About the Project
Air pollution is the leading environmental risk factor for mortality in England. An equivalent to 32,000 deaths is estimated annually with emissions from transport combustion engines a particular cause for concern. The use of renewable fuels has been suggested to reduce the amount of some regulated air pollutant emissions, for example biofuel reduction in total particulate matter. However, there is growing uncertainty as to the levels of other components of exhaust material, for example toxic chemicals present on particulates. Despite the drive towards electrification of transport, combustion derived material will be present within our environment for some years to come, especially that arising from heavy goods transport on our roads, waterways, and industries. Indeed, there is a push within the fuel industry to replace fossil refinery sources with renewable at levels beyond the current use of biofuels, for example with fuels derived from waste biomass. With the potential introduction of such fuels to the transport network, it is critical that any health effects from their use be identified. This project will therefore examine how changing use of current and future renewable fuels will impact air pollutant production and resulting impacts on the lung. The project is a collaboration between UCL Mechanical Engineering and UKHSA Toxicology Department. It will use complementary and cross-disciplinary research approaches, facilities and expertise across institutions, including engine combustion and toxicology technologies, and will ultimately inform as to how renewable fuels may impact air pollution health effects and how they should be used in the future.
The PhD is a jointly supervised project between Dr Martin Leonard at UKHSA Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (RCE) and Dr Paul Hellier University College London (UCL). The student will be registered at UCL and initially based at the toxicology department, RCE on the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, where toxicological testing of engine pollutant material will be carried out. Techniques will include advanced in vitro models, exposure systems and molecular screening approaches (e.g. sequencing) to detect adverse lung health effects in conditions such as cancer, COPD and asthma. The student will also conduct engine tests with renewable fuels at UCL Mechanical Engineering (Bloomsbury Campus) to produce pollutant material; UCL has a long history of undertaking cutting edge research in fuels and internal combustion engines, working with multi-national companies in the fuels and automotive industries. The recently refurbished and bespoke laboratories of the vibrant Engines and Fuels research group (comprised of PhD and post-doctoral researchers) features six single and multi-cylinder research engines and comprehensive emissions analysis equipment, including a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC-MS) for speciation of fuel combustion and pollutant intermediates. In addition to project specific training with associate supervisors at UKHSA, the project will offer opportunities for the student to engage with those working on air pollution policy and implementing the increasing use of renewable fuels. This project presents a unique opportunity to combine both academic and public sector experiences in a project to tackle a major health issue.
The project is jointly funded by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), an executive agency of the UK Department of Health & Social Care and UCL Mechanical Engineering. It is open to UK students only. The funding covers the tuition fees and provides an annual stipend for three years (currently at £18,062 for 2022-2023, regardless of geographic location).
Person specification: We invite applications from self-motivated individuals who hold/or expect to gain a first or upper second class honours degree (or equivalent), or an MSci or Master’s degree, in an engineering or any life sciences discipline (e.g. Toxicology, Biochemistry, Biochemical Engineering, Pharmacology, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering). Candidates with a lower second-class degree supplemented by a Master’s qualification (in a relevant subject) may also be considered. The candidate should also have some relevant laboratory experience and a motivation to learn cross-disciplinary techniques.
Closing Date and Start Date: Position is open until filled, with an intended start date of 26th September 2022.
Application Procedure: Eligible applicants should contact either Dr Martin Leonard (Martin.Leonard@ukhsa.gov.uk) or Dr. Paul Hellier (email@example.com) for an informal discussion before applying. Please attach your current CV (with referees) and a transcript of your degree level exam results to your email.