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.  For more information please visit my personal webpage:



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. 


Member of the Institute of Physics

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


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)
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)
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)

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

Explorathon 2018
CCP5 AGM 2018
Solvay Composites Group
Visiting researcher
RSC Theoretical Chemistry Group conference
Aurelien Collas
Multiscale modelling of surfaces and interfaces

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
CCP5 funded summer project
Johnston, Karen (Principal Investigator)
CCP5 funded vacation bursary for Jordan Cree
01-Jan-2017 - 31-Jan-2017
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
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

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