Post-Doctoral Research Associate: 4D quantification of micro-scale feedbacks in dehydrating, deforming rocks

Vacancy Ref: : 049308
Closing Date : 15-Oct-2019
Contact Person : Rodaidh McLaughlin
Contact Number : 0131 651 3424
Contact Email :

We are seeking an ambitious and motivated Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA) to undertake experimental investigations into the fundamental grain-scale feedbacks between chemical, hydraulic and mechanical processes during the prograde dehydration of gypsum and serpentinite. You will be part of a NERC funded project where we aim to understand the coupled grain-scale developments and self-organization that control strain localization during mineral dehydration in deforming rocks, which in turn influences earthquakes and the overall style of deformation in plates.

Our experimental approach, which is based on fast synchrotron x-ray imaging and innovative x-ray transparent deformation rigs, promises to contribute important insights into these processes. You will join an experienced team of interdisciplinary researchers who will use and develop new pressure cells for use at Synchrotron light sources, implement new routines to acquire and analyse time-resolved x-ray microtomography data and use these data to model system behaviour.

Training will be given at all stages of your work and this position is an exciting opportunity to develop cutting edge research and technical expertise that will enable and facilitate research in a wide range of fields, including applied subjects. You will be working in the imaging group at UoE's School of Geosciences, with 10+ years of experience in 4D x-ray and neutron imaging, more than 150 days of accumulated beam time and over 30 years of experience in equipment design and construction.

The School aims to ensure equality of opportunity and holds an Athena SWAN Silver award. We welcome applications from everyone irrespective of gender or ethnic group. Appointment will be based on merit alone.

Salary: £33,797 - £40,322 per annum.

closing date is 15 October 2019 at 5pm GMT.

1. Job Details

Job title: Post-Doctoral Research Associate: 4D quantification of micro-scale feedbacks in dehydrating, deforming rocks School/Support Department: School of Geosciences Line manager:Dr. Florian Fusseis

2. Job Purpose

We are seeking an ambitious and motivated Post-Doctoral Research Associate (PDRA) to undertake experimental investigations into the fundamental grain-scale feedbacks between chemical, hydraulic and mechanical processes during the prograde dehydration of gypsum and serpentinite. The importance of mineral dehydration reactions in tectonics is evidenced by geophysical, experimental and field-based observations. At convergent plate boundaries hydrous minerals undergo prograde metamorphism and dehydrate. The associated pore fluid pressure increase and microstructural adjustments are thought to enable the emplacement of tectonic nappes and facilitate the emergence of intermediate-depth seismicity in subduction zones. The critical role of dehydration reactions has been captured in a range of micro-mechanical models. In these models, feedback loops, where coupled chemical, hydraulic and mechanical processes facilitate the self-organization of the dehydrating rock into a state where mechanical instabilities occur, seem crucial. However, neither classical laboratory experiments nor field-based studies allow a spatial and temporal (4D) characterization of these feedbacks on the micro-scale. Models that explain important tectonic processes at convergent plate boundaries therefore lack a robust observational basis.

You will be part of a NERC funded project that will utilize a recent convergence of technologies to establish such a basis and directly observed the underlying grain-scale processes. For the first time, we will use time-resolved (4D) synchrotron imaging to determine how mineral dehydration reactions on the grain scale can lead to mechanical failure in deforming rocks. Our project will combine novel time-resolved 3D Synchrotron microtomography experiments with innovative image analysis and numerical modelling. Our experimental data will directly capture the link between dehydration reactions and rock deformation at the grain scale. The new insights will significantly improve interpretations of field-based and geophysical datasets and allow testing and improving theoretical models for coupled processes in dehydrating, deforming rocks. Our research will also establish a unique experimental facility in the UK that will significantly advance R&D in a wide range of geoscientific applications, including geothermal energy and nuclear waste storage.

This post holder will engage in a multi-faceted research and work programme, which includes: (i) Preparing and conducting in-situ experiments at the Diamond and Swiss Light Sources, including off-line experiments in preparation for synchrotron visits (ii) Supporting data analysis and interpretation (iii) Contribute to equipment design, testing and maintenance (iv) Preparation and writing of research papers and presentation of results at national and international conferences (v) Engaging in outreach activities to communicate our research to a wider public.

The job profile requires a background in experimental geosciences (geology, metamorphic petrology or mineralogy degree plus a minimum of 2 years' experience of scientific work) with established laboratory- and hands on skills, problem solving abilities and research skills. Experience in x-ray imaging is desirable. The post holder will be driving the ambitious experimental program of our project. Training will be given at all stages of work and this position is an exciting opportunity to develop rare research and technical expertise in cutting-edge x-ray imaging. You will be working in the imaging group at UoE's School of Geosciences, with 10+ years of experience in 4D x-ray and neutron imaging, more than 150 days of accumulated synchrotron beam time and over 30 years of experience in equipment design and construction.

