Dr Richard Johnston

Dr Richard Johnston

Richard Johnston


Associate Professor, College of Engineering


Dr. Richard Johnston is an Associate Professor in the Materials Research Centre, Swansea University, a 2013 British Science Association Media Fellow (based at Nature), and a 2015 Software Sustainability Institute Fellow.

Embracing a multidisciplinary approach, Richard's research has taken him from artificial intelligence in manufacturing, through gas turbine materials (abradables, nickel superalloys, ceramic matrix composites), and on to X-ray microtomography. He leads the X-ray Imaging group at Swansea, and chairs the Swansea University Research Forum (SURF) Executive Group. He is also Co-Director of the Materials Academy and sits on the Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining Education Committee, in addition to devising the #ResearchAsArt Awards and PI of the outreach and engagement programme Materials: Live.

Research grant capture as PI or Co-I of over £20Million since 2014, and is Co-Director of the £9M EPSRC/WG-funded Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) centre. Richard is an advocate of collaboration, and a champion of public engagement with research. 

Richard has written for Nature, Scientific American, The Guardian, Huffington Post, and has worked on TV documentaries with the BBC (Rhys Jones’ Wildlife Patrol) and Horizon (Animal Mummies).

For more information visit Dr Johnston’s research group website

Find out more


Research at the JohnstonLab in Swansea University typically covers a number of diverse fields, but is primarily focussed on characterisation of structures using X-Ray Microtomography. The group has experience investigating many varied materials, from plant and biological specimens, to dense superalloys.

We have a focus on biomimetics and bioinspiration. Using X-Ray CT to investigate the hidden internal worlds of nature, and thinking about how and why these structures formed.  We then look for challenging engineering applications that could benefit from the inspiration gained from these natural architectures. Utilising 3D-printing, we can create rapid replicas or prototypes of previously hidden structures found via X-ray CT, demonstrated on an everyday object.

The group also researches aerospace materials, focussing on the destructive and non-destructive characterisation of abradable coatings, ceramic-matrix-composites, and nickel-based superalloys among others. Corrosion studies of zinc and steel alloys are also ongoing.

Also, the group has expertise in applying artificial intelligence to a number of areas including manufacturing, process optimisation, creep of metals, and sports performance.

Specific strengths in X-ray computed tomography have resulted in collaborations with glaciology, tephrochronology, regenerative medicine, Egyptology, corrosion scientists, and many others.

RJ Xray Image 1 RJ Xray Image 2

The underlying ethos behind work at JohnstonLab is that we are passionate about interdisciplinary and collaborative research; and the excitement and energy that working with researchers from very different fields can provide.

Current Research Projects include:

Nature’s Hidden Worlds – Investigating internal architectures within nature via X-ray microtomography. The aim is to consider the function of natural structures non-destructively, using 3-dimensional data to optimise the engineering and design of structures at varying length scales. Evolutionary optimisation, biomimetics, and bioinspiration leading to improved engineering. With PhD student Laura North @Loobags87

Abradable Coating Materials –  The aim of this research project is to study numerous mechanical characterisation technologies to further understand how abradable coatings behave. This data will also feed into a model that has been constructed to help predict abradable material life times in service. With PhD student Dan Moyle @DanMoyle8 and in collaboration with Rolls-Royce plc.

Gas Turbine Superalloys – The aim of this project is to develop optimum forming and heat treatment routes for selected casing and bolting alloys in gas turbines – in particular, ring rolling of Nickel-based superalloys. With EngD student Sam Gardner and in collaboration with Rolls-Royce plc.

Laser Ultrasonics – Investigating laser ultrasonics and their application to additive manufacturing. With PhD student Simon Garner and in partnership with TWI.

Imaging of Volcanic Debris/Tephrochronology – A collaborative project with Prof. Siwan Davies, Adam Griggs, and Dr Peter Abbott, investigating X-ray CT as a method of imaging volcanic deposits and networks in sub-sea core samples.

