Karen Johnston, MSci, PhD, MInstP, FHEA


  • United Kingdom

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Personal profile

Academic / Professional qualifications

Member of the Institute of Physics

Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Personal Statement

My research focuses on (but is not limited to) soft-hard matter interfaces, including polymer composites and heterogeneous nucleation. I use multiscale simulations to provide insight into material properties and I enjoy collaborating closely with experimentalists. I am driven by curiosity and I am interested in a variety of systems, such as phase behaviour of soy milk coffee mixtures. For more information please visit my personal webpage:


Teaching Interests

My teaching philosophy is to provide the best learning environment by challenging students through providing questions related to everyday exampes, that develop student's understanding and problem solving skills.

I am the course organiser and lecturer for CP102 Introduction to Chemical Engineering: Fundamentals, Techniques and Tools, and I supervise CP407 design projects, 18350 MEng projects, and Distance Learning MSc projects.


Research Interests

Polymer composites are widely used in industry due to their strength, flexibility and light weight. Although generic properties of polymers at surfaces are well understood the interaction between a particular polymer and filler particle is not. The main challenge in simulating polymer-solid interfaces is the different length and time scales involved. This research bridges the gap between the micro- and mesoscale properties using a hierarchical multiscale approach. Density functional theory (DFT) calculations are used to obtain the detailed quantum interactions at the interface and this information is used to build surface potentials for atomistic and coarse-grained (CG) molecular dynamics simulations.


Expertise & Capabilities

  • Density functional theory (DFT): electronic structure, adsorption and surface energies, vibrational frequencies etc.
  • Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations: structure and dynamics of thin films, liquids, solutions, solids etc. 

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast

Master in Science, Queen's University Belfast


  • Density functional theory; molecular dynamics
  • Polymers
  • Classical molecular dynamics simulations
  • Multiscale modelling
  • Interfaces
  • Surfaces
  • Adsorption
  • Ferroelectrics

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics where Karen Johnston is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

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Network Recent external collaboration on country level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots.

Projects 2014 2023

Research Output 2002 2019

A density functional theory study of poly(vinylidene difluoride) crystalline phases

Pelizza, F. & Johnston, K., 28 Sep 2019, In : Polymer. 179, 6 p., 121585.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Density functional theory
Crystal structure
Crystalline materials
12 Downloads (Pure)

Conundrum of γ glycine nucleation revisited: to stir or not to stir?

Vesga, M. J., McKechnie, D., Mulheran, P. A., Johnston, K. & Sefcik, J., 7 Apr 2019, In : CrystEngComm. 13, p. 2234-2243 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Amino acids


Computational modelling of the effect of surfaces on polyvinyldenedifluoride

Author: Pelizza, F., 1 Oct 2017

Supervisor: Johnston, K. (Supervisor) & Lue, L. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Modelling the distribution of mercury in oil and gas processing facilities

Author: Khalifa, M. A. M., 1 Oct 2017

Supervisor: Lue, L. (Supervisor) & Johnston, K. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Strathclyde Team Award

Karen Johnston (Recipient), 2019

Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

Activities 2013 2020

Leading Research Programme

Karen Johnston (Participant)
Jan 2020Mar 2020

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

Explorathon 2019

Karen Johnston (Participant)
27 Sep 2019

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course