PhD project

Micro-Bio-Mechanical Modelling of root growth in soils

On this page
Application deadline

30 June 2024

About the project

The extent and the way roots grow in the ground is known to have a fundamental impact on the growth of crop plants as well as on the resistance to lodging induced by storms. Considering that in the UK approximately £60 million per year are lost because of lodging, a better understanding of how and to what depths roots grow into the ground is desirable.

Despite advances in laboratory techniques that have proven to be effective for the visualization of root architectures, reliable predictive models capable of quantifying the pull-out strength do not exist. As the pull out resistance strongly affects lodging vulnerability, reliable numerical models capable of quantifying the pull-out strength would improve existing breading techniques which are known to have a big impact on the agricultural sector by influencing root screening procedures.

Whilst modelling the growth and penetration of a variable stiffness object in a granular media would be extremely complicated using continuum approaches such as the finite element method, the discrete element method (DEM) is particularly well suited to handle such a challenging task. Nevertheless, to model root growth correctly the mechanics, physics and biology of the processes involved must be properly taken into account.

In this PhD research project, you will interact with a cross-disciplinary research team in order to develop a new numerical model capable of simultaneously:

  1. modelling root growth
  2. subsequently quantifying root pull-out strength

Roots will be modelled as bonded DEM particles. By means of simple artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the model will include features such as gravitropism, time-dependent root stiffening (thickening), root branching and root tip reorientation based on penetration resistance.

Diversity statement

Our research community thrives on the diversity of students and staff which helps to make the University of Dundee a UK university of choice for postgraduate research. We welcome applications from all talented individuals and are committed to widening access to those who have the ability and potential to benefit from higher education.

How to apply

  1. Email Dr Matteo Ciantia ( to:
    • send a copy of your CV
    • discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date)
  2. After discussion with Dr Ciantia, formal applications can be made via our direct application system. 
Learn about applying for a research degree


Principal supervisor