RJ Xray Image 3 RJ Xray Image 4

Ancient Egyptian Clay Cobra Figurines – Collaborative project with Dr Kasia Szpakowska investigating failure mechanisms in clay cobra figurines, relating fracture behaviour to human behaviour. A nice taster video

Using ‘digital’ Materials to Establish a Novel Investigative Platform for Cardiac Arrest – Collaborative project with Dr Peter Theobald (Cardiff Uni) to develop a realistic material heart model via additive layer manufacturing

Medical Device Optimisation – An industry collaboration with Dr Steve Brown (Haemair Ltd.), Dr Raoul van Loon (Swansea University) and Claudio Donofrio (PhD student) imaging device architecture and modelling bloodflow.

Providing new model organisms for biomedical research: The tale of molluscs, mice and men – Collaborative project with Dr Anwen Williams (Cardiff University) and Dr Andrew Davies (Bangor University) to investigate the feasibility of molluscs as new model organisms for bone.

MAM (Materials: Ancient and Modern) – A collaborative project with Dr Ian Mabbett, Dr Matt Carnie, and Dr Tracey Rihll. Taking inspiration from Roman concrete, we’re investigating the use of waste slags from industrial sites.

Additive Protection – A collaboration with Dr Peter Theobald investigating optimised structures from additive layer manufacturing applied to the safety and impact industry.

Arthritis Research – Collaborating with Anwen Williams (Cardiff University) on her arthritis project and investigating new ways of characterising arthritic features.

Structure-Property Relationships in Biomaterials – Collaborating with Dr Michelle Oyen (Cambridge University) on a number of themes, materials, and species to investigate the physical architecture of natural materials and their mechanical properties.

Degradation of Titanium Implant Materials – Collaboration with Dr Zhidao Xia (Swansea University) to investigate ‘biocompatible’ titanium alloys and their degradation in the body

Cartilage Regrowth – Working with Dr Ilyas Khan and Dr Lewis Frances (Swansea University) to study and characterise cartilage regrowth mechanisms.

RJ Xray Image 5 

Selected publications

  • Kasia Szpakowska, Richard Johnston, Snake Busters: Pilot Experiments in making and breaking ritual figurines, Mummies, Magic and Medicine, 2016
  • Adam Griggs, Siwan Davies, Peter Abbott, Mark Coleman, Adrian Palmer, Tine Rasmussen, Richard Johnston, Visualising tephra sedimentation processes in the marine environment: the potential of X-ray microtomography, Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 2015
  • Richard Johnston, John Mulley, The biter bit? Investigation of possible in-ovo self-envenomation in an Egyptian saw-scaled viper using region of interest X-ray microtomography, PeerJ Preprints, 2014, e624v1, [DOI: dx.doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.624v1]
  • Danilo DiSalvo, Richard Johnston, Martin Bache, Mechanical assessment of alumina-based ceramic matrix composites, Journal of the European Ceramic Society, 2014
  • Richard Johnston, Asymmetrical glycans synthesized in lab, Nature, 2013, [ISSN:1476-4687], [DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.13454]
  • Richard Johnston, Visual neurons mapped in action, Nature, 2013, [ISSN:1476-4687], [DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.13520]
  • Richard Johnston, Synthetic molecule chokes TB growth, Nature, 2013, [ISSN:1476-4687], [DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.13500]
  • Richard Johnston, Shrew has a spine of godly strength, Nature, 2013, [ISSN:1476-4687], [DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.13440]
  • Richard Johnston, World's slowest-moving drop caught on camera at last, Nature, 2013, [ISSN:1476-4687], [DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.13418]
  • Richard E Johnston, Martin R Bache, Mathew Amos, Dimosthenis Liaptsis, Robert Lancaster, Richard Lewis, Paul Andrews, Ian Edmonds, Investigation of Non-Destructive Evaluation Methods Applied to Oxide/Oxide Fiber Reinforced Ceramic Matrix Composite, Mechanical Properties and Performance of Engineering Ceramics and Composites VII, 2012, pp.57, [ISBN:97811182174679781118205884], [ISSN:19406339], [DOI: 10.1002/9781118217467.ch6]
  • M.R Bache, R.E Johnston, T.S Cook, B.J Robinson, J.F Matlik, Crack growth in the creep-fatigue regime under constrained loading of thin sheet combustor alloys, International Journal of Fatigue, 2012, 42, [ISSN:01421123], [DOI: 10.1016/j.ijfatigue.2011.07.005]
  • R.E Johnston, Mechanical characterisation of AlSi-hBN, NiCrAl-Bentonite, and NiCrAl-Bentonite-hBN freestanding abradable coatings, Surface and Coatings Technology, 2011, 205, 10, [ISSN:02578972], [DOI: 10.1016/j.surfcoat.2010.11.044]
  • R E Johnston, Neural networks for critical high temperature component life prediction, Materials Science and Technology, 2011, 27, 1, [ISSN:0267083617432847], [DOI: 10.1179/026708310X12683157551531]
  • R. E Johnston, The Sensitivity of Abradable Coating Residual Stresses to Varying Material Properties, Journal of Thermal Spray Technology, 2009, 18, 5-6, [ISSN:1544-1016], [DOI: 10.1007/s11666-009-9378-2]
  • Sam Gardner, Wei Li, Mark Coleman, Richard Johnston, The effects of thermomechanical history on the microstructure of a nickel-base superalloy during forging, Journal of Materials Processing and Technology, 0
  • Daniel Moyle, Glen Pattinson, Matthew Hancock, Richard Johnston, 3D imaging of abradable coating internal microstructure, Journal of Surface and Coatings Technology, 0


