BioPlastic Lives: Developing a technical and social understanding of bioplastic objects through investigating their care, ageing and agency in a museum context.

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at The Open University, in partnership with the Museum of Design in Plastics, Arts University Bournemouth.

Available from October 2023, this fully-funded studentship includes: payment of university fees throughout the funded period; a tax-free maintenance grant for your living costs at the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) minimum rate (£17,668 for 2022/23); an additional AHRC stipend of £550 per annum to support costs incurred by working with the partner organisation. Further details about the benefits of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 11 January 2023 (12:00 midday UK time)

Project overview

This interdisciplinary PhD project is focussed on the ageing, cleaning and conservation of bioplastics and is a collaboration between The Open University and the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP). The project will address newer sustainable bioplastic artefacts that are now growing in importance in society and beginning to appear in museum collections. The ageing, cleaning and conservation of bioplastics as curated objects are not well-understood. This project will seek to both use the MoDiP collection to explore and define guidelines for bioplastic care, alongside creating a series of bioplastic objects, using 3D printing for example, to illustrate different stages of bioplastic life and its deterioration over time.

In the context of sustainability plastics often get a bad press. Bioplastic materials offer new solutions to some traditional uses of more commonly used plastics. Within the scope of this project is the opportunity to collaborate with MoDiP and to engage with its existing outreach activities and future exhibitions to develop interactions and resources to support a better social understanding of the value of bioplastics. The doctoral candidate will be involved with the public engagement and exhibition work of MoDiP and work with academics at the Open University to develop sustainable education resources exploring the origins, functional scope and lifespan of bioplastics. These activities provide an excellent opportunity to develop a range of communication and organisational skills in public engagement and educational contexts. 

Technical aspects of this project require the doctoral candidate to have a good understanding of chemistry or material science. The research will involve developing sustainable cleaning techniques and opportunities will be provided to gain expertise in a number of surface and chemical techniques used to analyse plastic artefacts. A range of bioplastic artefacts will be designed and produced at the Open University in Milton Keynes as the basis for experimental studies that look at the aging, cleaning and analysis of bioplastic artefacts in the MoDiP collection. The aim is for the research to provide guidance for the storage, cleaning and conservation of bioplastics within a museum to promote the longevity of their collections. Training will be provided in object handling, including the cataloguing, storing, and cleaning of objects at MoDiP. 

Educational aspects of the project may use the created bioplastic artefacts to communicate different stories of plastic lives and to address issues of sustainability connected to the temporal journeys of plastics. This bioplastic focussed research may present opportunities to challenge some myths and misconceptions of the value and functionality of plastics in society.

The split of time between the lab-based research and the outreach and educational activities will be approximately 50:50. We do not expect applicants to be an expert in every aspect of the project but a background in material-related subjects, and experience or interest in sustainability, will be valued. Above all we would like candidates to demonstrate a commitment to interdisciplinary research and a willingness to learn new skills and techniques. Full training and guidance will be provided in the required techniques for all aspects of the project tailored to the candidate’s experience and interests.

Supervision Team

  • Dr Simon Collinson, Senior lecturer in Chemistry, Open University
  • Dr Emma Dewberry, Senior lecturer in Design, Open University
  • Dr James Bowen, Senior lecturer in Materials Engineering, Open University
  • Dr Louise Dennis, Curator of Museum of Design in Plastics, Arts University Bournemouth

Training & professional experiences in the role

  • The applicant will benefit from the extensive programme of research training events provided by the OU and the highly successful model of co-supervision offered by the university.
  • Literature review on the ageing, cleaning, conservation and public perceptions of, and education for, bioplastics.
  • Developing and identifying new bioplastic artefacts, in part using 3D printing.
  • Analysis of bioplastics using both chemical and surface analysis of artefacts after ageing and cleaning. Training will be provided on specific instruments although an existing knowledge of the background theory is desirable.
  • Training in object handling at the museum and how objects are currently catalogued, stored, and cleaned at MoDiP.  This will enable surveying of the condition of some of the current bioplastic artefacts within the MoDiP collection.
  • Development of outreach activities and exhibitions with the Museum of Design in Plastics.
  • Development of sustainable education resources on bioplastics to support outreach activities.
  • Surveying of participants in outreach activities and exhibitions.
  • Analysis of the surface and appearance of bioplastic artefacts after repeated use in outreach activities.
  • Data processing skills.
  • Communication to a range of audiences.

Information about Research degrees in the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is available at

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities for this full-time PhD based at the Open University in Milton Keynes. Applicants will ideally have a First Class or Upper Second undergraduate degree and a Masters degree (or equivalent experience) in an area related to the project (e.g. chemistry, materials science, design, engineering, environment). Some prior experience of lab based analysis is desirable as is a demonstration of interdisciplinary research, methods and educational or outreach activities. Where a student holds qualifications other than those listed they must be able to demonstrate suitability for postgraduate level research in relation to the nature and scope of the proposed work. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Dr Simon Collison (, Dr James Bowan ( or Dr Emma Dewberry ( in the first instance.

You should apply to the Open University by 11th January 2023 (midday, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time. Further details on how to apply through the Open University and how to complete the OOC DTP Application Form can be found on our How to Apply page.