PhD Studentship: Pigment-Additive Interactions in Synthetic Emulsion Materials and Implications for the Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Art

University of Leeds - School of Design


  • The University of Leeds, in partnership with Tate, is offering a PhD studentship suitable for applicants with a background in science or engineering to investigate if, and how, pigments affect the formulation stability of synthetic emulsion materials developed since the 1950s.
  • These materials are widely used in conservation treatments and contemporary works-of-art. The chemistry of additives (surfactants) used as stabilisers in emulsion paints and related materials will form a particular focus. Surfactants can migrate to paint and other surfaces, potentially altering surface gloss and saturation, encouraging soiling and influencing paint properties such as flexibility. This could have implications for artwork condition, appearance, and conservation.
  • Materials of interest include acrylic paints, emulsion-based varnishes and coatings, paint mediums, gel additives, polyvinyl acetate paints, and water-miscible oil paints.
  • Materials characterisation will encompass length scales from molecule to bulk characterisation of formulations in the liquid and/or solid state. Analytical techniques are likely to encompass spectroscopy (FTIR, XPS), spectrometry (GC-MS), microscopy (SEM, AFM) and assessment of bulk material properties e.g. mechanical strength, colour, gloss.
  • The PhD studentship is funded for 3 years as part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme ( and is supported by training and networking events. The studentship is a unique opportunity to work across arts and STEM on industrially relevant materials making it attractive to a variety of career paths.

Your role

  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the chemistry of synthetic emulsion materials starting with acrylic paints.
  • Develop practical and theoretical knowledge of analytical techniques characterisation of these materials in the bulk and at surfaces/interfaces.
  • Investigate the chemistry of pigments in relation to other components of synthetic emulsion materials.
  • Explore the implications of the above on the appearance of and preservation treatments for works-of-art.
  • Participate in a supplementary training programme offered by the CDP (Previous activities listed here: and WRoCAH (SEE WEBSITE).
  • Work primarily at the University of Leeds with visits to the Conservation Science Department at Tate Britain (London).

Essential Requirements

  • A degree at undergraduate level equivalent to at least a UK Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) degree in a scientific or engineering discipline.
  • UK/EU residency: Typically, UK residents receive full funding including fees and a maintenance grant (ca £15k/year tax free). EU residents are typically eligible for a fees-only award and will not receive a maintenance grant.

Desirable Requirements

Practical or theoretical knowledge through education or professional experience in at least one of the following, or related, areas: chemistry, conservation/heritage science, chemical engineering, colour chemistry, forensic science, pigments, paints, adhesives, colloid and interface science, spectroscopy or fine arts.

Supervisory team

The project will be jointly supervised by Dr Elizabeth Willneff at the University of Leeds in the School of Design and Dr Bronwyn Ormsby who is Principal Conservation Scientist at Tate, London. Additional mentoring will be provided by Dr Judith Tucker (School of Design) in Fine Arts and by Prof Sven Schroeder (School of Chemical and Process Engineering) in chemistry and materials characterisation.

To apply

Full project details including application procedure and eligibility requirements are available to download at or by contacting Dr Willneff ( Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until a suitable applicant is found. For full consideration, submit applications by Nov 1, 2017. The starting date for the scholarship is Jan 1, 2018.

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