PhD Geothermal energy prospecting in radiothermal granites in the Cairngorms, Scotland,
using an integrated geological, geophysical and petrophysical approach

Geothermal energy is one of the few renewable energy sources that can supply a constant and reliable source of low-carbon heat, and in some cases electricity. In the UK, radiothermal granites offer one of the best potential targets for medium/medium-high enthalpy (100-200°C fluid temperature) geothermal energy resources, within conventional drilling depths (2-5 km). Scotland hosts the highest heat producing granites in the UK, primarily situated in the Cairngorms. Until now, one of the main reasons why there has been a lack of investment in developing projects within the Scottish granites is that it is not known to what extent permeable (fractured and/or altered) zones exist at depth. Detecting these features in the subsurface is non-trivial, given that they are not easily observable using e.g. seismic surveying methods. However, using electromagnetic deep-sounding techniques like the magnetotelluric (MT) method offers the potential to image such features at depth where the electrical resistivity of the host rock (granite) will be much higher than in altered, porous and/or fractured zones, where geothermal fluids are likely to exist.

Through our collaborations with the British Geological Survey and TownRock Energy, the successful candidate will lead groundbreaking multidisciplinary research to better understand the geothermal energy potential of the granites in the NE of Scotland, collecting and integrating new data from a combination of field, lab and subsurface imaging methods. Specifically, the PhD project will involve carrying out a series of field excursions to areas where there are radiothermal granites in NE Scotland (e.g. the Cairngorms) to map surface features (e.g. fracture, faults, alteration zones), carry out an MT survey and collect samples to measure the petrophysical properties of potential reservoir rocks using laboratory methods. The integration of these different data sets will directly influence the next stage of geothermal energy exploration in Scotland, but they will also be important in understanding other similar systems worldwide.


The project is in collaboration with the British Geological Survey and industrial partner TownRock Energy, both of which have significant experience in working in the geothermal energy sector, particularly in the UK.

Industrial Placement

The candidate will have the option to take up an internship with project partners TownRock Energy over the course of the PhD project.


To be eligible, applicants should have a BSc/MSci 2:1 and/or Masters (MSc) at Merit/Distinction level (>60%) and/or evidence of significant relevant professional experience equivalent to Masters level. Applicants with a structural geology/geomaterials/geochemistry/geophysics/physics/applied geoscience/reservoir engineering related qualification and an interest in field work, geochemical, petrophysical, or geomechanical methods are particularly encouraged. Applicants should further have a strong motivation to succeed in scientific research, excellent presentation, and scientific writing skills as well as very good to excellent English language skills (verbally and written). Scholarships will be awarded by competitive merit, taking into account the academic ability of the applicant. International students are encouraged to apply, however, only 30% of projects funded through the EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) scheme at Heriot-Watt University are allowed to be awarded to non-UK candidates. Should a non-UK candidate be selected following interview, a further step in the selection procedure will have to take place to select the appointed candidates.


This is a full scholarship which will cover tuition fees for UK-based students and provide an annual stipend in line with EPSRC recommended levels (currently £17,668) for the 42 months duration of the project. International students are also encouraged to apply, but an offer is subject to additional funding being externally sourced to cover international fees, as well as compliance with admission requirements from Heriot-Watt University. A generous amount of research funding is available for field and laboratory work, as well as to attend conferences and training courses.

How to apply

To apply you must complete our online application form our online application form.

Please select PhD GeoEnergy Engineering or Applied Geology as the programme and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor name on your application form. You will also need to provide a CV, a supporting statement (1-2 A4 pages) outlining your suitability and how you would approach the project, a copy of your degree certificate and relevant transcripts and an academic reference.

Please contact Dr. Nathaniel Forbes Inskip (, Dr. Juliane Huebert (, Prof. Andreas Busch ( or Hester Claridge ( for informal information.


The closing date for applications is 21st of May 2023 and applicants must be available to start in September 2023 or January 2024. Please include your preferred start date as part of the supporting statement.

posted: 18 April 2023     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.