How to apply

REGISTER YOUR INTEREST

Applicants for KU Leuven-Melbourne Joint PhD projects should:

  • Identify a project of interest
  • Register their interest with the project supervisor based at the University of Melbourne, including the following information:
    • Name, contact details
    • Joint PhD project of interest
    • Cover Letter, CV and Transcript
    • Any supporting documentation

Note:

  • All applicants are required to meet the entry requirements for a PhD at both partner universities to be considered for the program.
  • All participants are required to complete 12 months’ residency at the partner institution.

CHECK ADMISSION CRITERIA

Minimum entry requirements for a PhD at Melbourne are summarised on the course website of the relevant faculty of your University of Melbourne supervisor:

Check your visa and English language requirements. For international students with The University of Melbourne as the home institution, please note that during COVID-19 travel restrictions, alternative commencement arrangements may be made (commencement at partner institution or remote commencement).  However, alternative commencement arrangement will have to meet the requirements of the project and approval from both institutions.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT

The successful candidates will be funded by either UoM or KU Leuven. This funding includes a full scholarship, health insurance and mobility support.

  • All participants will receive a UoM Graduate Research Scholarship/KU Leuven scholarship when located at Melbourne/Leuven.
  • Scholarship support will be available for up to 4 years.
  • KU Leuven scholarship consists of:
    • Tax-free living allowance of an average €2000 net/month (based on a net salary of a research assistant in which the column of the ‘monthly salary 100%’ is the net income and the column ‘monthly salary 174,1%’ is the gross income per month). Small deviations of this amount are possible and the result of your personal family situation. Only at the moment of signing your contract for the doctoral scholarship at KU Leuven the exact amount will be calculated and communicated.
    • The following insurances: 1) Third Party Liability Insurance, 2) Occupational Accidents Insurance, 3) Travel Insurance during residency at KU Leuven
    • Tuition fee waiver
    • Bench-fee for each KU Leuven PI for relevant activities: € 3720/year (also to be used for the relocation to come to KU Leuven)

ACCOMMODATION

Information on accommodation and more general information on ‘Life at KU Leuven – KU Leuven’ is available here.


Subcellular Ca2+ signalling microdomains regulating cardiomyocyte growth and function

This joint PhD project is based at The University of Melbourne with a minimum 12 month stay at KU Leuven

Project description
Intracellular Ca2+ plays a central role in controlling heart function. Increases in intracellular Ca2+ trigger the contraction of cardiomyocytes underlying the pumping action of the heart. Ca2+ signals also regulate metabolism, and have been shown to contribute to regulation of gene expression that mediates cellular adaptations such as hypertrophy.

Project aims
To construct 3D geometric computational models of key calcium cycling proteins for excitation- contraction coupling (ECC) and excitation-transcription coupling (ETC),

  • To develop workflows for reconstructing the cell from multiple imaging modality data sets using deep learning AI.
  • To define at nanoscale resolution the molecular architecture and composition of Ca2+ signalling microdomains in the rat ventricular myocyte using super-resolution imaging
  • To simulate Ca2+ dynamics within realistic geometries under pathological and physiological conditions and test the hypothesis through simulation that pathological and physiological hypertrophy are initiated by distinct but subtle differences in spatiotemporal calcium dynamics within the cardiomyocyte and cell nucleus.

The key question therefore arises as to how Ca2+ can act in a selective manner to precisely control these diverse functions. Perturbation of Ca2+ regulatory mechanisms contributes to reduced cardiac contraction, arrhythmia and induction of pathological hypertrophic growth that ultimately can lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac death. Therefore, a quantitative mechanistic understanding of the various roles for Ca2+ in the heart is needed, such that we may ultimately target pathological Ca2+ signals without interfering in Ca2+ dependent function essential for health.

In this project we will deliver this through development of a multiscale computational model of Ca2+ signalling in the cardiomyocyte, spanning from subcellular Ca2+ signalling microdomains up to whole cell scale. The computational model will be informed at each step using state-of-the-art imaging and deep learning algorithms to extract the morphology and spatial organisation of subcellular structures including the nucleus, perinuclear space, the dyad, and the bulk cytosol, and how these change in pathological conditions.

