PhD Opportunities 

We're a research-led Department with over £7.5M available to support our research from research councils and industrial sponsors. We've state-of-the-art laboratories to support our work along with cutting edge modern IT facilities.

An important feature of the research environment in the Department is the interdisciplinary research groups. The focus of our research effort through four groups means that we have been able to build up dedicated high-quality facilities and to tackle problems larger than those typically associated with single university researchers.

  • Biological and Environmental Systems Group
  • Environmental and Energy Engineering Group
  • Particle Products Group
  • Process Fluidics Group

Our research groups provide the natural home for postgraduate research students; it is in their groups that students find the formal and informal supervision and much of the friendship that makes a research degree such an enriching experience.

We have 14 PhD projects;

Production and characterisation of dsRNA for RNAi applications

Project description 

We invite applications for a four-year EPSRC-funded CASE PhD studentship to work under the supervision of Prof Mark Dickman at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Dr David Portwood and Dr Peter Kilby at Syngenta.
The RNAi pathway in insects includes several branches that function to silence the expression of both endogenous genes of the host and those of parasite and pathogen invaders. The exploitation of this pathway to limit the expression of specific proteins holds considerable promise for the development of novel RNAi-based insect management strategies. In addition, there are a wide number of future potential applications of RNAi to control agricultural insect pests as well as its use for prevention of diseases in beneficial insects.

The development of suitable analytical methods to characterise dsRNA products produced both in vitro and in microbial systems remains a significant challenge. RNAi production systems generate a diverse yield and heterogeneity of dsRNA products which require characterisation and quantification. The aim of the proposed EPSRC iCASE studentship application is to develop and apply analytical tools for the characterisation of dsRNA for RNAi applications.

This is a prestigious EPSRC iCASE PhD studentship which is supported by Syngenta who will enhance its tax-free stipend to £17,553 p.a (subject to annual increase) and will provide periods of placement within the company's research laboratories in Jeaolott’s Hill, Bracknell, UK.

For more information contact: Mark Dickman m.dickman@sheffield.ac.uk 

Apply Now

Design of Structured Food Powder Products to Make Inhomogeneous Reconstituted Beverages for Healthier Human Consumption

Project description 

A fully funded 3 year PhD studentship by Nestlé is available aiming to develop powder structures that can enable the formation of layers of variable sugar or sweetener concentration in reconstituted beverages.

A recently developed strategy uses the heterogeneity concept of the distribution of stimuli in the food matrix to reduce the overall content without losing perceived taste intensity. This strategy was successfully tested for salt, sugar and fat perception. Despite this evidence and progress in the field of perception physiology, solutions for their implementation in food products are still lacking today. The encapsulation of tastants and localized heterogeneity have been successfully shown in solid or “soft solid” foods such as bread, where moisture content and hence the diffusivity of taste molecules are low. No solution is known today to achieve a stable separation of tastant layers in liquid beverages and paste-like products such as dessert foams, yoghurts and cream gels.

In this project, the goal is to obtain layers of contrasting sweetness in reconstituted powdered beverages through powder structuring approaches. In a theoretical approach, building on previous collaborations in the field of powder reconstitution, the dissolution kinetics shall be modelled as a function of density, porosity and composition in order to predict the sugar concentration profile.

The achievable layering effect, that is the gradient in sugar concentration in the cup after reconstitution of the powder, shall be measured as a function of time. A kinetic model shall be established to understand the mass transfer of dissolved sugar molecules in the beverage.

The student will work within the Particle Products Research Group which is equipped with cutting edge research equipment for powder product characterisation and development. The work shall be carried out in close collaboration with the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Candidate eligibility:

Candidates should have, or expected to achieve, a minimum of an upper second class Honours degree (2.1 or above) or a Master’s degree in chemical engineering, material science, food science/engineering, chemistry, or a related discipline.

Studentship eligibility: This studentship is open to all students from the world.

For more information please contact: Professor Agba Salman a.d.salman@sheffield.ac.uk

Fully funded and available to home and overseas students. 

