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Developing new laser-based instruments to characterise optical properties of aerosol particles from road traffic

Project Description

Road traffic remains among the most significant sources of particulate matter (PM) pollution in the UK. With the decline in tailpipe emissions, non-exhaust sources – including resuspended road dust and tyre and brake friction – of PM are becoming increasingly important. Non-exhaust PM are now thought to dominate over exhaust sources. Factors that influence non-exhaust emissions are poorly understood, making it difficult to develop solutions for PM reductions and predict future changes as electric and hybrid vehicles become more popular. In addition, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the physical characteristics of these particles that determine climate and public health effects.

This project will focus on developing innovative laser-based instruments to more accurately characterise aerosol particle properties, specifically focusing on improving accuracy in measurements of non-spherical particles. This project will leverage novel laser-based imaging techniques to produce vital new data sets on traffic-related PM emissions. The PhD candidate will develop instruments to measure physical properties of particles (e.g. size, shape) in the field based on the angular distribution of scattered light (commonly referred to as the scattering phase function). These data sets will reduce uncertainty in the effects of traffic emissions on cardiopulmonary health, tropospheric chemistry, and radiative forcing. In addition to improving ground-based measurement capabilities, this research project will also enable improved validation of remote sensing measurements.

The project will involve an initial instrument development phase in the laboratory including work with optics, lasers, and software for experimental design and instrument control. The student will also be involved in field measurements in the UK, with the potential for further fieldwork abroad. Experimental work will be supplemented with the implementation of mathematical simulations independently and in collaboration with modellers. Training will be provided; no prior experience in programming or laser use is required.

1. Develop novel laser-based instrumentation to characterise aerosol particle size and shape in situ;
2. Deploy instrument to roadside air quality monitoring site to measure traffic emissions;
3. Compare measured light scattering with algorithms implemented in models and remote sensing retrievals;
4. Investigate the role of vehicle type and atmospheric processes on traffic particle characteristics.

More details of the project can be found on the NERC PANORAMA DTP web page (

You will be based at the Department of Chemistry at the University of York.

The Leeds-York Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) PANORAMA Doctoral Training partnership (DTP) has a comprehensive programme of researcher training covering subject-specific and generic skills. Students will obtain some training and understanding of the full range of training topics. All new students are required to make a training plan when they start their PhD. Training courses are split into ‘nodes’ covering different aspects of your PhD, much of the training in transferable skills will be provided centrally by the Staff and Departmental Development Unit (SDDU) at Leeds and Skills Forge at York. Inductions and training on specific lab instruments and techniques will be provided by individual labs/departments as required.

You will be based in the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, a world-leading group of approximately 60 researchers from the University of York and National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) with expertise in a wide range of atmospheric chemistry specialties including both experimental and modelling research. WACL has state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and provides access to data management and computing infrastructure. You will also have opportunities to present research at national and international conferences, and can take part in a variety of outreach and public engagement activities. In addition to general training, you will have training from researchers at WACL for skills directly linked to the project. These are likely to include: R/Python, Matlab, LabVIEW, laser-based measurement techniques, and electron microscopy.

You will have a First or 2:1 degree in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, or a related field, be enthusiastic about hands-on lab work, and show interest in environmental and/or public health issues. This project involves both chemistry and physics concepts, and you will receive comprehensive training in all required mathematical and experimental techniques.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel: This PhD project is available to study full-time or part-time (50%).

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2020. Induction activities will start on 28 September.

Funding Notes

Value: The studentships are fully funded by NERC for 3.5 years and cover: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 for 2019-2020, to be confirmed for 2020-2021 but typically increases annually in line with inflation), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.
Eligibility: Unless stated otherwise, fully funded studentships (stipend + fees) are offered to both UK and EU applicants.


Candidate selection process:
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the university of Leeds by Monday 6 January 2020
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone, web-chat or in person
• Supervisors rank the candidates for the assessment panel
• The assessment panel will shortlist candidates for interview from all those nominated
• Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview at the University of Leeds on the week commencing 24 February 2020
• The Leeds PANORAMA DTP awarding committee will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email
• Successful candidates will then need to submit a formal PhD application to the University of York

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 47.06

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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