Iteration between modelling and experimental measurement of localised Ca2+ signals, linked to downstream gene expression, will inform model development. We will use this model to test the central hypothesis that the partitioning of specific Ca2+-dependent functions relies upon subcellular Ca2+ signalling microdomains that are coupled to specific Ca2+-dependent actions.

The project will be complemented by the KU Leuven based project and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Dr Vijay Rajagopal (The University of Melbourne)
Professor Dr H. Llewelyn Roderick (KU Leuven)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Edmund Crampin (The University of Melbourne)


Subcellular Ca2+ signalling microdomains regulating cardiomyocyte growth and function

This joint PhD project will be based at KU Leuven with a minimum 12 month stay at The University of Melbourne.

Project description
Precise control of intracellular Ca2+ levels is essential for heart function. Not only do increases in intracellular Ca2+ induce contraction of cardiomyocytes underlying the pumping of the heart, they participate in the regulation of gene expression that mediates long term adaptations such as hypertrophy and they modulate metabolism to ensure energy production matches demand.

Project aims

  • To develop probes for specific modulation and measurement of Ca2+ in cellular microdomains.
  • To measure Ca2+ changes in cellular microdomains at baseline and in response to cell stimuli that initiate pathological and physiological hypertrophic remodelling.
  • To test the influence of manipulation of Ca2+ in cellular microdomains on induction of transcriptional remodelling during the hypertrophic response to physiological and pathological stressors.
  • Model interactions between IGF/PI3K and InsP3 signaling pathways to determine how pathological and physiological hypertrophic stimuli modulate Ca2+ and downstream transcription factor dynamics to induce specific responses.

The question arises as to how Ca2+ can act in a selective manner to precisely control these diverse functions with great fidelity. Indeed, perturbation of Ca2+ regulatory mechanisms contributes to diminished Ca2+ transients and reduced cardiac contraction, arrhythmias and induction of pathological hypertrophic growth that ultimately can lead to heart failure or sudden cardiac death.

We will test the central hypothesis that the partitioning of Ca2+-dependent activities relies upon subcellular Ca2+ signalling microdomains that are coupled to their own specific Ca2+-dependent actions. Using state- of-the-art nanoscale imaging combined with a genetically-encoded toolkit of Ca2+ signal modulators and reporters to localise Ca2+ handling proteins and membranes we will quantify Ca2+ changes in subcellular microdomains including the nucleus, perinuclear space, dyad and bulk cytosol. Activation of gene expression will be determined using RNA-Seq, fluorescently-tagged transcription factors and reporters.

Known cues for pathological and physiological hypertrophy as well as strategies for artificially altering intracellular Ca2+ levels will be applied to allow identification of signatures and localisation of Ca2+ signals linked to specific functions. These data will be used to inform model development, with experiments guided by models generated during the course of this PhD project.

The project will be complemented by The University of Melbourne based project and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Professor Dr H. Llewelyn Roderick (KU Leuven)
Dr Vijay Rajagopal (The University of Melbourne)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Edmund Crampin (The University of Melbourne)

 


LTCC‐based liquid metal tunable high‐Q notch filters for the emerging 5G communication systems

This joint PhD project is based at The University of Melbourne with a minimum 12 month stay at KU Leuven

Project title:  Versatile usage of liquid metals in emerging microwave technologies

Project description
The current approaches for implementation of tunable high‐Q notch filters fail to concurrently address the compact size, high‐Q and strong attenuation, and frequency tunability challenges.

Research objectives
The research objectives are three‐fold:

  1. To investigate and model various resonator topologies to produce high‐Q and strong in‐band attenuation using liquid metals;
  2. To explore possible solutions to achieve a fast tunable/reconfigurable notch filter using liquid metals and LTCC (Low Temperature Co‐fired Ceramic) technology;
  3. To analyse and model a high order tunable/reconfigurable filter using liquid metal with minimum insertion loss.

