Aberdeen Curtin Alliance PhD graduates receive global acclaim

Four years on, the first  Curtin-Aberdeen PhD students have not only graduated, but also become leaders in oil and gas, historical writing and bacteriology.

The first PhD students joined the Aberdeen Curtin Alliance in 2017 with the promise of an eclectic mix of innovative research from young Curtin University in Australia, and the academic strength and tradition of Scotland’s 500-year-old University of Aberdeen.

Four students from the first cohort have now graduated. Here, we celebrate their achievements and their contributions to each research theme.

In creative arts: Dr Ashleigh Angus, historical novelist, the Scottish witch trials

Supervisors: Dr Helen Lynch (Aberdeen), Dr Deborah Hunn / Dr Danielle O’Leary (Curtin)
(Thesis not yet available)

For her PhD, Dr Angus wrote a historiographic metafiction novel, Witch Reach, focusing on alleged Scottish witch Elspeth Reoch during the time of the Orkney witch trials in 1616. Dr Angus also produced a historical research exegesis that focused on Reoch’s trial.

Aberdeen supervisor Dr Helen Lynch says it was a pleasure to be involved with Angus’s “fascinating” project.

While studying, Dr Angus won Aberdeen University’s Literary Lights creative writing competition in 2018, for her work of short fiction titled Unknown, Unknown, death c 1629, about an unidentified ‘witch’ trialled in Scotland. She also appeared in an episode of BBC Radio Scotland’s Time Travels podcast.

In business: Dr Aaron Wei Jie Tung, a leader in oil and gas decommissioning

Supervisors: Professor John Paterson / Professor David Lusseau (Aberdeen), Professor Fran Ackermann / Professor Claus Otto (Curtin)
(Read thesis [.pdf])

For his PhD, Aaron Wei Jie Tung investigated the effect of stakeholder demands on overrunning costs schedule delays and scope change for oil and gas decommissioning projects – a relatively new area of research.

After examining case studies of 63 past decommissioning projects and interviewing 40 industry representatives, Dr Tung developed a total overview of the lifecycle of a decommissioning project. He also created a new stakeholder-oriented method to ensure project managers could optimise the order of activities and stakeholder interactions throughout the decommissioning process.

Earlier this year, Dr Tung was recognised as a finalist in the Decom North Sea Rising Star in Decommissioning Award, which celebrates master degree or doctoral students who have made an outstanding contribution to the decommissioning sector.

Before the awards ceremony, Dr Tung said: “The most important reason I applied was to give something back to both Curtin and Aberdeen to thank them for the great research opportunity.”

Dr Tung is now working for Woodside Energy’s graduate scheme, where he is in charge of providing cost estimates for decommissioning liabilities. He is also working as a research assistant at Curtin University and will soon become a visiting scholar at Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand.

In engineering and energy: Dr Craig Moir, improving industrial heat transfer methods

Supervisors: Professor Marcus Campbell-Bannerman (Aberdeen), Professor Julian Gale (Curtin)
(Read thesis [.pdf])

Dr Moir’s PhD research has found that a well-known mechanism for transferring heat, called thermophoresis, can be supercharged to limit or maximise heat transfer in gases.

This has exciting applications as heat transfer is at the heart of numerous technologies, from cars to computers, and better control of it can lead to improved performance. His work also investigated the molecular modelling of heat transfer, which opens the door to new nanotechnology that might allow us to better control and optimise heat transfer.

While studying, Dr Moir submitted two research papers as lead author. The first paper was published as a rapid communication in Physical Review, while the second was recently submitted to the Journal of Chemical Physics.

Dr Moir is now working as a postdoctoral fellow on a 30-month £250,000 (AUD$460,000) project with Scottish engineering consultancy firm, Global Design Innovation.

In health sciences and medicine: Dr Paulina Dzianach, studying the cause of a global foodborne illness

Supervisors: Dr Francisco Perez-Reche / Professor Norval Strachan (Aberdeen), Associate Professor Gary Dykes / Professor Ken Forbes (Curtin)
(Read thesis [.pdf])

Dr Dzianach has shed light on Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium usually found on farm animals, which can transmit to humans. Transmission is problematic because the bacterium causes gastroenteritis in humans, which can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and serious neuropathies.

For her PhD, Dr Dzianach developed a mathematical model to understand how environmental and genetic factors can influence biofilm formation – the process in which bacteria form a polymer to grow on physical surfaces. Her work will inform scientific responses to preventing transmission and even eradicating the bacterium.

While studying, Dr Dzianach’s interest in mathematical reasoning led her to present at TEDxUniversityOfAberdeen, where she used game theory to describe how humans are biologically “wired to cooperate”. She later presented at the Australian Society of Microbiology 2018 conference in Brisbane and was the lead author on a Journal of the Royal Society Interface article about the mathematical modelling of biofilm formation.

Dr Dzianach is now working as a research officer for the Malaria Atlas Project at Perth’s Telethon Kids Institute. In this role, she has contributed to statistical modelling of the global epidemiology of malaria, for the World Health Organization and the independent Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Congratulations to our PhD graduates

The Curtin-Aberdeen Alliance offers a final congratulations to the four graduates.

That the program has continued to flourish during the COVID-19 pandemic is testament to the huge commitment of the students and their supervisors and to the strong bond that has developed between our institutions,” says Curtin University Provost Professor Cordery.

I would like to wish all the graduating students every success as they enter the next stage of their careers.

University of Aberdeen Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker says he expects to see more accomplishments from the graduates in the years to come.

We look forward to keeping in touch with the graduates as they move on to the next stage in their lives and careers and as the impacts of their research spread across their areas of endeavour,” says Senior Vice Principal Leydecker.


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