  • EG-381 - Fracture and Fatigue (15/16)
  • EG-163 - Design and Laboratory Classes 1 (15/16)
  • EGM402 - Fracture and Fatigue (15/16)

Research theses supervised


  • 2015 - Genetic and MicroCT analysis of human remains from the Mary Rose collection (2nd Supervisor: Mr Nicholas Owen)
  • 2013 - Bioinspired investigation via x-ray computed micromography (2nd Supervisor: Professor David Worsley)
  • 2012 - Characterisation of Compressor Abradable Systems (2nd Supervisor: Professor David Worsley)
  • 2011 - 'Laser ultrasonic testing for on-line inspection of laser metal deposition' (2nd Supervisor: Professor David Worsley)


  • 2012 - Imaging and image analysis of medical devices (1st Supervisor: Dr Raoul Van Loon)
  • 2011 - 'Hot section components - Characterisation of thermomechanical behaviours of advanced casing and bolting alloys' (2nd Supervisor: Professor David Worsley)


  • 2014 - 'Analysing the effects of near-future ocean acidification on the otolith development in European sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, using x-ray microtomography' (1st Supervisor: Dr Edward Pope)
  • 2012 - 'Iron Oxide corrosion products on the waterside of marine boiler superheaters' (2nd Supervisor: Professor Geraint Williams)

Additional information

Engagement & Outreach

We are eager to engage with publics, discussing science and engineering with broad groups. Richard has developed a number of outreach and engagement projects: #ResearchAsArt, Materials: Live!, and as a British Science Association Media Fellow at Nature.


Research as Art is a University-wide initiative that aims to develop the engagement skills of students and staff, fertilise cross-disciplinary collaboration, raise the profile of Swansea research and its researchers, and make the University a better place to study and work.The project provides a unique mechanism of accessible outreach for all research, displaying the important and far-reaching work, and also the human aspect and emotion of research that goes on at Swansea University to a diverse and new audience.

Submissions are visually striking artwork or images and accessible, engaging text – resulting in a truly unique initiative.

Engagement Image 1

This image won the Early Career Researcher award in Swansea University’s 2013 Research as Art competition. Engineer Matt Carnie explains that these solar cells from failed experiments represent a notion familiar in science – that “behind every success there are many times when things didn’t quite go according to plan".