This PhD project aims to investigate and design a compact and tunable/reconfigurable notch filter using LTCC (Low Temperature Co‐fired Ceramic) fabrication technology and liquid metals for 5G applications. 5G transceivers will be required to support a large number of applications with diverse requirements in terms of frequency and bandwidth. These requirements necessitate multi‐standard and multi‐band communication systems with tuning and reconfiguration capabilities.

The proposed filter will be based on these requirements and will be integrated with other microwave devices in the transceiver. Existing techniques of implementing a notch filter are either bulky, have a high insertion loss or lack high attenuation within the stopband of the filter. The LTTC fabrication technique will provide a compact filter with very high‐Q, achieving low loss and strong attenuation in the frequency band of interest where the rejection of interfering signal is an essential part of the transceiver. The filter can be tuned or reconfigured by utilising a liquid metal, such as Galinstan, in microchannels.

Initially, a high‐Q resonator with a fast tuning/reconfiguring response will be investigated, and then a high order filter will be designed based on the initial resonator. This PhD research builds on the complementary expertise on fabrication using LTCC technology and liquid metals at the University of Melbourne, and the knowledge on (tunable/reconfigurable) filter modelling at KU Leuven.

The project will be complemented by the project on Self‐healing flexible biosensors for microwave dielectric spectroscopy and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Professor Stan Skafidas (The University of Melbourne)
Professor Dr Dominique Schreurs (KU Leuven)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Robin Evans (The University of Melbourne)
Professor Dr Bart Nauwelaers (KU Leuven)

 


Self‐healing flexible biosensors for microwave dielectric spectroscopy

This joint PhD project is based at KU Leuven with a minimum 12 month stay at The University of Melbourne.

Project title:  Versatile usage of liquid metals in emerging microwave technologies

Project description
Over the past decades, flexible materials featuring characteristics such as miniaturization, outstanding mechanical flexibility (soft and deformable), excellent loss tangent, stable and desirable electrical properties over wide frequency bandwidths, being biocompatible, usable for real‐time detection, etc., have attracted increasing attention in various applications. With this trend, attempts to combine flexible materials with electromagnetic technology have also been reported in recent years in the microwave community, leading to hundreds of flexible electronics and systems, including antennas and passive circuits. Though novel, microwave sensing is a rapidly developing technology which has been used for healthcare applications like solution concentrations, glucose monitoring in diabetic patients [1], non‐invasive body fluids monitoring [2], etc. However, the majority of microwave biosensors developed to date are based on rigid substrates, and studies and publications on flexible microwave biosensors are still in their infancy.

Microwave microfluidic sensors are emerging as an inexpensive and portable diagnosis tool compared to the conventional and bulky optical techniques. The feasibility of microwave dielectric spectroscopy has been shown already but the reported biosensors were implemented on rigid microwave substrates, limiting the types of samples that can be measured. To enhance characterizations in bio‐incubators and/or well plates, it is essential to investigate additive manufacturing techniques to achieve flexible though robust biosensors.

Research objectives
The research objectives are three‐fold:

  1. To design passive biosensors for microwave dielectric spectroscopy that can both tolerate and heal to damage caused by flexing and variation to geometry such as cracks;
  2. To create a robust and repeatable sensor technology, incl. a well‐defined and reliable interface with the material under test;
  3. To monitor the temperature of microfluidic bio samples in an accurate and inexpensive way.

The approach envisioned is metal printing on a flexible material with very good microwave properties, such as PDMS. As micro‐cracks may occur during bending, self‐healing techniques using Galinstan will be investigated. The challenge is not only to design such a robust flexible microwave sensor, but also to ensure its inertness with respect to water based biological samples. To improve the diagnosis accuracy, also a temperature sensor is to be embedded in the biosensor.

This PhD research builds on the complementary expertise on microwave biosensor design and dielectric spectroscopy at KU Leuven, and the knowledge on additive manufacturing techniques at the University of Melbourne.