3. Main Responsibilities (Approx. % of time)

1.In 4-6 synchrotron campaigns, work on the implementation of our experimental program on gypsum dehydration and serpentinite dehydration:

-Take responsibility for preparing synchrotron experiments, including sample preparation, offline/dry-run experiments, equipment testing, packing and maintenance.
-Acquire, analyse and interpret high-resolution synchrotron µCT 4D datasets from dehydrating, deforming polycrystalline gypsum samples at a range of confining- and pore fluid pressures, applied loads, strain rates and sample configurations.
-Acquire, analyse and interpret high-resolution synchrotron µCT 4D datasets of synthetic antigorite/antigorite+brucite samples in different configurations, dehydrating and deforming at up to 450 degree C and 100 MPa confining pressure, and at a range of applied loads, pore fluid pressures and strain rates. (45%)

2.Interpret 4D µCT 4D datasets from the above experiments. Use various analytical workflows and data mining to extract the evolution of key parameters that describe dehydrating, deforming gypsum and serpentinites. Conduct post-mortem analyses of experimental samples using electron microbeam techniques to ground-truth interpretations. (25%)

3.Support the team in the development of a new x-ray transparent high-temperature deformation rig that will be used for parts of the experimental program. (15%)

4.Contribute to dissemination/publication of personal and/or research team's findings as appropriate to the field. Contribute to knowledge exchange and public engagement events and projects through various outlets, including social media and the project website. (10%)

5.Participate actively in regular project meetings and liaise closely with other project staff, including PDRA2, and the project partners. Contribute to the project's wider area of work including the pathways to impact activities. Support two summer schools on "3- and 4D x-ray imaging in Earth Sciences" in Edinburgh. (5%)

4. Planning and Organising

  • Take responsibility for the design and implementation of the planned research, contributing to the refinement of methods and analytical approaches.
  • Liaise and collaborate with the project team, including the workshop technicians, to ensure integration of experimental plans and equipment
  • design to achieve the research goals.
  • Write up results and contribute to dissemination/publication of personal / project findings.
  • Assist in the supervision of PhD students through research mentoring and training.
  • Establish opportunities for new lines of research to develop fellowship / research funding opportunities. Mentoring will be given to support career development.
  • Organise own work activities to contribute to the achievement of the project objectives.

5. Problem Solving

  • Develop solutions for challenges emerging from the design of the dehydration experiments or the data analysis and interpretation, on your own as well as in collaboration with other team members.
  • Contribute to the development of innovative or improved methods / techniques / process understanding.
  • Interpret data and build and test hypotheses based on results.
  • Resolve problems constructively as they occur, on your own as well as in collaboration with other team members.

6. Decision Making
Key decisions will be made collaboratively with inputs from the PI, investigators and PDRA's. The post-holder will undertake day-to-day decision making on the experimental programme. S/he will need to exercise good judgement as to which decisions must be referred to the PI and which should simply be implemented and documented. Good collaboration with other PDRAs, PhD students and other dissertation students will be necessary.

7. Key Contacts/Relationships
The key relationship will be with the line manager Dr Florian Fusseis. In addition it will be important to collaborate with Drs Ian Butler and Stephen Elphick, especially with regards to the X-ray CT micro-tomography research, and Prof John Wheeler (at the University of Liverpool) as well as Dr Sohan Seth at UoE's School of Informatics on data processing and interpretation. There should also be close collaborations with a yet to be appointed PDRA who will focus on computational aspects of data acquisition, as well as data processing, analysis and modelling. The post-holder will be expected to represent the University externally, by presenting their work at specialist meeting or workshops in the relevant research area. They may also be required to provide advice and support to relevant students.

8. Knowledge, Skills and Experience Needed for the Job

  • Ph.D. in Earth Sciences or near completion.
  • Experience in conducting experiments at elevated pressures and temperatures.
  • Evidence of hands on approach with strong sense of task ownership and responsibility with demonstrable technical problem solving abilities.
  • An interest in the development of experimental equipment.
  • Experience with image processing and analysis.
  • Experience with scientific computing and programming in Python or a comparable programming language.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills in English.


  • Knowledge of mineral dehydration processes.
  • Knowledge of rock deformation processes.
  • Experience in x-ray or neutron imaging.
  • Experience with image analysis software (e.g., ImageJ/Fiji, Avizo, Scikit-Image/Spam, Matlab).
  • Experience in research at synchrotron light sources.
  • Experience in analysis by microbeam methods.
  • Proven track-record in publishing in academic journals.
  • Experience in communicating with scientists with different skills and research backgrounds.
  • Experience in contributing to the research efforts of a large, international team.

9. Informal Enquiries
Informal information regarding the post is available from Dr Florian Fusseis (

Application Procedure

All applicants should apply online by clicking the apply link at the bottom of this page and submitting an up to date CV. The application process is quick and easy to follow, and you will receive email confirmation of safe receipt of your application. The online system allows you to submit a CV and other attachments.

We anticipate interviews will be held in mid-October. You will be notified by email whether you have been shortlisted for interview or not.

closing date is 15 October 2019 at 5pm GMT.

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Conditions of Employment

Pension Scheme

This role is grade UE07 and therefore the post holder is automatically included in membership of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), subject to the USS membership criteria, unless they indicate that they choose not to join the Scheme.

For further information please visit our Pensions website.


The role is grade and attracts an annual salary of £33,797 to £40,322 for 35 hours, each week. Salary is paid monthly by direct transfer to your Bank or Building Society account, normally on the 28th of the month. Salaries for part-time staff are calculated on the full-time scales, pro-rata to the Standard Working Week.

The University reserves the right to vary the candidate information or make no appointment at all. Neither in part, nor in whole does this information form part of any contract between the University and any individual.

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