Production of industrial chemicals for personal care and health care using oleaginous yeast

Project description

 Many ingredients in the personal care and health care products, for example lipids, are derived from petroleum, animal fat or vegetable oil. Some petroleum-based cosmetics and skin care products are found to contain cancer-causing chemicals (e.g., 1,4-dioxane). The use of fish oil is tinted by heavy metal (e.g., mercury) or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) contamination. Major beauty product companies are beginning to adapt to the increasing demand for animal-free or halal cosmetics, which contain only certified ingredients as adhering to Muslim rules. Similarly, there is an increasing demand for products that cater to vegetarians and vegans. Tighter regulation, compliance and market trend in this sector have prompted for the search for alternative ingredient sources that are both sustainable and economical, and do not compete with food source. Microbial oil, produced by oleaginous yeast cultivated under controlled environment, is potentially an excellent substitute. In this collaborative research, high-lipid producing yeast strains are characterized biochemically and engineered for production of three types of lipid: squalene, hydroxyl fatty acid and omega- 3/6 fatty acid. The project also looks at bioprocess strategy to maximize the lipid production from various feedstocks (e.g., industrial or agricultural waste).

Requirements:

- First class degree in chemical engineering, biochemical engineering, industrial biotechnology, molecular biology, biochemistry or related disciplines. 
- UK and EU students only.

Additional information:   

- Successful candidate will spend 2 years at the University of Sheffield and 2 years at the A*STAR Bioprocessing Technology Institute in Singapore.
- For inquiry, please email: t.wong@sheffield.ac.uk 

Catalytic routes to transform organic waste to valuable chemicals

Project description

This industrially-supported experimental PhD project will develop alternative sources of chemical products using organic waste as a feedstock. A key focus will be on developing heterogeneous catalytic routes to upgrading organic oils produced via insect biocatalysis of food waste. Development of both engineering processes and catalysts is key to the success of this project, with experiments designed to take full account of societal concerns. Target product species include, e.g. green solvents and liquid fuels formed via catalytic esterification, alongside high value oil derivatives. The development of such a circular economy approach is key to tackling the grand challenges of the 21st century including climate change, urbanisation and resource depletion. This is a genuinely innovative project suitable for a motivated chemical engineer / chemist or graduate in a related subject.

Global society is dependent on fossil reserves for products ranging from fuels and solvents to plastics and petrochemicals. This project will develop a novel route to synthesise such products employing organic waste as the feedstock. In the UK 15Mt of organic waste is disposed to landfill every year, while in developing economies organic waste constitutes >60% of all municipal solid waste. The industrial partner (Entomics) has developed a platform to transform organic waste via insect biocatalysis, i.e. black soldier fly larvae (BSFL). BSFL feed on organic waste, from food waste to manure, with up to 30% of their final mass comprising organic oils. This oil is a potential feedstock for the synthesis of fuels and valuable chemicals. The project will focus on developing catalytic routes to the valorisation of these oils. Both the manufacture of bulk chemicals such as solvents and liquid fuels and the synthesis of high-value oil derivatives will be investigated.

The project is largely lab based employing reaction studies and characterisation techniques such as GC/MS and FTIR. Additionally, visits to the industrial partner will form a key component of the project. Ultimately, for the technology to be successfully implemented full consideration must be given to societal concerns including: planning and environmental contexts; legal obligations; social acceptance; and fit with existing waste management contracts. The student will collaborate with experts in this area to ensure careful design of appropriate chemical experiments.

Keywords: catalysis, catalysts, sustainability, waste utilisation, circular economy

Subject areas: Chemical Engineering, Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Materials Science, Energy, Biotechnology, Petrochemical Engineering

Lead supervisor: Dr James McGregor, Chemical and Biological Engineering
Co-supervisor(s): Dr Marco Conte, Chemistry; Dr Nick Taylor-Buck, Urban Institute

Deadline: Thursday 23 February 2017

Application form

Please note: in the online application process please select ‘standard PhD’ not DTC option, and ‘Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Your application for this studentship should be accompanied by a CV and a 200 word supporting statement. Your statement should outline your aspirations and motivation for studying in the Grantham Centre, outlining any relevant experience.

About the Grantham Centre

Funding notes

This four-year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. Support for travel and consumables (RTSG) will also be made available at standard rate of £2,627 per annum, with an additional one-off allowance of £1,000 for a computer in the first year. Students will receive an annual stipend of £17,336.

