Dr Karen Johnston


Chemical and Process Engineering

Personal statement

My research focuses on (but is not limited to) soft-hard matter interfaces, including polymer composites and heterogeneous nucleation. I use multiscale simulations to provide insight into material properties and I enjoy collaborating closely with experimentalists. I am driven by curiosity and I am interested in a variety of systems, such as phase behaviour of soy milk coffee mixtures. For more information please visit my personal webpage:



Has expertise in:

    • Density functional theory (DFT): electronic structure, adsorption and surface energies, vibrational frequencies etc.
    • Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations: structure and dynamics of thin films, liquids, solutions, solids etc. 


Member of the Institute of Physics

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Conundrum of γ glycine nucleation revisited : to stir or not to stir?
Vesga Maria J, McKechnie David, Mulheran Paul A, Johnston Karen, Sefcik Jan
CrystEngComm, pp. 1-15 (2019)
Investigation of IR and Raman spectra of species present in formaldehyde-water-methanol systems
Gaca-Zając Katarzyna Z, Smith Benjamin R, Nordon Alison, Fletcher Ashleigh J, Johnston Karen, Sefcik Jan
Vibrational Spectroscopy Vol 97, pp. 44-54 (2018)
Influence of molecule-surface and molecule-molecule interactions on two-dimensional patterns formed by functionalised aromatic molecules
Fortuna Sara, Johnston Karen
Journal of Physical Chemistry C (2018)
Evaluation and optimisation of interface force fields for water on gold surfaces
Berg Andrej, Peter Christine, Johnston Karen
Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation (2017)
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 Vol 225, pp. 1733-1742 (2016)
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)

more publications


My teaching philosophy is to provide the best learning environment by challenging students through providing questions related to everyday exampes, that develop student's understanding and problem solving skills.

I am the course organiser and lecturer for CP102 Introduction to Chemical Engineering: Fundamentals, Techniques and Tools, and I supervise CP407 design projects, 18350 MEng projects, and Distance Learning MSc projects.


Research interests

Polymer 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 a particular polymer and filler particle 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

Aurora Women's Leadership Development Programme
Forcefields: Status, Challenges and Vision
Aurora Women's Leadership Development Programme
Dominic Wadkin-Snaith
IBioIC-ScotCHEM Workshop on Smart Sustainable Materials
Aurora Women's Leadership Development Programme

more professional activities


Solvay PhD studentship cofunding
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 30-Jan-2020
Catching Nucleation in Action with Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator) Faulds, Karen (Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2018 - 01-Jan-2019
CCP5 funded summer project
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator)
21-Jan-2018 - 16-Jan-2018
Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP 2016-2017 University of Strathclyde) | McKechnie, David
Sefcik, Jan (Principal Investigator) Johnston, Karen (Co-investigator) McKechnie, David (Research Co-investigator)
01-Jan-2017 - 01-Jan-2020
CCP5 funded summer project
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator)
CCP5 funded vacation bursary for Jordan Cree
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2017
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.
01-Jan-2016 - 31-Jan-2017

more projects


Chemical and Process Engineering
James Weir Building

Location Map

View University of Strathclyde in a larger map