The project will be complemented by the project on LTCC‐based liquid metal tunable high‐Q notch filters for the emerging 5G communication and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Professor Dr Dominique Schreurs (KU Leuven)
Professor Stan Skafidas (The University of Melbourne)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Dr Bart Nauwelaers (KU Leuven)
Professor Robin Evans (The University of Melbourne)

 


Soil-structure interaction framework for plate anchors in sand under cyclic loading

This joint PhD project is based at The University of Melbourne with a minimum 12 month stay at KU Leuven

Project description

The emergence of offshore floating renewable energy devices requires economic anchoring solutions. Plate anchors could represent such a solution due to their high efficiency in resisting tensile uplift loading. While the monotonic capacity of plate anchors embedded in sands is relatively well investigated, their performance under more realistic long term offshore environmental (cyclic) loading is not well understood. In particular, there is limited numerical capability in modelling cyclic capacity of plate anchors in sand.

This joint UoM-KUL project aims to investigate the performance of plate anchors subjected to cyclic loading in sand using numerical and physical modelling. The specific objectives of this project are to:

  1. Develop a novel 2D finite element model to predict the response of soil-anchor systems under vertical cyclic loading;
  2. Generate a laboratory soil element test database for the soil model parameter calibration and performance verification purpose; and
  3. Investigate cyclic soil-plate anchor interaction by means of laboratory model anchor parametric study in sand.

The outcomes of the project will be integrated into an accessible design tool to enable better predictability of anchors cyclic capacity in engineering practice. The successful candidate will be primarily based at UoM to conduct the experimental studies and will spend a period of 12 months at KUL for the implementation of the numerical model.

The project will be complemented by the project on Soil-structure interaction framework for monopiles in sand under cyclic loading and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Dr Shiao Huey Chow (The University of Melbourne)
Assistant Professor Dr George Anoyatis (KU Leuven)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Associate Professor Yinghui Tian (The University of Melbourne)
Assistant Professor Dr Stijn Francois (KU Leuven)

 


Soil-structure interaction framework for monopiles in sand under cyclic loading

This joint PhD project is based at KU Leuven with a minimum 12 month stay at The University of Melbourne.

Project description
Recent developments in offshore renewable energy sector have resulted in bigger wind turbines and thus an increase in the mostly commonly used monopile foundation’s diameter to guarantee their performance especially under higher lateral cyclic loads due to waves and wind.

Taking into account the effects of the cyclic loading especially on the long-term foundations’ capacity, highlights the monopiles’ ability to control the response as well as the life span of such energy infrastructure. Despite the diverse group of available approaches to estimate cyclic soil-structure response, an alternative which can considers strain accumulation by means of a thermodynamically consistent, multi- surface plasticity framework to generate more accurate predictions of cyclic long-term displacements, remains still unexplored.

In this regard, this joint KU Leuven (KUL) – University of Melbourne (UoM) project aims to develop a novel three-dimensional (3D) soil-structure interaction model for monopiles subjected to lateral cyclic loading in sand by means of a finite element solution using advanced soil constitutive modelling and laboratory testing. Theoretical development will include model calibration via a laboratory cyclic testing program and application to monopile-soil interaction problems including comparisons with predictions from existing models and available test data.

The specific objectives of this project can be summarized in the following: (objective 1) development of a novel rigorous 3D finite element model to predict the response of soil-pile system supporting wind turbines under lateral cyclic loading and (objective 2) conduction of advanced laboratory monotonic and cyclic triaxial tests.

The outcomes of the project will be integrated into an accessible design tool to enable better predictability of monopiles cyclic capacity in engineering practice. The successful candidate will be primarily based at KUL to conduct the theoretical work and will spend a period of 12 months at UoM to conduct the experimental work.