Selected links to online coverage:
The Guardian 2013
The Guardian 2012
Review of Exhibition at the Royal Institution
The Royal Institution of Great Britain
LiveScience Winner 2012
LiveScience Gallery

Materials: Live!

Engagement Image 2

An innovative Swansea University outreach and engagement project, which introduces the wonder of materials science and engineering to entertain, enthuse and educate potential scientists and engineers of the future. Materials Live! forms a critical component of the “Materials Academy” at Swansea; a large project that delivers multi-level materials research and training.

  • Provide activities that enrich the Key Stages 1- 4 Science National Curriculum in addition to A/AS level curricula.
  • Encourage people to study STEM subjects related careers.
  • Engage with teachers and deliver CPD activities to enhance the materials science-related content in their lessons.

Materials Live! was founded in November 2012 to offer inspiration to young people in materials science and engineering and help build understanding of the opportunities in the sector in Wales. The initial phase allowed development and procurement of demonstrations for a range of materials including novel materials such as shape memory alloys, non-Newtonian fluids, aerogel and ferrofluids. 3D imaging facilities were established and talks, workshops and exhibitions devised. Themes of previous workshops have included; energy materials, aerospace materials, construction materials, biomaterials for health and wellbeing and marine materials – all delivered flexibly depending of the needs of the audience. 2nd round saw addition of tensile tester, dedicated FTIR and 3D printer, strain gauges and now a full outreach lab in Port Talbot, which can hopefully carry on with a legacy on the Bay Innovation campus. Stakeholder feedback resulted in expansion of the scope, including participation in CPD activities aimed at enthusing teachers to provide post-16 students with access to University facilities – giving them valuable new experiences and essential exposure to a University environment. The ultimate aim is to engage youngsters as early as possible with continued contact over a number of years, delivering fresh content at the appropriate level. This has been achieved by successful award of a second round of funding. The project also responds to a call from Welsh Government’s ‘science in Wales’ document for better collaboration and coherence between STEM providers in Wales by working with a large network of broader STEM partners.

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Engagement Image 3

…is an art/science/tech collaboration between Rich and local photo artist Naomi Bowey, exploring the effects objects have on our behaviour – looking at forms of collection, archiving and the compulsive act of hoarding. Naomi details the processes involved in conceiving, modifying, and ultimately producing a piece for exhibition at here other website

Professional Activities

Director of the Swansea University Research Forum (SURF).

In 2013 I was successful in competitive selection for Welsh Crucible - an award-winning programme of personal, professional and leadership development for the future research leaders of Wales.

I’m an invited member of the Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining (IOM3) Education Committee, the material learned society and accrediting body.

I’m an invited reviewer for the international journals:

  • Surface and Coatings Technology
  • Journal of Thermal Spray Technology
  • Wear
  • Materials Science and Technology
  • Materials at High Temperature
  • The Anatomical Record

I serve as an invited peer-reviewer of grants for the following organisations:

  • EPSRC (Responsive Mode)
  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • EPSRC/Swansea University Bridging the Gaps programme

I am an invited member of the Editorial Board for the Welsh Government journal ‘Advances Wales’.

RJ Xray Image 6 RJ Xray Image 7

Major Awards and Honours

2014 – Software Sustainability Institute Fellowship

2014 - The Bridging the Gaps Award for Outstanding Excellence in Public Engagement

2013 – British Science Association Fellow at Nature

2013 – Welsh Crucible - Future Research Leaders

2007 – Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining (IOM3) Rose Bowl Award for Outstanding PhD

Thesis/Publications/Contribution in graduating year

2003 – UWS School of Engineering MRes Training Award (Highest percentage in examinations)

2003 – MRes Cogent Award for Outstanding Masters Thesis

2002 – Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers (Highest percentage in metallurgy examinations)

2002 – Armourers & Brasiers Medal and Prize (Overall excellence in metallurgy)

2002 – Hugh O’Neill Prize (Best final year coursework)

2002 – Institute of Materials Prize (Graduated top of the year: most outstanding student over 3 years)