Development of a high throughput analytical platform for the characterisation of biopharmaceuticals generated from multi-gene engineered CHO cells

Project description

Applications are invited for one of two 3.5 year research studentships at the University of Sheffield in partnership with MedImmune Ltd. The student will join a team of researchers at Sheffield and MedImmune engaged in the development of a synthetic biology based platform for multi-component genetic engineering of Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell factories.

Development of a high-throughput, micro-scale analytical platform for molecular characterisation of recombinant proteins produced by multigene engineered CHO cells.

Project Plan: 
The analytical platform will be integrated with current high throughput transient transfection systems that can rapidly generate products from multigene engineered CHO cells. We will: 
a) Develop an analytical platform utilising nano/capillary based separations for the sensitive (<μg) analysis of recombinant protein biopharmaceuticals 
b) Develop an analytical platform utilising high-resolution, high-speed bioseparations (<10 min per sample) in conjunction with reversed phase, hydrophobic interaction and ultra-high resolution size exclusion chromatography for the analysis of biopharmaceuticals 
c) Perform rapid glycan profiling of biopharmaceuticals. 
d) The ability to rapidly identify, characterise and quantify biopharmaceutical products (including glycosylated proteins/ difficult to express proteins) is an essential component of an integrated high-throughput multi-gene engineering platform in CHO cells. These high-throughput approaches can rapidly generate large numbers of products from multigene constructs that require analytical tools to rapidly and accurately measure product quantity and quality. This will enable us to address new important questions and move towards total control of bioproduct quantity and quality. 
Funding Notes

Funding is available for 3.5 years for this project. Please contact Prof Dickman or Prof James for more information

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The Physical Chemistry of the Digestion of Grain: Determination of the Interplay between Digestive Enzymes, Commercial Feed Enzymes and Tannins in the Stomach of Domesticated Monogastric Animals

Project Description

This project is interdisciplinary; it combines the subject’s physical chemistry and animal nutrition. The project will study the interactions between digestive enzymes and molecules originating from the feed. This knowledge will be used to improve the composition of commercial animal feed. Academic supervision will be done by Dr Falconer at Chemical & Biological Engineering and Professor Cameron of Animal & Plant Science.

The student will study of the interaction of natural chemicals found in grain with digestive enzymes using analytical techniques to measure enzyme activity and the thermodynamics of binding interactions. The goal is to understand the interplay between phytate , tannins and digestive enzymes. You will also study the role of pH, salt and digesta on the above interactions and investigate the minimisation of digestion using a selection of naturally occurring small molecules. Lastly an animal feeding trial will link the laboratory findings to digestion in live animals.

The project has an industrial partner so it will include travel to Switzerland and to international conferences.

The successful candidate should have an Honours Degree at 2.1 or above in biochemistry, biotechnology, chemistry, chemical engineering, animal and plant science or related subject.

If English is not your first language then you must have International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) average of 6.5 or above with at least 5.5 in each component.

This studentship is fully funded for a United Kingdom or European Union resident.

For further details contact Dr Falconer at r.j.falconer@sheffield.ac.uk

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Engineering Microbial communities for biotechnology and bioremediation

Project Description

Microbial biotechnology is usually undertaken by a single species in a fermenter. However, some processes are metabolically challenging for a single species and therefore more suited to communities of microbes. However, the molecular tools to engineer these communities are sparse and the processes are usually controlled at only the process level (fermenter conditions like temperature and nutrient inputs) rather than the cellular level. The interspecies dynamics in these communities are largely considered a black box.

In the last decade there have been rapid advances in molecular tools to interrogate the interactions between microbes and model the process parameters and efficiencies.