The project will be complemented by the project on Soil-structure interaction framework for plate anchors in sand under cyclic loading and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

 

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Assistant Professor Dr George Anoyatis (KU Leuven)
Dr Shiao Huey Chow (The University of Melbourne)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Assistant Professor Dr Stijn Francois (KU Leuven)
Associate Professor Yinghui Tian (The University of Melbourne)

 


Combined actuarial and financial valuation of hybrid insurance liabilities

This joint PhD project is based at The University of Melbourne with a minimum 12 month stay at KU Leuven

Project title:  VALERIA: Valuation and Advanced Learning methods for Emerging, global Risks In Actuarial science

Project description
The 21st century faces emerging risks, such as climate change and cyber risk, as well as new versions of long-standing risks, such as longevity and pandemics, which often have a substantial systematic character. The systematic nature, arising from the interconnectedness between members in a portfolio of such risks, implies that the traditional insurance technique – pooling the individual risks of the members – cannot or can only partially reduce the risk of the portfolio and hence, is not a sufficient risk management strategy.

This project focuses on new valuation and risk management techniques for managing portfolios with systematic risks. In a first step, the concept of insurance securitization, where insurance risks are transferred to financial markets by trading insurance-linked securities, will be investigated, with the focus on index-based securities. Such securities exhibit transparency and are potentially highly liquid, but may face a mismatch between the financial hedge and the risks underlying the insurance portfolio.

The goal is to measure how effectively index-based securities can transfer risks specific to an insurer and to apply an effectiveness measure to the valuation of insurance liabilities. In a second step, we investigate the integration of financial market-consistent valuation and classical actuarial pooling techniques. Such an integrated approach is needed to correctly value risks in insurance portfolios with an important systematic risk component which is traded (or of which a proxy is traded) in financial markets. The goal is to develop a better and more appropriate risk management framework, making society more resilient to systematic insurance risks.

While hedging financial risks in insurance claims has been the subject of research in detail, setting up and using capital market products to hedge actuarial risks, such as longevity and climate change, is still in full development. Insurance risks are managed traditionally by using pooling techniques and reinsurance. More recently, both insurers and reinsurers increasingly tap into the capital market and transfer a portion of their risks to investors through securitization of insurance risks.

Insurance-linked securities often only provide a partial hedge for insurance risks, partially due to basis risks. The insurance risk market has significant implications on the pricing and valuation of insurance claims. If the insurance risk market is liquid, part of the risk underlying an insurance portfolio can be readily transferred to deeper pockets with the risk transfer cost used as the value of the hedgeable part of the insurance liability. A best estimate and a risk margin need to be held for the remaining risk in the unhedgeable part of the insurance liability.

The project will be complemented by the project on The actuarial valuation of insurable risks in a changing risk landscape and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Dr Rui Zhou (The University of Melbourne)
Professor Dr Katrien Antonio (KU Leuven)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Benjamin Avanzi (The University of Melbourne)
Professor Dr Jan Dhaene (KU Leuven)


The actuarial valuation of insurable risks in a changing risk landscape

This joint PhD project is based at KU Leuven with a minimum 12 month stay at The University of Melbourne.

Project title:  VALERIA: Valuation and Advanced Learning methods for Emerging, global Risks In Actuarial science

Project description
The insurance industry faces fundamental changes that will not be tackled by incremental improvements of existing techniques, but call for entirely new insurance pricing paradigms. The dynamics of emerging risks such as cyber and weather related risks need to be handled with little or no past data. At the same time, for more traditional covers the wealth of data that is collected now presents new challenges (e.g., computational or ethical) and opportunities (e.g., statistical power). Bringing together the Leuven-based expertise on machine learning practice for insurance data with the knowledge on stochastic processes, behavioral data and dependencies from the Melbourne team, this PhD project will focus on:

  1. formulas for discrimination-free insurance pricing;
  2. predictive modeling tools for the actuarial valuation of emerging risks; and
  3. the creation of data analytic tools for a customer-centric, usage based insurance paradigm that bundles selected products and even services.

