PhD Studentship: Impact of Pigment-Additive Interactions on Contemporary Synthetic Emulsion Materials (Paints and Adhesives)

The University of Leeds and the Conservation Science department at Tate, London are offering a funded PhD studentship with a January 2019 start date to study pigment-additive interactions in paints and adhesives.

The studentship is available for an applicant with a science or engineering background to investigate how pigment-additive interactions influence the properties of emulsion-based materials. This can also include one or more of the following: emulsion-based varnishes and coatings, paint mediums and gels, and adhesives. The studentship is a unique opportunity to work across arts and STEM on industrially relevant materials making it attractive to a variety of career paths. The potential knowledge and skills gained in this project are applicable to a range of industrial products such as paints, coatings, adhesives, pigments, binders, surfactants.

In the context of conservation science, pigment-additive interactions are interesting because they affect the chemical composition of the material after application. One important class of additives is surfactants. These can migrate to acrylic paint surfaces, potentially altering surface gloss and colour saturation, encouraging soiling and influencing paint properties such as flexibility and response to ambient environment. This could have implications for artwork condition, appearance, conservation and preservation.

Materials characterisation is central to the project and will encompass length scales from molecule to bulk characterisation of formulations in the liquid and/or solid state. Analytical techniques are likely to encompass spectroscopy (FTIR, XPS), spectrometry (GC-MS, LC-MS), microscopy (SEM, AFM) and assessment of bulk material properties e.g. mechanical strength, colour, gloss.

The PhD studentship is funded for 3 years as part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme ( and is supported by training and networking events.

Opportunities in this role

  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the chemistry of synthetic emulsion materials including acrylic paints.
  • Develop practical and theoretical knowledge of analytical techniques for characterisation of these polymeric materials in the bulk and at surfaces/interfaces.
  • Investigate the chemistry of pigments and other paint solids, and interactions with other components of synthetic emulsion materials.
  • Explore the implications of the above on the appearance of and preservation of works-of-art.
  • Participate in a supplementary training programme offered by the CDP (Previous activities listed here: and WRoCAH.
  • Work primarily at the University of Leeds with visits to the Conservation Science Department at Tate Britain (London).

Essential Requirements

  • A degree at undergraduate level equivalent to at least a UK Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) degree in a scientific or engineering discipline.
  • Due to funding restrictions – UK/EU residency: Typically, UK residents receive full funding including fees and a maintenance grant (ca £15k/year tax free). EU residents are typically eligible for a fees-only award and will not receive a maintenance grant.
  • Practical or theoretical knowledge through education or professional experience in at least one of the following, or related, areas: chemistry, conservation/heritage science, chemical engineering, colour chemistry, forensic science, pigments, paints, adhesives, colloid and interface science, spectroscopy or fine arts.

Desirable Requirements

Good written English skills

Ability to multitask and work independently

Interest in learning about fine arts and/or technical art history

Supervisory team

The project will be jointly supervised by Dr Elizabeth Willneff at the University of Leeds in the School of Design and Dr Bronwyn Ormsby, Principal Conservation Scientist at Tate, London.

To apply contact Dr Willneff at [email protected] or download full project details from

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