This project aims to develop these tools and generate a paradigm shift in engineering microbial communities to be more efficient and productive. It will require transferring of knowledge from pure culture manipulations to multiple species and set a precedent for better knowledge of these processes. Techniques in forward and inverse metabolic engineering will be applied to synthetic microbial communities with the opportunity to present these to industries where biomanufacturing or bioremediation are a core focus.
Funding Notes

Applicants should have a First Class Honors degree in biological/chemical engineering, molecular biology, microbiology or biology.
This project is for self funded students only. No funding is available from the department or Sheffield University for this project

For further information contact Dr Jagroop Pandhal j.pandhal@sheffield.ac.uk

Apply now

Engineering Ralstonia eutropha to convert CO2/waste stream into useful chemicals using a synthetic biology approach

Project Description

This project falls under the umbrella of carbon capture and utilization (CCU), i.e., to turn a greenhouse gas CO2 into a useful feedstock for chemical syntheses. Instead of using a physico-chemical approach to capture CO2 and to transform CO2 into useful chemicals using metal-based catalysts, the project capitalizes on the natural ability of biological systems in carbon capture, carbon concentration and carbon utilization. Specifically, we are interested in exploring the biotechnological potentials of Ralstonia eutropha in biological CCU. R. eutropha is known for its intrinsic ability to synthesize and accumulate polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA; bioplastics) and for their superior performance in aromatic compound degradation.

In this project, the student will (1) develop molecular tools for engineering R. eutropha and related species, (2) apply metabolic engineering/directed evolution/synthetic biology to tailor/fine-tune the properties of R. eutropha for chemical production, and (3) design industrial processes utilizing R. eutropha and evaluate the techno-economics of biological CCU.

The student will join the multi-disciplinary ChELSI institute and the newly established Advanced Biomanufacturing Centre (ABC) at the University of Sheffield, which is equipped with state-of-the-art research facilities. He/she will receive a broad training in molecular biology, protein engineering, synthetic biology, biophysics and chemical engineering. Further, he/she will engage with the Doctoral Development Programme designed to help developing specialist and transferable skills, which will enhance students’ research capability and employability.

Any enquiry should be directed to Dr. Kang Lan Tee, email k.tee@sheffield.ac.uk.

The department has, at its discretion, funds which it can offer to facilitate and put towards any application. The level of funding made available will be made on an individual basis and determined by the financial situation of the applicant. Please note funding is for UK/EU applicants only

Applications from sponsored or self-funding students worldwide are welcome at any time.

Apply now

Future of Chemical Engineering Education: Research and development in curriculum design and delivery

Project Description

The pace of development in engineering industry has dramatically overtaken the development of learning and teaching methods used in higher education institutions. There is a need for more teachers in Engineering in higher education institutions to advance learning and teaching methods and develop materials to meet the requirements and expectations of industry and academia; and to explore future directions of chemical engineering education.

This programme will provide research-led teaching and supervision integrated within the student’s doctoral studies; a thorough grounding in the philosophy, principles and practice of educational research in engineering, its application in learning and teaching, and a critical understanding of contemporary higher education in all its settings at department, institution, national and international levels.

This will be a broad and flexible research-based programme that will be relevant to professional teaching careers and is especially suited to someone who is seeking a career as a Lecturer with a focus on Teaching and Scholarship in Engineering.
The programme aims to enable the PhD candidate to:

- Conduct high quality research into higher education in a supportive environment, with leading scholars in the field

- Explore theories, policies, practices and new ideas with a view to their application in chemical engineering education

- Acquire academic and scholarly understanding of contemporary issues and internationalisation in chemical engineering education
- Develop practical skills in teaching, curriculum design and assessment

- Disseminate results from the research through journal, HEA and conference publications, making this work available to the wider community

For further information contact Dr Mohammed Zandi Email; m.zandi@sheffield.ac.uk

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Genome-scale dissection of secretory pathway function for protein product specific CHO cell engineering

Project Description

Applications are invited for one of two 3.5 year research studentships at the University of Sheffield in partnership with MedImmune Ltd. The student will join a team of researchers at Sheffield and MedImmune engaged in the development of a synthetic biology based platform for multi-component genetic engineering of Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell factories.

Project aims

a) Establish standardised functional screens containing 10s-100s of CHO-specific siRNAs targeted at ER, secretory pathway and glycan processing functions.
b) Co-develop compatibility with high-throughput transient transfection platform for multigene co-expression analysis.
c) Determine protein-specific and generic targets for CHO cell engineering.
d) Evaluate reverse transfection protocols for routine transfection.

