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List of pre-defined projects

Below you will find a list of current pre-defined projects. You can use these to either help you generate ideas for a self-defined reserch project or identify a supervisor offering a pre-defined project that you may be interested in undertaking as part of the Scholarship. If you would like to chose one of the pre-defined projects please make sure you read the description and project information carefully (you may also want to do some further background research) before contacting the supervisor to discuss your interest in their project.


Tectonics, life, and Earth system evolution; a database and modelling approach

Dr Aubrey Zerkle, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


One fundamental question in natural science is how life evolved on Earth. What we know beyond a reasonable doubt is that simple single-celled organisms evolved in the oceans greater than 3 billion years ago. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the chemistry of the Earth surface (both the atmosphere and the oceans) has undergone dramatic changes since that first cell division occurred. What we now seek to understand is how the evolution of life has responded to, and in some cases driven, these changes in Earth surface environments, all acting on the backdrop of plate tectonics. 

This project will utilize two strands of inquiry to examine feedbacks between tectonics, nutrients, and life on the Precambrian Earth. The first will utilize the Phosphorus Mineral Evolution Database (PMED) to interrogate the occurrence and distribution of P minerals through time and their correlation with supercontinental cycles and Earth surface oxygenation. The second will expand numerical models (developed in MatLab) to test the role of P flux, oxygen and global primary productivity in driving the marine nitrogen cycle on the early Earth. We specifically seek students with strong numerical skills and/or programming experience who are interested in applying these skills to understand Earth system evolution over geologic timescales.

The Diverse Chemical Composition of Cloud Layers on Exoplanets

Dr Peter Woitke (School of Physics and Astronomy) and Dr Christiane Helling (School of Physics and Astronomy)


Planets around stars outside of the solar system (exoplanets) have clouds that consist not only of water droplets as on Earth, but are expected to have very different chemical compositions, depending on planet parameters like surface temperature, pressure and elemental composition.  For example, we expect sulphuric acid droplets (H2SO4) and solid particles made of sodium sulphide (Na2S), different silicate materials (e.g. MgSiO3 and Mg2SiO4), as well as metal oxides such as corundum (Al2O3) and even minerals as complicated as gehlenite (Ca2Al2SiO7).  Based on our new thermo-chemical database (see, and on our new diffusive cloud formation models (paper in preparation), we are seeking a summer student to stepwise increase the complexity of our choice of condensates in kinetic cloud formation models to better match the results of thermo-chemical equilibrium consideration scenarios.  The student will work in the new fascinating field of exoplanets in a very active research group led by the Centre of Exoplanet Science ( to get their first experience in computational modelling of physico-chemical processes.

History, religion, and community in North East Fife

Dr Jacqueline Rose (School of History) and Dr Amy Blakeway (School of History, starting Jan 2019)


Religion has always been central to the identity of St Andrews and the surrounding area: material and textual sources bear witness to its social and cultural as well as devotional impact.  The prominence of the cathedral city can, however, obscure the experience of religion and religious change in local parishes.  This project explores social and religious life in the rural parish of Kingsbarns, its relationship to St Andrews, and how it changed over three centuries in a way promoting engagement with the local community.

The Scholar will produce a pamphlet history of Kingsbarns Church using the substantial run of early-seventeenth- to late-nineteenth-century archival material held at the University’s Special Collections alongside the material evidence of the parish church (built in 1631, rebuilt in 1811). After the initial research scoping exercise in 2019, in 2020 the Scholar will have an opportunity to develop and lead appropriate dissemination activities or follow-up parallel comparative research projects.

The Scholar’s leadership will increase academic understanding and foster public engagement, developing both research and transferable skills.  They must be willing to learn new skills in order to analyse sources and effectively share their findings with various audiences.  Supervised by two historians, Amy Blakeway and Jacqueline Rose, this project offers the chance to collaborate with other organisations linked to St Andrews: Special CollectionsSmart History, and the Institute of Scottish Historical Research, alongside Kingsbarns parish.  The resulting experience in project planning, research, and dissemination will be particularly suited to future work in academia or the heritage sector.

How do hummingbirds find flowers?

Prof. Susan Healy, School of Biology


Bird navigation conjures up images of birds on epic, transcontinental migrations.  But birds also need to navigate at much smaller scales to relocate important resources (e.g. food and shelter). Decades of work with birds in the laboratory have taught us much about the kinds of information (e.g. visual landmarks) that birds can learn to find rewards. The confined space of a laboratory is far removed from the environments in which most birds have to navigate, however, and as a result, perhaps surprisingly, we actually know very little about how wild birds navigate to familiar locations. What, for example, does a wild hummingbird consider to be a landmark?

