The influence of particle characteristics on the field-scale geomechanical behaviour of soils

Edinburgh Napier University

About the Project

It is well recognised that many geotechnical phenomena, such as liquefaction, crushing, dissolution effects and failure are affected by macro-scale properties such as initial density, anisotropy, permeability and compressibility, amongst others. On the other hand, it is well understood micro-scale properties such as particle morphology, roughness, particle shape and size distributions underlie many of these observed macro-scale behaviour. Much of this insight is the result of extensive experimental and numerical investigations. Of particular interest is the use of Discrete Element Method (DEM) simulations that account for the particulate nature of soils. There is significant advance on computational capabilities and techniques to realistically model particle properties such as morphology, particle shape and soil-fluid interactions. In spite of this, the efficient DEM modelling of anything beyond laboratory scale soil element tests still remains a challenge.

This project aims to develop and validate efficient and realistic numerical techniques that enable the simulation of boundary-value problems including retaining walls, excavations, embankments, etc. A truly innovative micro-to-macro approach that includes particle properties via DEM, fluids via computational fluid dynamics (CFD) as well as homogenization techniques [1-3] optmised by machine learning approaches [4] will be validated by laboratory experiments and available field data of relevant construction scenarios.

As part of this project, you will help develop the required numerical techniques under the supervision of Dr Barreto and performing a limited set of laboratory experiments to validate the DEM simulations. Apart from joining one of the world experts in DEM you would be joining a dynamic research team whilst contributing to enable the next generation of DEM simulations for use in real life and large-scale industrial and engineering applications.

Academic qualifications

A first-class honours degree, or a distinction at master level, or equivalent achievements ideally civil engineering with a good fundamental knowledge of soil mechanics, geotechnical engineering and computer programming.

English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online. 

Application process

Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the supervisor Dr Daniel Barreto at  to discuss the content of the project and the fit with their qualifications and skills before preparing an application. 

The application must include: 

Research project outline of 2 pages (list of references excluded) with the details about: 

  • Background and motivation of the project. The motivation must be supported by relevant literature. You can discuss also the applications you expect for the project results. 
  • Research questions or objectives. 
  • Methodology: types of data to be used, approach to data collection, and data analysis methods 
  • List of references 

Statement no longer than 1 page describing your motivations and fit with the project.

Recent and complete curriculum vitae. 

Two academic references (but if you have been out of education for more than three years, you may submit one academic and one professional reference), the form can be downloaded here

Documents proving your qualifications and your skills. 

Applications can be submitted here. To be considered, the application must use: 

  • the advertised title as project title  

To help us track our recruitment effort, please indicate in your email – cover/motivation letter where ( you saw this job posting.