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Advancing into a new age of monitoring aquatic pollution: Novel methods and citizen science

   Department of Environment and Geography

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  Dr John Wilkinson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Chemical contaminants in surface water (e.g., pharmaceuticals, metals, pesticides) can affect the biology of organisms via interaction with highly conserved molecular receptors. However, despite >20 years of research, we still significantly lack the data needed to understand their environmental distribution. The development of a simple, citizen-led methodology to collect samples for analysis at a centralised lab could offer a real-world solution to this challenge. Therefore, this project aims to streamline sample collection methodologies and develop novel analytical techniques (e.g., chemical sensors) with which citizen scientists can begin to generate large datasets on aquatic chemical pollution across the UK.

Citizen science has never been used to monitor trace-level chemical pollution in water. The project will provide expertise in cutting-edge techniques in analytical chemistry, chemical sensors, citizen science as well as in silico environmental data interpretation creating a path towards upscaling and democratising the study of aquatic pollution. Such multimodal approaches present a significant advancement to environmental science.

The successful candidate will be supervised by a leading team of scientists across the University of York, Lancaster University and our partner institution, the Rivers Trust. Based in the Environment and Geography Department (University of York) they will have access to the Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry to develop analytical and environmental chemistry techniques as well as facilities in the School of Engineering at Lancaster University to manufacture and calibrate novel chemical sensors. Working with citizen science experts at the York Centre of the global think tank The Stockholm Environment Institute and the Rivers Trust, these tools and techniques will be developed into a unique, simple, and approachable citizen science programme to generate large datasets on aquatic pollution in UK rivers. This project therefore offers the exciting opportunity to create a novel path forward in the way with which both we as scientists and citizens understand our impact on the aquatic environment around us.

Supervisor: Dr John Wilkinson

Partner Organisation: Rivers Trust


This project is one of 21 projects being advertised by the NERC-funded ECORISC (Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use) Centre for Doctoral Training programme. Funding will be provided for 3 years and 10 months. During this time you will work on your research project but will also receive unique and outstanding training in pollution science and transferable skills.

Over the first two years of the PhD programme, you will receive subject-specific training, in: i) ecotoxicology; ii) environmental chemistry; iii) ecology; and iv) risk assessment; and v) core skills required for an environmental specialist. The formal training programme will be complemented by yearly residential challenge events and tailored specialist skills training conducted as group and individual exercises. ECORISC students will also be required to undertake two workplace experiences based with our business, policy and regulation, third sector and research organisation partners.

An inclusive CDT programme

Inclusivity is at the heart of the ECORISC programme. We strongly encourage applications from under-represented groups and are employing a number of mechanisms, such as the possibility of part-time working, to ensure the programme is open to all. We will ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process. If you have any questions, then please don’t hesitate to contact us at ecorisc [Email Address Removed]. 

Eligibility and Application process

The studentships are open to highly motivated UK and international/EU applicants with at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Successful applicants will be passionate about environmental pollution science and want their science to make a difference.

To be considered for this and other PhD’s offered under the ECORISC CDT, you should initially complete a short online application form available on the ECORISC PhD Studentships web page. Applications should be submitted before 17:00 (British Summer Time) on Friday 9th December 2022.

You will be notified of the outcome of the process by 17:00 Thursday 22nd December 2022. Successful applicants will be provided with an opportunity to meet with supervisory teams and then be invited to submit a project-specific application form which will be used to shortlist candidates for an interview.

ECORISC open afternoon 

We are running an online ‘open afternoon’ for you to learn more about the CDT and to ask questions on the programme or the application process. This event will run from 14:00-16:00 GMT on Wednesday 16th November 2022 and booking details can be found on the ECORISC website.

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