Dr Briony Thomas

Dr Briony Thomas

Profile

I have a joint appointment between the School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Design. My cross-Faculty role reflects where my work is positioned — at the intersection of art, science and technology, and society.

Over the past 15+ years, I have developed a transdisciplinary approach to research and education, leading collaborative and creativity-driven initiatives with schools and communities. Many of these projects have focused on arts-led approaches to science and mathematics education. I am passionate about creativity, diversity and inclusion, and the transformative power of education. Alongside my university role, I am Chair of Leeds Cultural Education Partnership (LeedsCEP), where I champion creative and cultural opportunities for all children and young people in the city.

I joined the University in 2004, initially within the School of Design (2004-2014) and have undertaken a range of roles during my time at the Leeds. I was seconded to the School of Mechanical Engineering (2015-2018) to lead the establishment of cross-disciplinary initiatives in shape-based design and manufacture, which led to my joint role between the departments (2019-present). I am a practising designer-maker, regularly exhibiting work internationally, and have received research funding from a range of sources including the Medical Research Council, EU, British Council, and charitable foundations.

Responsibilities

  • Chair, Leeds Cultural Education Partnership (LeedsCEP)
  • Deputy Director, Institute of Design, Robotics and Optimisation (iDRO)

Research interests

My research is positioned at the intersection of art, science, and society. I take a transdisciplinary approach, collaborating with different disciplines, practitioners, and communities.

My primary areas of research are summarised below:

Design geometry (shape and form, from 2D to 3D) – My research in design shape and form developed from my studies in the geometry of textile patterns, which has its roots in crystallographic theory. Projects have involved tiling theory, paper-folding, and exploration of geometric form, in collaboration with colleagues in mathematics, virology and robotics.

Cultural artefacts and product innovation – This research developed from a geometrical approach to analysing cultural patterns and uses visual methods to explore design within cultural contexts. Recent projects have focused on the adaptation of cultural art, such as Chinese papercutting, in modern product design, and the expressive properties of design elements in the visual communication strategies.

STEAM education – This research takes a transdisciplinary approach to learning through collaborative and creativity-driven initiatives with schools and communities. Recent projects have focused on co-creating learning resources with communities and designing digital and physical models for hands-on science education. I regularly deliver school and community workshops in collaboration with colleagues in mathematics, biology, and materials science.

I welcome PhD applications in the areas outlined above. Please email me directly with any enquiries. 

Selected publicly funded arts-science research projects:

  • d.LAB. A science-inspired digital dance collaboration with Kenneth Tindall. Supported by Northern Ballet, the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute and the Cultural Institute, with funding from the UKRI Higher Education Innovation Fund (2020-2021).

  • Keepin’ it Real. Building community trust through arts and science engagement. Supported by the Medical Research Council; University of Leeds, School of Mechanical Engineering and School of Education; ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (2020-2021).

  • Fab Lab La Campana. Design and implementation of a FabLab in a marginalised district in Monterrey, Mexico. Supported by the British Council (2019).

  • SeeingNano. Novel visualisation tools for nanotechnology awareness. Supported by EU Horizon 2020 (2014-2016).

  • The Art of Measure. Exploring geometry in virus form and function. Supported by the University of York; Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (Wellcome Trust); Holbeck Charitable Trust (2014-2015).

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://eps.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Qualifications

  • BA (Hons) Textile Design
  • MA Design (Design Theory)
  • PhD Design Science

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • Member of the Design Society

Student education

I lead STEAM education initiatives (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) between Engineering, Biological Sciences and Arts, focusing on activities that benefit all levels of education from primary school to higher education.

My undergraduate teaching focuses on the areas of creativity and professional practice. I supervise undergraduate and postgraduate design projects and dissertations in subject areas related to my research. I also act as a supervisor on the School of Mechanical Engineering’s internships programme (Leeds) and previously on the YCCSA interdisciplinary summer school (University of York), with colleagues from mathematics, chemistry, education, and biological sciences.

I have received several awards for my teaching, leadership, and academic service in the University. In 2012, I received a University Student Education Fellowship, in recognition of the impact of my work on different educational sectors. I received Faculty of Engineering Partnership awards in 2019 for my contributions to equality and inclusion, and in 2020, as a supervisor for guiding and inspired others to push the boundaries of their research. In 2020, I was awarded a University Engagement Excellence Fellowship for public engagement.

Research groups and institutes

  • Institute of Design, Robotics and Optimisation
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>