The core synthetic biology-based platform for protein product specific CHO cell engineering currently under development has two primary related objectives for technology development, (i) high-throughput co-expression of multiple genes for model-based expression vector design and (ii) construction of synthetic vectors for controlled co-expression of functional genes at optimal stoichiometry. Most closely aligned with (i) above, this project is designed to significantly broaden our ability to manipulate endogenous gene expression in host CHO cells by enabling functional dissection of secretory pathway (or other) processes via simultaneous targeted disruption of the expression of tens to hundreds of secretory pathway genes using CHO-specific siRNAs. This novel approach will enable us to determine the relative “sensitivity” of discrete cellular processes to disruption when CHO cells are challenged with specific DTE proteins, to evaluate generic vs. protein-specific secretory pathway engineering strategies. We will bioinformatically design pathway-specific siRNA screens using CHO genomic data, and utilise core capability in the dedicated Sheffield RNAi facility. Transfection and HT screening methodology will mirror that under development for the core multigene expression platform and further permit evaluation of novel HT compatible approaches such as reverse-transfection.

Funding Notes

Funding is available for 3.5 years for this project. Please contact Profesor James Lister for more information

Apply now

Mechanistic study of molecular assembly for drug and gene
delivery

Project Description

Despite numerous advances over the past several decades, effective drug and gene delivery with high efficiency, low toxicity and cell targeting remains challenging. Novel nanocarriers that can address these issues are highly desired. Designed peptides bearing hydrophobic and hydrophilic moieties can self-assemble into various well-ordered nanostructures. Recent studies have demonstrated that these structural features together with their excellent biocompatibility and a wide range of design flexibility make them attractive as drug and gene delivery
vehicles.

This PhD project will develop mechanistic understanding from well-selected models to unravel how drug and DNA molecules form complexes with designed peptides that can self-assemble into well-ordered nanostructures as nanocarriers; how the nanocarriers attack cell membrane at physiological environment; and subsequently their drug and gene delivery efficiencies using different cell lines. Cancer cell specificity of the peptides will also be investigated.

The student will receive training in molecular biophysics covering leading physical techniques for molecular characterisation (dynamic light scattering, Langmuir trough, AFM, TEM, high-content
microscopy etc.) and various cell assays to enable the student to undertake the exciting project.

Applicants should have or expect to gain a first class or upper second-class honours degree*(or equivalent if from overseas) in any of the following backgrounds: chemistry, physics, biochemistry, biotechnology, biomaterials, biomedical engineering, pharmaceutics, bioengineering, chemical engineering or a related discipline, or have an appropriate MSc qualification.

If English is not your first language then you must have International English Language Testing Service (*IELTS*) certificate with an average of *6.5* or above and at least *5.5* in each component.

Contact Jon Zhao xiubo.zhao@sheffield.ac.uk

Magnetic-silk core-shell nanoparticles for targeted drug an gene delivery

Project Description

Silk is a protein fibre produced by silkworm. It has been used for centuries because of its unique properties. Extensive research has been carried out to explore the regenerated silk fibroin (RSF) as biomaterials such as tissue culture scaffolds, wound covering materials, soft contact lens, and cosmetic components for their impressive biocompatibility and biodegradability.

This PhD project is to engineer smart RSF nanocarriers with magnetic nanoparticles inside for drug and gene delivery. The student will be lab based and will be trained to use modern techniques such as AFM, SEM, TEM, FTIR, Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS), Circular Dichroism Spectroscopy (CD), Flow Cytometry, Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (CLSM) etc. to fabricate the nanoparticles and characterize their properties. Antibody will be conjugated onto the nanoparticles for cell targeting. A combination of relevant cell assays will also be carried out to evaluate the biocompatibility, degradability and biological functions of the fabricated nanoparticles.

Applicants should have or expect to gain a first class or upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent if from overseas) in any of the following backgrounds: chemistry, physics, biochemistry,
biotechnology, biomaterials, biomedical engineering, pharmaceutics, bioengineering, chemical engineering or a related discipline, or have an appropriate MSc qualification.

If English is not your first language then you must have International English Language Testing Service (*IELTS*) certificate with an average of *6.5* or above and at least *5.5* in each component.

