Research Associate in digital shale rock model construction and shale gas flow property upscaling

Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh (GB)
£36,261 - £39,609
Dec 18, 2018
Jan 31, 2019
Contract Type
Full Time
Job Type

The School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society

The School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society is one of the UK’s leading institutions for multidisciplinary research and teaching in areas critical to economic development and societal equity.  We aim to attain excellence in the teaching of the core disciplines that contribute to a sustainable, resource and energy efficient society and are committed to undertaking high value, high impact research and knowledge transfer in topics of relevance to global challenges.

The School enjoys facilities consistent with its location in modern, purpose-built accommodation on the Edinburgh campus. The School is well equipped in respect of laboratories for materials, structures, engineering, building services and hydraulics research and teaching.  Our research and teaching facilities in Dubai and Malaysia are contained within purpose-built campuses in Dubai Academic City and Putrajaya, respectively.


The School’s undergraduate teaching on our Edinburgh campus covers civil and structural engineering, architectural engineering, construction project management, quantity surveying, geography, urban studies, interior design and the biology suite.  On our Dubai campus we teach civil & structural engineering, architectural engineering, architecture, construction management, quantity surveying and interior design.  On our Malaysia campus we teach civil engineering, construction project management, quantity surveying and petroleum engineering.  We offer a high quality educational experience underpinned by practical and laboratory teaching, and informed by contact with professional practice.  Most of our degree programmes hold the appropriate accreditation from the relevant professional body.  This educational philosophy ensures excellent employment prospects for all of our graduates.

Programmes of postgraduate study are aligned to the expertise contained in each of our research institutes. Our postgraduate students therefore benefit from state-of-the-art knowledge in their chosen study area.  You can find further information about the School’s postgraduate programmes at


The School is one of the leading research centres in the UK. It has sustained a high reputation for the international standing of its research over two decades.

 Research within the School is organised into six Institutes:  

  • Institute of Life and Earth Sciences (ILES)
  • The Urban Institute (TUI)
  • Institute of Petroleum Engineering (IPE)
  • Institute for Infrastructure and Environment (IIE)
  • Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design (CESBD)
  • Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE)

All academic staff based on the Edinburgh and Dubai campuses contribute to the research activities of one of our Institutes.

These Institutes support a wide range of research activities of relevance to a sustainable, resource and energy efficient society. Institute staff undertake research funded by research councils, charitable foundations, local and national government. Research outcomes are published in leading international and national journals and key findings are widely disseminated through other media and forms of output.

Detailed Description

Institute of Petroleum Engineering

The Institute of Petroleum Engineering (IPE) was founded in 1975 and is widely recognised as one of the internationally leading centres of excellence for learning, teaching, and research in petroleum engineering and petroleum geoscience.

IPE provides specialist training through its MSc programmes in Petroleum Engineering, Reservoir Evaluation and Management, Petroleum Geoscience, and Integrated Mature Field Management, which are offered on Heriot-Watt University’s campuses in Edinburgh, Dubai, and Malaysia, through Approved Learning Partnerships in Russia, Portugal, and Australia, or through distributed learning. IPE also partners with Schlumberger to deliver an MSc in the Management of the Oil & Gas Industry and with SOCAR to establish the Baku Higher Oil School, or with the Oil and Gas Innovation Centre. To-date, over 4000 students have graduated from IPE, many of them now holding leading positions in the energy industry or academia.

IPE’s industrially focused research involves over 60 academics and 100 PhD students and covers the full range of activities related to the upstream oil and gas industry, from exploring hydrocarbon provinces to characterising the reservoirs and providing robust uncertainty envelopes for future hydrocarbon production to developing new chemical and engineering solutions that ensure that production wells operate efficiently. More recently, IPE has extended its capabilities to develop and manage other subsurface forms of energy such as geothermal energy and CCUS through new collaborations with the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology to support the transition to a low-carbon energy future. IPE leads several major UK-wide and interdisciplinary research centres, such as the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas, the International Centre for Carbonate Reservoirs, or the Centre for Energy Economics Research and Policy. 

In 2015, IPE received the prestigious Queen's Anniversary Prize recognising its sustained pioneering work in innovation and research excellence. The prize recognised how the IPE’s research and innovation activity spans hydrocarbon exploration to production technology, and also harnesses its findings to enhance interdisciplinary work, with some of its inventions now used in medical and biological research. It was the second time that IPE was awarded with the Queen’s Anniversary Prize, which is the highest award in U.K. higher education.

