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Clean Interior Air for Vehicle Cabins: Understanding and Controlling Fine Particulate Matter, Volatile Organic Compounds and Pathogens in the Context of the Future Shared Vehicle

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, March 25, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project Highlights

• Conducting exciting experimental research at the physical sciences / life sciences interface
• Collaborating with a world leading automotive manufacturer in a well-supported PhD with a competitive stipend
• Developing solutions for improving air quality in indoor environments


We spend on average up to 90% of our time indoors, and while there are many known sources of indoor air pollution [1], our understanding of precisely what we are exposed to in the indoor environment is poor. Exposures in the vehicle cabin environment are also poorly understood; some people spend a large fraction of their day in this environment or experience short duration but high concentration exposures. Existing evidence shows levels in the cabin can be higher than the roadside [2], but there are options for cleaning cabin air [3]. In addition to being influenced by air pollution from outside the vehicle, cabin air quality is also influenced by emissions from materials in the car, and also by the contributions of airborne pathogens from passengers.

Three cabin air constituents are of particular interest when considering the future of vehicles in the Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) vehicle approach:

1) fine particulate matter (particles 2.5 microns and smaller, PM2.5), due to its many know health impacts and many vehicle and roadway sources;
2) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), due to their abundance in materials found in automotive cabins and increasingly strict regulations of cabin concentrations;
3) pathogens such as bacteria that might be a concern for drivers and passengers of future shared vehicles.

This interdisciplinary PhD will combine a range of experimental techniques to evaluate baseline exposures to PM2.5 (including ultrafine fraction), VOCs and airborne bacteria, and test mitigation approaches that could be applied to reduce human exposures. Figure 1 shows a schematic of the research concept. Working in close collaboration with premier vehicle manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, the candidate will assess feasibility and benefit of different mitigation approaches to improve cabin air quality for future vehicles.


This PhD will consist of three work streams focusing on VOCs, fine particles and pathogens.

1. VOCs: Volatile organic compounds speciation will be performed using offline sorbent tube sampling of cabin air for analysis by 1D and 2D gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS and GCxGC-MS). This baseline will be used to calculate any well-understood health risks from exposure to those VOCs present. Likely sources of the key cabin VOCSs will be identified. Mitigation approaches will be tested experimentally and their effectiveness quantified.
2. PM2.5: Fine particulate matter (including the ultrafine fraction) will be evaluated in realistic cabin environments using advanced optical particle counters (OPCs) for the larger particles (>500nm) and other techniques such as scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS) for the smaller particles (<800nm). Well-understood health risks will be calculated based on exposures identified. Mitigation approaches for removal of small particles will be proposed and tested.
3. Pathogens: Bacteria and other pathogens present in typical cabin air samples will be cultured, categorised visually, and speciated using genome DNA sequencing techniques. A range of options for controlling pathogens in a shared automotive cabin environment will be evaluated experimentally.

Working with our industrial partner, it is anticipated that this PhD will lead to clear recommendations for improving cabin air quality for future vehicles.

Training and skills

You will benefit from working with an interdisciplinary supervisory team covering the areas of VOCs, fine particulate matter, pathogens and engineering who will support you in learning experimental and analytical techniques you may not currently be familiar with. Where needed, specialist training short courses will be provided to ensure you are equipped to conduct this ambitious interdisciplinary research. Additionally you will have access to training through the university’s doctoral college and a wide range of doctoral training programmes University of Leicester participates in.

Partners and collaboration

Jaguar Land Rover Research Team based in Coventry are the EPSRC I-CASE partner for this PhD, and will provide guidance to ensure that scientific evidence generated through this research can be applied effectively by the company in the future. A series of short secondments will be conducted throughout the PhD to provide you with exciting and highly relevant industrial experience.

The University of Leicester Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability will provide you with guidance on interpreting health impacts of indoor exposures and a strong linkage to its cohort of interdisciplinary PhD students.

Entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

How to apply

When applying, please ensure we have received all of the following required documents by the application closing date :
• Application form
• 2 academic references
• CV
• Undergraduate transcripts
o If you have completed your undergraduate degree, we will also require your undergraduate degree certificate
o If you have completed a postgraduate degree, we will also require your transcripts and degree certificate

If we do not have the required documents by the closing date, your application may not be considered for the studentship.

Eligibility: UK/EU students who meet the EPSRC residency requirements

Funding Notes

This project is eligible for a fully funded EPSRC iCASE studentship which includes:

• A full UK/EU fee waiver
• An annual tax free stipend of £15009 (2019/20)
• An annual stipend top up of £3000
• Research Training Support Grant (RTSG)
• Conference Fees & UK Fieldwork

The duration of the studentship is 4 years.

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