Contact Jon Zhao xiubo.zhao@sheffield.ac.uk

Reactive inkjet printing of tissue culture scaffolds

Project Description

3D scaffolds with excellent biocompatibility, biodegradability, sophisticated 3D structures and appropriate mechanical properties are particularly desired as in vitro models in biomedical research and are highly attractive in clinical applications (e.g. as nerve guidance conduits) However, fabricating such scaffolds is challenging. In particular, the lack of precise control of 3D structures (e.g.
architectures, porosities, pore sizes and vascularity) in scaffolds has become a major challenge due to the lack of advanced fabrication techniques.

This PhD project is to fabricate 3D tissue cultural scaffolds with well-defined architectures using reactive inkjet printing technology with various bio-inks such as silk fibroin, designed self-assembly peptide hydrogels, alginate and chitosan. The student will be trained to use modern techniques such as 3D reactive inkjet printing, AFM, SEM, TEM, FTIR, CD Spectroscopy, Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy (CLSM) etc. to fabricate the scaffolds and characterize their properties. A combination of relevant cell assays will also be carried out to evaluate the biocompatibility, degradability and biological functions of the fabricated scaffolds.

Applicants should have or expect to gain a*first class or upper second-class honours degree*(or equivalent if from overseas) in any of the following backgrounds: chemistry, physics, biochemistry, biotechnology, biomaterials, biomedical engineering, pharmaceutics, bioengineering, chemical engineering or a related discipline, or have an appropriate MSc qualification.

If English is not your first language then you must have International English Language Testing Service (*IELTS*) certificate with an average of *6.5* or above and at least *5.5* in each component.

Contact Jon Zhao xiubo.zhao@sheffield.ac.uk

Reactive inkjet printing of silk fibroin swimmers

Project Description

Production of small-scale devices that can autonomously generate thrust via catalytic reactions within fluidic environments has become an increasingly active field and has led to a focus on potential applications including environmental monitoring and remediation, in vivo drug delivery and repair, and lab on a chip diagnostics.

We have recently fabricated enzyme powered silk micro-rockets that can swim in bio fluid, which have attracted considerable media attention. This PhD project is to extend our recent work on 3D inkjet printing of silk swimmers, exploring the fabrication of 3D silk swimmers with well-defined structures and compositions using reactive inkjet printing technology. The fabricated swimmers will be used for rare cell (e.g. circulating tumour cell) capture. The student will be trained to use modern techniques such as 3D reactive inkjet printing, AFM, SEM, TEM, interferometry, FTIR, CD etc. to fabricate the micro swimmers and characterize their properties (e.g. velocity and trajectory). A combination of relevant cell assays will also be carried out to evaluate the biocompatibility and biological functions of the swimmers (e.g. CTC cell capture).

Applicants should have or expect to gain a first class or upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent if from overseas) in any of the following backgrounds: chemistry, physics, biochemistry,
biotechnology, biomaterials, biomedical engineering, pharmaceutics, bioengineering, chemical engineering or a related discipline, or have an appropriate MSc qualification.

If English is not your first language then you must have International English Language Testing Service (*IELTS*) certificate with an average of *6.5* or above and at least *5.5* in each component.

Contact Jon Zhao xiubo.zhao@sheffield.ac.uk

Reactive inkjet printing of flexible devices

Project Description

Flexible devices such as microfluidic paper-based analytical devices (μPAD) have recently received significant attention as a potential platform for low-cost diagnostic assays.

This PhD project is to use reactive inkjet printing to fabricate flexible devices for different applications such as cancer diagnostics, environmental monitoring and energy store etc. The student will be trained to use modern techniques such as 3D reactive inkjet printing, AFM, SEM, TEM, interferometry, FTIR etc. to fabricate the devices and characterize their properties. A combination of relevant experiments such as biological assays and electrochemical tests will also be carried out to evaluate the functions of the fabricated devices.

Applicants should have or expect to gain a first class or upper second-class honours degree*(or equivalent if from overseas) in any of the following backgrounds: chemistry, physics, biochemistry, biotechnology, biomaterials, biomedical engineering, pharmaceutics, bioengineering, chemical engineering or a related discipline, or have an appropriate MSc qualification.

If English is not your first language then you must have International English Language Testing Service (*IELTS*) certificate with an average of *6.5* or above and at least *5.5* in each component.

Contact Jon Zhao xiubo.zhao@sheffield.ac.uk