Dr Karen Johnston


Chemical and Process Engineering

Personal statement

I joined the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering as a Lecturer in August 2013.  I am interested in a wide range of materials, particularly those with soft-hard matter interfaces, and I use multiscale simulations to understand their properties.  


Has expertise in:

    I build multiscale simulations using the following techniques:

    • Density functional theory (DFT) gives information about electronic structure, adsorption and surface energies, etc. and is particularly useful for periodic systems e.g. crystals although it can now be used for more complex systems.
    • Molecular dynamics gives structural information, including spatially resolved densities, polymer and protein structures, and dynamic information such as diffusion, etc. 
    • Monte Carlo techniques can be used for self-assembly or adsorption. 


Interplay between vacuum-grown monolayers of alkyl phosphonic acids and the performance of organic transistors based on dinaphtho[2,3-b:2′,3′-f]thieno[3,2-b]thiophene
Hannah Stuart, Cardona Javier, Lamprou Dimitrios A., Sutta Pavol , Baran Peter, Al Ruzaiqi Afra, Johnston Karen, Gleskova Helena
ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces Vol 8, pp. 25405-25414, (2016)
A van der Waals density functional theory study of poly(vinylidene difluoride) crystalline phases
Pelizza F., Smith B., Johnston K.
European Physical Journal: Special Topics, (2016)
Phase behaviour of self-assembled monolayers controlled by tuning physisorbed and chemisorbed states : a lattice-model view
Fortuna Sara, Cheung David, Johnston Karen
Journal of Chemical Physics Vol 144, (2016)
Adsorption of polyiodobenzene molecules on the Pt(111) surface using van der Waals density functional theory
Johnston Karen, Pekoz Rengin, Donadio Davide
Surface Science Vol 644, pp. 113-121, (2016)
Tuning the adsorption of aromatic molecules on platinum via halogenation
Pekoz Rengin, Johnston Karen, Donadio Davide
Journal of Physical Chemistry C Vol 118, pp. 6235–6241, (2014)
http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1021/jp411422x
A van der Waals density functional study of the adsorption of ethanol on the α-alumina (0001) surface
Johnston Karen
Surface Science Vol 621, pp. 16-22, (2014)

more publications


CP102 Introduction to Chemical Engineering: Fundamentals, Techniques and Tools
This course consists of 4 components:

  • Introduction to chemical engineering (semester 1)
  • IT techniques (semester 1)
  • Energy fundamentals (semester 2)
  • Frontiers of Chemical Engineering project (semester 2)

Supervisor for CP407 conceptual design projects

Academic supervisor for 18350 MEng projects

Academic supervisor for Distance Learning MSc project


Research interests

HYBRID MATERIALS: Hard-Soft Matter Interfaces

Organic-inorganic composites are widely used in industry due to their strength, flexibility and light weight. Although generic properties of polymers at surfaces are well understood the interaction between specific materials is not. The main challenge in simulating polymer-solid interfaces is the different length and time scales involved. This research bridges the gap between the micro- and mesoscale properties using a hierarchical multiscale approach. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations are used to obtain the detailed quantum interactions at the interface and this information is used to build surface potentials for atomistic and coarse-grained (CG) molecular dynamics simulations.


Professional activities

Really Small Science, Meet the Expert
Solvay Composites Group
Visiting researcher
University of Sheffield
Visiting researcher
Really Small Science, Explorathon 2016
CCP5 Annual General Meeting 2016
CCP5 Summer School 2016
Keynote/plenary speaker

more professional activities


Polymorph control in PVDF thin films for sensor applications and composites
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Sefcik, Jan (CoI) Mulheran, Paul (CoI) Gleskova, Helena (CoI) Liggat, John (CoI) McKechnie, David (Researcher)
In this project we will develop a computational model to guide the design of polymer thin films for composite and flexible sensor applications.
Period 01-Oct-2016 - 31-Mar-2017
Phase behaviour of a complex multicomponent system
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Sefcik, Jan (Co-investigator)
Experiments to determine the phase behaviour of coffee-soya milk mixtures for different concentrations and temperatures. Summer project with BP sponsored stipend.
Period 06-Jun-2016 - 05-Aug-2016
Competitive adsorption in clean air applications
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Fletcher, Ashleigh (Academic) Rapp, Paul (Post Grad Student)
Period 01-Oct-2014
Multiscale modelling of hybrid materials: ferroelectric polymer thin films
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Pelizza, Francesco (Post Grad Student)
Period 01-Oct-2014
BTG - A joint theoretical and experimental investigation of alkyl phosphonic acid SAMs in organic field-effect transistors
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Gleskova, Helena (Principal Investigator) Cardona Amengual, Javier (Researcher)
Period 01-Nov-2015
BTG: GlaMM Workshops
Hourahine, Benjamin (Co-investigator) Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Nicholls, William (Co-investigator)
GlaMM (Glasgow Multiscale Modelling) is a group that aims to improve connections between modellers in various departments in Strathclyde and the Glasgow area universities. The BTG grant enabled GlaMM to set up a series of workshops, based in Strathclyde University during the spring term of 2014, focusing on topics aligned with selected TIC themes. The meeting topics were: Solar Cells and Intelligent Lighting, Water Treatment and Management, and Bionanotechnology. The workshops each aimed to • facilitate collaborations to tackle challenging problems at various length scales and across multiple disciplines. • establish a framework for interdepartmental and inter-faculty collaborations leading to future grant proposals. Opportunities and next steps As outlined above, the workshops have helped establish a network between researchers in various departments across Strathclyde, and has improved communication between experimentalists and modellers. In addition, we have also learned some lessons from the workshops that will be valuable for future event organisation: • Participating in a workshop takes time and it can be difficult to find compromise dates that suit many people, especially coming up to exam time. A better approach may be to have shorter events, such as a seminar and coffee series. • Using TIC themes for the workshops worked well, and another idea that would help to focus the interaction is to aim for a specific funding opportunity. The membership of GlaMM is very diverse so it is not possible to find a single possibility that fits all, and instead GlaMM will now focus on 2-3 relevant funding possibilities from EPSRC or H2020 and invite GlaMM members to attend targetted meetings to contribute to a proposal. • Currently, we are discussing how to further raise the profile of GlaMM and what it can offer. We are looking into options for website development that would make GlaMM visible externally and also provide a showcase for modelling activities in Strathclyde. The preparation of future funding proposals and other activities will aim to create a sustainable and vibrant modelling network in Strathclyde.
Period 01-Feb-2014 - 30-Jun-2014

more projects


Chemical and Process Engineering
James Weir Building

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