During REF2014, IPE has provided four highly ranked impact case studies and was a central component of the Edinburgh Research Partnership in Engineering (ERPE), which was the largest submission in the UK to the General Engineering assessment panel. 94% of ERPE’s overall research activity was classified as world-leading or internationally excellent, and ERPE had the highest research power rating of all general engineering submissions in the UK. Previous REF and RAE exercises have awarded IPE’s research the highest possible ratings as well.

For further information visit

Detailed Description

Applications are invited for a Research Associate to work with Dr Jingsheng Ma, Associate Professor, for a period up to 6 months, from 1st April, 2019. The position will be based in the Institute of Petroleum Engineering, which is part of the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK. The successful appointee will be involved in 1) constructing digital shale rock models; and 2) modelling shale gas flow and transport on those shale rock models to determine effective properties. This position will be funded under UK EPSRC grant (EP/M02203X/1,

One objective of this project is to gain a better understanding of collective contributions of different flow and transport mechanisms, taking place in ultra-tight shale pore space, on effective properties. To this end, digital shale models will be generated at selected pore scales to honour shale characteristics, which are captured from 2/3D images acquired on shale samples by means of SEM, FIB-SEM, X-ray CT and/or optical microscopy imaging. Effective properties will be determined by numerical simulations while their behaviours will be analysed. The successful appointee will have an opportunity to interact with researchers of the project partner at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, UK.  

This position may be extended for another six months to be funded by UK NERC grant (NE/R018022/1, see

Duties & Responsibilities

The successful appointee will be expected to undertake the following:

  • Apply existing and develop new methods and/or techniques, as well as implement them, to generate synthetic numerical shale rock models based on characteristic rock images and theoretical considerations at selected scales;
  • Perform numerical flow simulations on shale models, and analyse the simulation results to develop empirical relationships for effective flow property upscaling and prediction;     
  • Produce research reports and journal publications, and disseminate results of research through suitable channels as appropriate;
  • Present results of research to technical workshops and conferences as appropriate;
  • Play a role in the development of research proposals;
  • Contribute to the supervision of MSc student individual projects and support to PhD students and researchers within the research team;
  • Manage own research and administrative activities, with guidance if required;
  • Develop appropriate networks within and outside the institution;
  • Develop research objectives with the assistance of the line manager and mentor.

Please note that this job description is not exhaustive, and the role holder may be required to undertake other relevant duties commensurate with the grading of the post.  Activities may be subject to amendment over time as the role develops and/or priorities and requirements evolve.  

Person Specification 


  • Proven experience and demonstrable expertise in developing and implementing stochastic techniques for generating digital multi-component models for granular materials, preferable geo-materials, from 2/3D sample images (preferable e.g. FIB-SEM, SEM, X-ray CT and/or optimal microscopic images);
  • Proven experience in pore-scale single- and/or multi-phase fluid flow modelling in complex porous media;
  • Proven experience and demonstrable expertise in scientific programming using Matlab, Java, Python, and/or C++;
  • Demonstrable ability to identify, analyse and solve technical issues independently;


  • A first degree in geosciences, engineering, or computer science;
  • Postdoc experience or a PhD degree, on image characterisation for granular materials and model reconstruction, as a key element in the previous work;
  • Or close to completion of a PhD degree or a MSc degree with exceptional demonstrable skills and work experience in developing stochastic geo-material model reconstruction techniques from images at pore-grain or large scales;


  • Experience of working in a multi-disciplinary team;
  • A developing track record of publications;
  • Experience in communicating research outcomes at international conferences as a presenter, and being involved in developing high impact articles as the leading author for international scientific peer-reviewed journals.

Competencies, Skills and Knowledge

  • Excellent IT skills;
  • Good team player with good interpersonal skills;
  • Demonstrable ability to cope with conflicting demands and pressures;
  • Good knowledge of popular machine and deep learning algorithms and their applications


  • Work experience with an open-source AI package and machine-/deep-learning algorithms for image pattern recognition, restoration/repair;
  • Experience in developing digital rock physics methodology;
  • Experience in petrographic analysis of organic-rich shale and shale geology;
  • Experience in flow modelling of shale gas at pore scales;
  • Experience in developing computer programs for HPC;

Candidates can make informal enquiries to Dr Jingsheng Ma ( or at 0131 451 8296

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