2002 – Sidney Gilchrist Thomas Medal (Best final year student)

2001 - Swansea and District Metallurgical Society Prize

2000 & 2001 – P.W.Davies Scholarship (Greater than 70% in BEng examinations)

2000 – 3M/Rolls Royce/Corus Industrial Scholarship

1999 – Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers BEng Entrance Scholarship

1999 – Institute of Materials BEng Entrance Scholarship

Proposals/Funding Bids

  • EPSRC – Advanced Imaging of Materials (AIM) – 2015 – £2.5 Million  – Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI)
  • EPSRC – The Strategic Partnership in Structural Metallic Systems for Advanced Gas Turbine Applications– 2014 – £12Million  – Co-Investigator (Co-I)
  • EPSRC – COATED2 Centre for Doctoral Training – 2014 – £6.5 Million – Co-I
  • Swansea University – 2012 – X-ray Microtomography Equipment – £300,000 – Principal Investigator (PI)
  • EPSRC Strategic Partnership EngD – 2011 – £120,000 – PI
  • NSA Welsh Government – 2013 – Materials:Live2 – £116,933 – PI
  • EPSRC Strategic Partnership PhD – 2011 – £90,000 – PI
  • EPSRC Strategic Partnership PhD – 2012 – £90,000 – PI
  • EPSRC DTA PhD – 2013 – £75,000 – PI
  • British Science Association Media Fellowship with Nature – 2013 – PI
  • Software Sustainability Institute Fellowship – 2015 – PI
  • Welsh Crucible: Future research leaders of Wales – 2013
  • Swansea University PhD Bursary – 2015 – X-ray µCT of Mary Rose remains – £57,000 – PI
  • Swansea University PhD Bursary – 2014 – X-ray CT of tephra cores – £57,000 – Co-I
  • National Research Networks – 2014 – Using ‘digital’ Materials to Establish a Novel Investigative Platform for Cardiac Arrest – £57,000 – Co-I
  • Swansea University Business Plan – 2014 – Public Engagement w/ Research/Research as Art –£55,037 per annum – PI
  • NSA Welsh Government HEFCW – 2012 – Materials Live – £46,427 – PI
  • TIMET UK – 2007 – PhD studentship – £40,000 – PI
  • EPSRC/BTG – Escalation and Expansion of X-Ray Microtomography and its Application to the Field of Tephrochronology – 2013 – £18,000 – PI
  • EPSRC/BTG – 2013 – Research as Art – £12,261 – PI
  • Welsh Crucible – 2013 – Providing new model organisms for biomedical research: The tale of molluscs, mice and men – £10,000 – Co-I
  • Welsh Crucible – 2013 – Can providing 3D printing be used to enhance cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques?’ – £10,000 – Co-I
  • EPSRC/Bridging the Gaps – 2012 – Research as Art – £5000 – PI
  • EPSRC/BTG – 2014 – Research as Art – £5000 – PI
  • SIP HEFCW – 2014 – Science and Science Outreach – and knowledge transfer between (with Co-I Science Museum London) – £2500 – PI
  • SIP HEFCW – 2012 – Pathways for Public Engagement with University Research (With Co-I Royal Institution London) – £2500 – PI
  • HEA/HESTEM – 2012 – Materials Science Surgery – 2011 – £2130 – PI
  • SALT Swansea University Learning and Teaching Grant – 2011 – Materials Science Surgery – the transition from student to scientist – £2000 – PI
  • EPSRC/Bridging the Gaps – 2011 – Research as Art – £1900 – PI
  • EPSRC/Bridging the Gaps/SURF – 2010 – Research as Art – £1800 – PI
  • EPSRC/BTG – 2013 – MAM (Materials: Ancient & Modern) – £1740 – Co-I
  • EPSRC Student Vacation Bursary – 2012 – Investigation of the corrosive/erosive effects of macrophage on implant materials – £1200 – PI
  • EPSRC/BTG – 2013 – SURF Seminar series – £750 – Co-I