EPSRC PhD Studentship in: Investigating the Effect of Soil Conditions on Pipeline Infiltration using Large-scale Physical Modelling

University of Sheffield

Stipend: This post will fully cover university tuition and provide a tax-free stipend for 4 years for UK students of £18,622 per year (rising each year in line with the UKRI rate).

Start date: 25th September 2023 (contract duration 4 years)

Groundwater infiltration into pipelines poses significant threats to water management systems, leading to environmental and economic consequences, e.g. discharge of untreated sewage during high demand periods and increased operational costs. In the UK, the government has recognized the urgency of addressing this issue, mandating water companies to develop plans for reducing storm overflow spills which involve capital investments of billions of pounds over the next 25 years. Unfortunately, the mechanisms affecting relative soil-pipe movement and loss of watertight integrity in jointed pipes are not well investigated or understood.

Seasonal fluctuations in soil water content can cause the soil to swell or collapse which can lead to opening of pipe joints and increased infiltration. Additionally, changes in soil stiffness and strength due to variations in water content affect its ability to support pipelines under operational loads. Pipelines are typically installed at shallow depths due to ease of access for maintenance purposes. As a result, pipelines may be located in soils which are unsaturated for large portions of the year, and are especially susceptible to environmental conditions. For this reason, issues related to moisture-induced ground deformations are expected to worsen with the effects of climate change which are forecasted to result in more extreme wet and dry seasons.

In this PhD project, you will investigate the behaviour of pipelines embedded in soils subjected to wetting and drying cycles and operational loadings. The focus of this work will be full-scale physical modelling at the world class National Distributed Water Infrastructure Facility at the University of Sheffield’s Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR) . Experimental work will incorporate the use of sophisticated measurement techniques such as fibre-optic sensing and the use of high-capacity tensiometers developed at the University of Sheffield. This physical modelling will also be complemented by element testing to allow for a thorough investigation of soil-pipe interaction.

The research programme to be completed in this project will be undertaken as part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (CDT WIRe). CDT WIRe is a collaboration between the three leading UK Universities in water resilient infrastructure. Students will benefit from a bespoke training scheme delivered by world leading experts from academia and industry, access to world leading experimental and computational facilities as well as close and regular contact with industry and end user partners. CDT WIRe is committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive community, and offer a range of family friendly, inclusive employment policies. For further information on the CDT WIRe scheme visit the web site at: cdtwire.com .

The project will be supervised by Dr. Tiago Gaspar and Professor Simon Tait.

Eligibility Criteria

This studentship is supported by EPSRC WIRe CDT and the University of Sheffield. It is open to all students with UK residency.

The selection criteria for the position are:


  • Strong academic capability in field of soil mechanics discipline or similar.
  • Enthusiasm for research.


  • Previous laboratory/experimental experience.

How to apply

Interested candidates should email a covering letter and their Curriculum Vitae to Lindsay Hopcroft ([email protected] ).

For information and informal enquiries please contact: Tiago Gaspar ([email protected] ).

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