Differential pricing is a foundation of modern-day insurance and deals with the actuarial valuation of risk by calculating a fair price for a new policy sold to a given risk profile.  The so-called best estimate price   is calculated as the ‘expected frequency times expected impact’ of the insured event resulting from standard regression models (the generalized linear models, or GLMs) for claims data. These predictive models are key in a business that is highly regulated, strongly valuing the explainability of the algorithms driving decisions with impact on customers. After selling a contract to a client, the insurer is liable for the claims arising from this contract. Capital must be held to meet these future liabilities. Calculating the necessary amount of capital is the job of a reserving actuary. Even though these key actuarial tasks are treated in silos in current insurance practice and literature, reserving is the mere continuation of pricing. Whereas pricing happens at the onset of the insurance policy – before any coverage has been provided – reserving is, in some way, an updated pricing of the insurance policy. The pricing actuary values the total loss on a policy from ground-up, while the reserving actuary assesses the total loss in the presence of some (though incomplete) information on the development of occurred claims.

As such, we will design dynamic, responsive and resilient pricing and reserving techniques for traditional but also emerging risk types, including machine learning methods that balance predictive value and acceptability by major stakeholders (e.g. explainable to management, discrimination-free pricing). Access to real data and strong links with practice will ensure applicability and relevance of our developments.

Bringing together the available expertise (in Leuven) on machine learning practice with the knowledge on stochastic processes and dependencies (from Melbourne) the first PhD project will focus on (1) a probabilistic framework for discrimination-free pricing in tariff plans, (2) predictive modeling tools for the actuarial valuation of emerging risks and (3) the creation of data analytic tools for a new insurance paradigm: customer-centric, usage based, bundling selected products and even services.

The project will be complemented by the project on Combined actuarial and financial valuation of hybrid insurance liabilities and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Professor Dr Katrien Antonio (KU Leuven)
Dr Rui Zhou (The University of Melbourne)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Professor Dr Jan Dhaene (KU Leuven)
Professor Benjamin Avanzi (The University of Melbourne)


EPiC Europe: a construction material environmental flow database for Europe

This joint PhD project is based at The University of Melbourne with a minimum 12 month stay at KU Leuven

Project description
Our buildings and cities are responsible for a significant proportion of global environmental issues, including greenhouse gas emissions, resource depletion, waste and pollution. Efforts to address these issues have predominately focused on operational performance such as improving the energy efficiency of building use. The environmental issues associated with material production are rarely considered as part of building and city design or construction. However, they represent an increasingly significant issue. Global interest in addressing these issues is rapidly growing.

For example, the World Green Building Council has called for all new buildings and infrastructure to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which includes material production‐related, or embodied emissions. Reliable and comprehensive data is essential for informing decision‐making to reduce these and other embodied environmental flows (e.g. energy, water etc.) associated with material production.

The recently released EPiC Database was developed to provide embodied energy, greenhouse gas emissions and water coefficients for the production of common construction materials in Australia, which had previously been lacking. While applicable to Australia, this database is less relevant to other regions of the world due to variations in material types, fuel mix and manufacturing processes. This project will develop a similar database for common construction materials used in Europe. Material production and national environmental account data will be collected for a number of European countries, beginning with Belgium, and used to develop the coefficients using the same unique and comprehensive hybrid technique used to produce the existing EPiC Database. The coefficients will then be analysed and tested on building projects in Belgium.

Thus, this project aims to develop a similar database of environmental flow data for common construction materials used in Europe. The project has the following objectives:

  1. Review existing research on construction material environmental data for Europe
  2. Obtain environmental data for construction materials in Europe
  3. Develop hybrid environmental flow coefficients for common construction materials in Europe
  4. Compile EPiC Europe database
  5. Testing and sensitivity analysis at material and building scale
  6. Dissemination of research findings

The project will be complemented by the project on Environmental benchmarks for residential buildings in Belgium based on a hybrid LCI and modelling approach and the collaboration will ensure a successful completion of the project.

Supervision team:

Principal Investigators (PIs)

Associate Professor Robert Crawford (The University of Melbourne)
Associate Professor Dr Karen Allacker (KU Leuven)

Co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs)

Dr André Stephan (Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium)


Number of posts found: 25