Postgraduate research opportunities

Photonic Sensors for Measuring Green House Gas Emissions in Dairy and Arable Production: Sustainable Precision Agriculture

A 48-month full time, fully funded PhD in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics and supported by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Number of places



Home fee, Travel costs, Stipend


1 February 2020


28 February 2020


4 years


To be considered for the project, candidates must:

  • Possess, or expect to obtain, a first class or upper second (2:1) Masters degree (MPhys, MEng, or MSc – Merit or above) in a relevant engineering or physics related subject. Candidates with a BSc or BEng at 1st class classification and with additional research experience will also be considered.
  • Be a UK or eligible EU national and adhere to Research Council (RCUK) eligibility criteria
  • Programming in C#, Python.
  • Relevant degree subjects: physics & electronic and electrical engineering
  • Non-native English speakers must ensure they meet the English language requirements. Please check the CDT website at: for English language requirements and advice.

Eligibility for RCUK studentships

  • Research Council (RC) fees and stipend can only be awarded to UK and EU students and not to EEA or International students.
  • EU students are only eligible for RC stipend if they have been resident in the UK for 3 years, including for study purposes, immediately prior to starting their PhD.
  • If an EU student cannot fulfil this condition then they are eligible for a fees only studentship.
  • International students cannot be funded from RC funds unless they are ‘settled’ in the UK. ‘Settled’ means being ordinarily resident in the UK without any immigration restrictions on the length of stay in the UK. To be ‘settled’ a student must either have the Right to Abode or Indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have the right of permanent residence in the UK under EC law. If the student’s passport describes them as a British citizen they have the Right of Abode.
  • Students with full Refugee status are eligible for fees and stipend.

Project Details

The global population is predicted to reach 9 Billion by 2050. As a consequence, increasing competition for land resource against a backdrop of climate change agricultural practices are presenting farmers with a range of challenges to improve operational efficiency and reduce greenhouse emissions.


In Europe, agriculture contributes approximately 10.4% of GHG emission, with enteric emission accounting for 30% of this value. The dominant emission is in the form of enteric methane and accurately quantifying individual emissions would allow greater understanding and subsequent manipulation of systems and genetics to reduce overall GHG production. However, presently there is no effective measurement method for quantifying emissions on individual animals.


This project will research and implement miniaturised CH4 and CO2 sensors that can be deployed on individuals. It is anticipated that optical methods other than standard NDIR measurements will be required to obtain the required measurement sensitivity. Photo-acoustic gas sensors are considered likely candidates in this regard building upon a significant body of research within the Centre for Micro-Photonics by Dr M Lengden and Dr R Bauer. An animal-mounted sensor (‘Methcollar’) will be designed and calibrated to measure concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide in real-time. Carbon dioxide output will also be related to daily milk energy output (energy intake).


Significant challenges are presented in the proposed research. Effective aspiration of animals, optimisation of ratiometric analysis between CH4 and CO2 to obtain precise measurements of CH4 and to estimate the calorific output of individuals. The sensors will be designed, prototyped for deployment on individual animals, feed troughs and in milking robots to optimize design. They will be used in conjunction with selective Ion Mass Flow Spectroscopy to analyse breath for volatile organic compounds as diagnostic tools to facilitate the calculation of feed conversion efficiency.  The outputs from the measurements will support the analysis of the nutrient efficiency of cattle and the effect of feed additives. Such additives can lead to significant reductions in methane emissions but run the risk of causing rumen dysfunction which will impair nutrient efficiency.

Funding Details

The PhD is funded by the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Applied Photonics and Scotland’s Rural College. PhD students will receive at least £16,277 per annum and have fees paid for the duration of the 4-year programme.


PhD students will also receive additional funding of up to £4,000 to attend conferences. Travel to CDT skills courses will also be paid.


The primary supervisor will be Professor Craig Michie, a professor in the Centre for Intelligent Dynamic Communications within the Institute for Sensors, Signals and Communications.  The secondary supervisor will be Dr Michael Lengden, a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Microsystems and Photonics within the Institute for Sensors, Signals and Communications.

How to apply

Candidates interested in applying should first email Professor Michie ( ), or tel: +44 (0)141 548 2521 for an informal discussion.


Formal applications are submitted via the Heriot-Watt website .


Under level of study, please select ‘Postgraduate Research’, then choose ‘Applied Photonics, EngD’ as your programme selection.


Please submit the following supporting documents. We cannot progress applications until they are complete.  A complete application should include the following:

  • An up-to-date CV
  • Previous degree certificates and transcripts (if your transcript is in a language other than English, please submit an English version. you can obtain these from your university)
  • Two academic references – The CDT Applied Photonics programme requires two academic references and it is your responsibility to ensure that both are received by the CDT. These can be emailed directly to .  It is also possible for you to request and upload one academic reference via the online recruitment system.   References should be on headed paper please. Employer references are also accepted from applicants applying from a relevant industry background.
  • English language evidence (if applicable). Please check the CDT website at:  for English language requirements and advice.
  • Under the field ‘Research project information’ please list your projects of interest and your order of preference. Please note you are not required to submit a project proposal when applying to our CDT.


Following review of the application submissions, selected candidates will be invited for a stage 1 academic interview and if successful a stage 2 industry interview. Application submission deadline is 28 February 2020. The project will start on 1 September 2020.