Using nanoscale vibrations to reduce icing on surfaces

The undesired formation and accumulation of ice on surfaces (“icing”) is not merely annoying, as everyone who has defrosted their car can attest, but also potentially dangerous. Icing can lead to a loss of life by hindering the operational performance of instrumentation or navigation systems on aircraft, ships, and helicopters; in 2008, the ice accretion on exposed probes resulted in the crash of Air France Flight 447, killing all 228 people on board. Icing can also damage power lines and telecommunications equipment, increase maintenance costs of infrastructure such as highways, dams, and offshore oil platforms; the disruption caused by The Big Freeze of 2010 cost Britain around £280 m a day.

Whether the goal is avoiding defrosting, disasters or disruption, the icing on the surfaces must be either delayed or removed after formation. Recent research in our group has uncovered a novel vibrating-surface-driven acoustothermal force which can superheat fluid within a few nanometres of the surface (for details of this work, see recent publications [1][2] and relevant press coverage [3][4]). This potentially provides a new capability to delay icing and/or melt formed ice. Harnessing this force to combat real-world icing requires a fundamental understanding of: a) ice-growth and growth on surfaces at real-life engineering applications; b) acoustothermal surface-ice interaction producing heat flux at the ice formed right next to the surface; and c) identifying how this generated heat can be optimised to better achieve the ice reduction/removal goals mentioned above.

This project will focus specifically on investigating the influence of chemical and nano-structural properties of a surface on ice-growth on engineering surfaces and understanding the feasibility of using acoustothermal heating to efficiently reduce/remove ice from surfaces. In this project, the PhD researcher will:

1) use molecular simulations to study ice-nucleation and growth on engineering surfaces in real operating conditions;

2)  identify how surface acoustic waves (GHz frequency and sub-nm amplitudes) can be used to generate heat flux causing melting of ice at the surface-ice interface;

3) investigate melting dynamics due to acoustothermal heating on different engineering surfaces, to better understand the influences of fundamental material properties (e.g. nano-roughness, chemistry), and nano-coatings (e.g. self-assembled monolayers).


[1] S. Datta et al, Nano Letters, 21, 1267-73 (2021)

[2] R. Pillai et al, Physical Review Letters, 121, 104502 (2018)



Further Information:


Edinburgh University is ranked 16th in the world, and in the top 5 in the UK (source: QS World University Rankings 2022). In the School of Engineering’s submission to the last Research Excellence Framework (REF2014), 94% of our activity was rated as ‘world-leading’, ‘internationally excellent’, and we are 1st in the UK for Research Power – making Edinburgh the largest concentration of leading engineering research in the UK. This project is led by Dr Rohit Pillai and Dr Saikat Datta, and the successful applicant will join a very active, friendly, and collaborative research group, comprising 5 postdocs and 7 PhD students (see Our group makes extensive use of ARCHER2 – the UK’s national supercomputer, which is based in Edinburgh. This PhD will give the successful applicant the skills and experience to become a future leader in either academia, business, or industry.

Research and Training:

The successful applicant will also join a consortium of internationally-leading UK research institutions (Daresbury Laboratory, and Warwick University) working on particle and multiscale modelling of fluid dynamic problems (see, with collaborations with nine industrial partners. There is also the possibility of travelling to University of Milan-Bicocca to conduct experiments, depending on the direction of the project. This PhD project will be based in the School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh. The supervisors will provide the successful applicant with exceptional research and training opportunities, including:

• regular weekly meetings to discuss the research and software progress;

• collaborating with a large interdisciplinary network of researchers;

• regular opportunities for travel to international conferences to present new results;

• training and experience in state-of-the-art engineering research, including advanced software development in LAMMPS;

• close mentoring from other programme investigators and experienced postdoctoral researchers;

• exceptional career development opportunities with strong institutional support of early career researchers.

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here:

Closing Date: 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


  • An undergraduate degree degree in engineering (or in a relevant area, such as applied maths or physics) is required.
  • A good background in mathematics and physics, and a good knowledge of (or a willingness to learn) C++ computer programming and Linux OS.

Some familiarity with molecular dynamics simulations would be desirable.

Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home students

Other overseas students who apply will need to show proof they can provide the difference in the university fees or obtain additional funding to cover university fees. There are such scholarships available at the University of Edinburgh (see for details). If you think you’d be a good fit for this project, please get in touch with us. We can help evaluate your chances and/or assist with applications to this scheme (or any alternative funding that may be available in your home country).

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: