PhD Profile: Aleksandra Svalova


Aleksandra Svalova PhD Student


Student Name: Aleksandra Svalova

PhD Project Title: Ultrasound spectrometry of the aggregation of asphaltenes during the formation of water-in-oil emulsions

PhD Project Summary: Water-in-oil emulsions (WOE) are highly stable mixtures occurring during crude oil production and spills. Emulsion removal from the water column is problematic due to the high viscosity and stability of WOE. Failure to remove petroleum spills quickly and environmentally-friendly poses significant environmental and industrial hazards. For efficient removal, WOEs require separation into water and oil which is inhibited by the presence of heavy petroleum particles, asphaltenes, at the water/oil contact.

Asphaltenes are the heaviest, most aromatic and polar constituents of crude oil. Asphaltnes aggregate into small clusters, nanoaggregates, that create a `skin’ around water droplets which further stabilses the emulsion. The asphaltene molecules have a wide distribution of molecular shapes and sizes, which makes any modelling extremely difficult. Our research uses ultrasonic velocity characterisation which was shown to be very effective in detecting molecular aggregation. Ultrasonic velocity measurements are advantageous due to their high precision, non-destructive power levels and the ability to probe opaque and solid samples.

Our research focuses on determining the concentration at which asphaltene single molecules start forming nanoaggregates in a model petroleum. This concentration is termed as the critical nanoaggregate concentration (CNAC). We discover evidence for the possibility of a critical nanoaggregation region (CNR) whereby asphaltene molecules aggregate over a concentration range. This is supported by the behaviour of surface-active compounds in solution. We deploy geochemical techniques, such as oxidation, in order to probe the molecular structure of asphaltenes. We deploy statistical analysis to relate asphaltene structural properties and aggregation behaviour. Finally, statistical modelling allows to compare the likelihood of a CNAC versus a CNR in our velocity data.

Supervisors: Abbott, G.D & Nicholas, G.P

List of Publications: 

Svalova A., Parker N.G., Povey M.J.W. and Abbott, G.D. Determination of Asphaltene Critical Nanoaggregate Concentration Region Using Ultrasound Velocity Measurements. Scientific Reports. 2017;7:1-11.

What aspect of studying a PhD at Newcastle University do you enjoy the most?

I really enjoy the friendly research culture and supportive staff. It is the excellent people that surround and inspire me that move my research further.

What advice would you give new PhD student/students considering studding a PhD at Newcastle University?

Newcastle University is an excellent institution to pursue doctoral studies due to a thriving research culture, outstanding facilities and a vibrant social life. The students and staff are very friendly and supportive. There are many opportunities to share your research and participate in seminars, conferences and competitions. The Postgraduate Research Development Programme offers a variety of courses allowing to develop research, admin and self-management skills. Newcastle University has recently seen a succession of large-scale developments, including a multi-million urban sciences, business and research centre Helix, redevelopment of the historical Armstrong Building and the Hatton Gallery and the opening of a new events venue Boiler House. Additionally, the opening of multiple student accommodation sites around Newcastle makes this city very much a home away from home. The local social and cultural scene is what makes Newcastle one of the best student cities in the UK, with a multitude of art venues, bars and clubs. A picturesque coastline is only 30 minutes away from the campus, the stunning Quayside is a 5-minute walk from the city centre down one of Britain’s most beautiful streets and the surrounding areas like Jesmond and Gosforth define class. In short, Newcastle is the place to be

PhD Profile: Kirsten Dutton

Kirsten Dutton PhD Student


Student Name: Kirsten Dutton

PhD Project Title: From sediment to rock: the role of microbes in the early lithification of sabkha sediments

PhD Project Summary: My research focuses on understanding the interactions between mineralisation processes and microbes in modern microbial mats of the Abu Dhabi coastal sabkha, a combined carbonate-evaporite-siliciclastic system. Owing to the extreme aridity and hypersalinity in the environment there is minimal predation and microbes flourish.

