partial award.

How to apply

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application system. To do this please ‘Create a new account’.

All relevant fields should be completed, but fields marked with a red asterisk must be completed. You will need to:

  • insert the programme code 8040F in the programme of study section
  • select ‘PhD Civil Engineering and Geosciences (Geotechnical)’ as the programme of study
  • insert the studentship code CI782 in the studentship/partnership reference field
  • attach a covering letter and CV. The covering letter must state the title of the studentship, quote reference code CI782 and state how your interests and experience relate to the project
  • attach degree transcripts and certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualifications

You should also email your covering letter and CV to Professor Stefano Utili.


For further details, please contact:

Professor Stefano Utili
School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6414

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Northern England