The natural world can be cluttered and visually noisy, making the assessment of possible landmarks often little more than guesswork. One solution is to take an animal’s eye view, and seek to understand what visual information is available to navigating animals, as is now being attempted with invertebrates such as ants and bees.  In this project, the student would spent 5 weeks at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) field station investigating how wild rufous hummingbirds relocate flowers.  Rufous hummingbirds breed at this site in the Rockies where Prof Healy, in collaboration with Prof Andy Hurly (Lethbridge) and students, has spent over two decades examining their cognitive abilities.  The work would involve high-speed filming of hummingbirds flying to and from experimental flowers.  The student would gain experience in fieldwork, experimental design and video analysis. For more info:

Art, Creativity and Climate Change

Dr Alistair Rider, School of Art History


This project invites a potential Laidlaw scholar to explore how our perceptions of art, histories, and creativity will need to change in the light of our current understanding of climate change. 

It is widely understood that current human activities are having a massive detrimental impact on other species and the global environment, and that these factors are also compounding social and political inequalities. Already, toxicity and extreme weather events have become intimate realities for many populations around the globe, and this is only predicted to to increase over the coming decades. One individual can’t ‘save the planet’, but we all need to wake up to the massive implications of global warming and an increasingly unpredictable future. As part of this research project, you will have an opportunity to explore different ways of thinking about these challenges in relation to art and creativity. One direction could include include investigating non-exploitative relationships towards nonhuman animals. Or it could become an investigation into how we might give up the belief that ‘nature’ is a stable background for human actions. Or, more broadly still, thinking about how we can altogether reconceptualise ideas of ‘selfhood’, ‘agency’ and ‘creativity’. As our horizons shift, so will the histories that we tell. So rise to the challenge: think big, and let a Laidlaw Scholarship become an opportunity for you to exhibit leadership in this field. 

Law at the Margins of Empire: Legal Cultures in Medieval Armenia

Dr Tim Greenwood, School of History


Although medieval Armenian literature has been studied in a number of ways, its reflection of the legal principles, practices and processes used and developed across the regions of historic Greater Armenia has not received much in the way of scholarly attention. This project forms part of a wider investigation to begin to address this deficit. Far from being without law, medieval Armenia was the locus of multiple legal cultures. It supplies a fresh perspective from which to study legal performance in the medieval world. The project is centred on the study of a significant body of material which has been identified and translated into English but which awaits further analysis.


Under direction, the Laidlaw scholar will undertake a first survey of a selection of documents relating to a series of land transactions in the remote highland region of Siwnik‘, dated between 839/40 and 1297/8 CE. In addition to creating a database, the Laidlaw scholar will be invited to reflect on the procedures and ceremonies underlying these charters. How were wishes of the parties established, how were they expressed and how were they protected? Whose law is being performed? This project invites comparison with Roman, Persian and Islamic jurisprudence and will situate the Laidlaw scholar at the research horizon. It presents an opportunity to develop analytical and research skills which will inform their own future research.    

Transnational Collecting, Curating and Display

Dr Emma Bond, School of Modern Languages


How might museums best present the transnational origins, routes and reach of the objects in their heritage collections? Building on current debates around the contested role of empire and colonialism in major and local collections across the UK, Europe and the United States, this project will give a Laidlaw scholar the opportunity to identify and investigate one or more examples of such collections in order to produce a case study into what might constitute best practice in the field.

Taking into account public initiatives such as Alice Procter’s ‘Uncomfortable Art Tours’, as well as museum-based responses such as the British Museum’s ‘Collected Histories’ curator workshops, we will use a framework of transnational museum studies (Macdonald 2003; Meyer and Savoy 2013; De Cesari 2017) to refine new possible strategies in narrativizing collections in order to engage with a diverse range of visitor groups. The project envisages the possibility of the supervisor and scholar making on-site visits to the chosen collection, engaging with heritage and curatorial staff, and modelling potential solutions of best practice for recommendation.

Chiara De Cesari, ‘Museums of Europe: Tangles of memory, borders and race’, Museum Anthropology 40 (1), 2017.
Sharon Macdonald, ‘Museums, National, Postnational and Transcultural Identities’, Museum and Society 1 (1), 2003.
Andrea Meyer & Benedicte Savoy (eds.), The Museum is Open: Towards a Transnational History of Museums 1750-1940 (De Gruyter 2013)

What can zircon textures tell us about the history of Britain’s oldest rocks?

Dr Sebastian Fischer, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences


The Lewisian Complex in NW Scotland comprises the oldest rocks of Britain and some of the oldest rocks of Europe. The oldest material found within them are zircons as old as 3.15 billion years, which are interpreted to reflect the crystallisation of magmatic rocks. During later metamorphism, dissolution and precipitation led to new growth of zircon, recording younger ages of ca 2.7 and 2.5 billion years. A key aspect of any zircon study is a careful examination of individual zircon crystals and their zonation patterns that reflect those different igneous and metamorphic growth phases.

This project will investigate zircons obtained from samples collected during targeted fieldwork in two regions of Lewisian rocks that have been interpreted as having formed as two completely different portions of continental crust. The samples will require processing to extract zircons, preparing and then imaging them using cathodoluminescence (CL) and back-scatter electron (BSE) techniques. From these images, different zonations and texture groups will be identified and categorised in an attempt to link them to specific zircon forming processes. The aim is to establish whether there are clear textural similarities or differences in zircon populations from the parts of the Lewisian with postulated very different geological histories.

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