Microbial mats are layered biofilms, forming as microbes bind themselves together with substances they secrete called EPS (extracellular polymeric substances). It is within these layered structures and the surrounding sediments mineral processes occur and a number of techniques are being used, including in a laboratory based aquarium experiment, to isolate the causes of these processes. Fossil microbial mats found around the world show that these structures are some of the earliest signs of life on earth. Investigating these early lithification processes can inform our understanding of how these structures are ultimately preserved in the rock record. This project used a number of disciplines: geology, biogeochemistry and geomicrobiology.
Supervisors : Van der Land, C. (Newcastle University), Sherry, A. (Newcastle University) and Head, I.M. (Newcastle University)

List of Publications:

Lokier, S. W., Andrade, L. L., Court, W. M., Dutton, K. E., Head, I. M., Van Der Land, C., Paul, A. & Sherry, A. 2017. A new model for formation of microbial polygons in a coastal sabkha setting. The Depositional Record; 3(2): 201–208.

Paul, A., Lokier, S. W., Court, W. M., Van Der Land, C., Andrade, L. L., Dutton, K. E., & Sherry, A. & Head, I. M. 2018. Erosion-initiated stromatolite formation in a recent hypersaline sabkha setting (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates). Preprint EarthArXiv.

What aspect of studying a PhD at Newcastle University do you enjoy the most?

Doing a PhD at Newcastle University has given me the opportunity to collaborate with brilliant people within the university and establish connections with researchers elsewhere in the world. It has also provided me with opportunities to expand my skills outside of my research through the faculty provided postgraduate researcher development programme (PGRDP) which has workshops on everything from scientific writing to coping with stress in your PhD.

Newcastle is a great city to live in as a student, it is compact, cheap and there is plenty to do in and around the city.

What advice would you give new PhD student/students considering studying a PhD at Newcastle University?

Find new ways to disseminate your research (papers, social media, public outreach etc.), establish a routine early on, stay on top of new research in your field, find a hobby which gives you some rest time away from your work.


PhD Profile: Jack Walker

Jack Walker PhD Student

Student Name: Jack Walker

PhD Project Title: Minimising the risk of UK shale gas exploration through biostratigraphic and geochemical well correlation of the Bowland Shale Formation.

PhD Project Summary: The Pendleian Upper Bowland Shale Formation (UBSF) is a target for UK shale gas extraction. Maximum flooding surfaces – so called ‘marine bands’ – are used as stratigraphic marker beds. These maximum flooding surfaces are mudstones enriched in specific goniatite index fossils, formed during periods of enhanced fossil preservation. As UBSF goniatite fossils are poorly preserved and challenging to identify, organic and inorganic geochemical analyses are used alongside biostratigraphy. However, the exact relationship between marine band geochemistry and basin palaeoceanography is poorly understood.

We present a lateral comparison of sedimentological, palynological, biomarker and elemental data across two cores (from north west UK) and at outcrop (Clitheroe), transecting the palaeobasin.

Supervisors: Van der Land, C. (Newcastle University), Jones, M. (Newcastle University), Vane, C.H.(British Geological Survey), Hough, E.(British Geological Survey) , Hennissen, J.A.I.(British Geological Survey), Wagner, T.(Heriot-Watt University), Barnard, P.(Applied Petroleum Industry), Clarke, H.(Cuadrilla Resources Limited)

What aspect of studying a PhD at Newcastle University do you enjoy the most? 

Practically applying my research to the short and long term benefit of industry and academia through collaboration has been the most enjoyable aspect of studying at Newcastle University.

This project could not have reached full potential if not for the individuals and organisations working with and for Newcastle University. This interdisciplinary collaboration with Newcastle University and their associate connections work together to reach a common goal. That has been the most enjoyable experience during my PhD.

What advice would you give new PhD student/students considering studying a PhD at Newcastle University?

Enjoy it. Never again will you get the opportunity to pursue your own scientific curiosity for so long and with this level of freedom.

My advice would be this: embrace it!