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Low-carbon Food Processing with Solid State Microwave Technologies - FoodBioSystems DTP

Project description:

Microwaves are well-established sources of heat and are very widely used in the home and some industrial applications in the food sector. They are volumetric (i.e. they heat the product interior directly) which leads to higher efficiency and faster heating/baking compared to conventional methods. For this reason, microwave processing can be more suitable for mild processing of food products. Traditional microwaves, however, suffer from non-uniform heating. Also, crust formation is difficult in commonly baked products such as bread. Emerging solid state microwave technology has the potential to overcome many of the disadvantages of conventional systems through their ability to provide uniform heating and modulate radiation (heating) intensity to satisfy specific product characteristics. To date, very little research and in-depth investigations have been carried out on the performance characteristics of Solid State Microwave Ovens (SSMOs) and evaluation and quantification of their performance over conventional systems.

This project and the Doctoral Researcher will make significant contributions in this area. The research will involve in-depth experimental, analytical and simulation studies on the processing of food products with state of the art solid-state microwave technology to explore in detail its performance characteristics and identify design, operational and control parameters that optimise processing of specific products in terms of final product quality (sensorial, nutritional, structure, texture and appearance) and resource use. The focus of the PhD will primarily be on:

  1. convenience foods to explore the nutrient-retentive advantages of the technology for controlled dehydration of fresh vegetables and fruit into snack forms, and
  2. bread baking to explore the ability of the technology to recreate the sensorial characteristics, including brownish and crunchy crust, roasty aroma and a soft and elastic crumb texture with a moist mouthfeel which are very difficult to achieve with conventional microwave ovens.

The research will be undertaken within the Centre for Sustainable Energy Use (CSEF) (www.foodenergy.org.uk) at Brunel University London and the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading (www.reading.ac.uk/food/). Most of the experimental investigations will be performed on a bespoke SSMO in CSEF. This innovative and unique system offers the capability to control power distribution and characteristics at different portions of the oven and food. The nutritional characterisation of the products, microstructure, physico-chemical properties, flavour, acrylamide formation as well as sensory evaluation will be carried out at the UoR. 

The main research activities will involve:

  1. A comprehensive literature review to develop in-depth understanding of baking processes in domestic, service and high volume industrial applications and establish state of the art of conventional baking technologies and desired product characteristics for the products to be investigated.
  2. Characterisation and comparison of the performance of the SSMO against that of high quality state of the art electric resistance, gas and microwave (magnetron) ovens through extensive testing in the laboratory to establish benchmarks for the research outputs.
  3. Detailed investigations backed by comprehensive measurements and analysis on the baking of selected vegetable and fruit snacks and bread to explore the influence of control variables on the quality attributes (physico-chemical, sensorial and nutritional) of the final product. The data produced will provide a strong scientific information base for the further development of multi-frequency microwave processing.
  4. Extensive simulation of solid state microwave food processing using appropriate software and techniques. The models will be validated and calibrated with data from the experimental programme and used to investigate the influence of important design and control parameters on product quality and energy consumption.

Training opportunities:

The DR will have the opportunity to engage with a top research group on microwave food processing technology of a multinational food company and spend some time with the group to benefit from their experience and use some of their laboratory equipment. The DR will also be encouraged and funded to attend relevant training courses and attend and present papers at national and international conferences.


Student profile:


This project would be suitable for students with a BEng/BSc (2.1 or above) or MSc in Engineering, Biotechnology, Food Science/Technology, Physics or any other related discipline, ideally with some knowledge of food engineering and food product formulation.



The studentships are predominantly open to students with established UK residency. Although international students (including EU countries) can apply, due to funding rules no more than 30% of the projects can be allocated to international students. The funding will include a tax free stipend and support for tuition fees at the standard UK rate (in 2021/2022 this is a minimum of £15,609 per year and £4500 per year respectively). There will also be a contribution towards research costs.

Funding for PhD studentships from BBSRC is only available to successful candidates who meet the eligibility criteria set out in the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) harmonized training terms and conditions which you can find here.

Fees for International Students funded by FoodBioSystems DTP

All DTP partner universities will be covering the difference in the UK/Republic of Ireland fees and international fees for international UKRI funded students: Aberystwyth University, Brunel University, Cranfield University, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Reading and University of Surrey. For further information on this, please refer to the individual university websites.

Language Proficiency

Candidates must show the necessary levels of English proficiency described on the University of Reading’s Graduate School web page. If your qualification is different to those listed, please check the websites below for more information about requirements at the university that will be hosting the PhD Studentship (the university where the project lead supervisor works).
Aberystwyth University
Brunel University
Cranfield University
Queen’s University Belfast
University of Reading
University of Surrey

If the website does not provide the information you are looking for, please contact the relevant university admissions office.

Equality Diversity and Inclusion

The FoodBioSystems DTP is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), to building a doctoral researcher(DR) and staff body that reflects the diversity of society, and to encourage applications from under-represented and disadvantaged groups. Each institution in the DTP partnership has at a minimum Athena SWAN Bronze accreditation. University of Surrey are members of the Race Equality Charter, University of Reading Aberystwyth are in the top 100 Stonewall employers, while Brunel University is a Stonewall member and Queens University Belfast is a Stonewall Diversity Champion. More information about our Equality Diversity and Inclusion Policy is available here.


How to apply

Applications will be by an online application form (CVs will not be accepted). Before you decide to apply, please check the information above on academic and funding eligibility and language proficiency. Please read the following guidance:

  • All applications to FoodBioSystems DTP are made via the University of Reading, whether the projects you are interested in are based at Reading, Surrey, Cranfield, Queen’s, Aberystwyth or Brunel.
  • You will be able to apply to a maximum of TWO PhD projects. Each project description indicates the name and institution of the lead supervisor and has a project ID number. You are welcome and encouraged to email the lead supervisors of projects to ask them any questions you may have or to discuss the project.
  • You will need the following documents to support your application
    • Official transcripts of your higher education qualifications, inclusive of grades
    • Evidence of your proficiency in English, if English is not your first language.
  • You will also be asked to provide the name and email address of someone who will provide a confidential academic reference letter. The DTP office will request the letter from your referee immediately after you submit your application.

Selection Process

  • Your application will be considered in two stages:
    • The application will considered by the PhD project supervisors who will not know your name or contact details until after shortlisting. If your application is shortlisted you will receive an invitation to an interview (by skype, teams or zoom).
    • If your application is shortlisted it will also be assessed by a panel of reviewers from the DTP Selection Panel.
  • Shortlisting and assessment will be based on the information you provide about:
    • your academic qualifications
    • research relevant skills/experience (e.g. data management, data analysis, ability to extract key information from literature, strong writing and presentation skills)
    • the transferable skills important to a PhD student (e.g. organisational, team, communication and problem-solving)
    • your understanding of the UK Agri-Food Sector
    • suitability of your skills and experience for undertaking the specific PhD project

    The selection panel will make the final decision on project allocation, taking into account applicants’ performance at interview and reviewer assessments.