Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
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Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
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Developing new methods for counting and identifying microplastics in environmental samples (MAYESAU19SF)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A G Mayes
    Dr G Malin
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

As people become ever more aware of the enormous global problem of plastic litter, there has been a corresponding rapid increase in concern about microplastics accumulating in the environment. Our world is by now full of microplastics; they are almost unavoidable in daily life.  Currently, however, our knowledge about their levels, transport, behaviour and interactions with organisms is still very poorly understood, so it is extremely difficult to make predictions about hazards and risks they may pose as levels increase in the environment.  One of the key limitations to current research is the lack of effective methods to visualise and count microplastics, since they are difficult to extract and often look very much like other materials.  The best current methods use expensive, complex and extremely slow infra-red or Raman spectroscopy.  This severely limits sample numbers and speed of analysis.  Recently, the Mayes Group published an alternative strategy, based on fluorescent tagging of plastic particles with Nile Red1.  This has many important advantages compared with traditional methods, but it also has some problems and drawbacks.  In particular, while it is good for COUNTING microplastics, it does not give reliable information on TYPE of plastic.   
In this PhD project, we will explore novel alternative approaches to microplastic detection that might give rapid, cost-effective and accurate analytical data.  It would suit a chemist, environmental scientist or similar, with energy, enthusiasm and an interest in developing new instrumental methods that can contribute to an emerging topic of huge international importance. Knowledge and experience of imaging, digital image analysis, spectroscopy, materials characterisation or other similar skills, while not essential, would be very valuable.  

Applications are processed as soon as they are received and the project may be filled before the closing date, so early application is encouraged.

Project Start Date: Oct 2019
Mode of Study: Full-time
Acceptable First Degree: Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, Materials Science (possibly some engineering backgrounds) 
Minimum Entry Requirements: UK 2:1

Funding Notes

This PhD project is offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with funding or those applying to funding sources.  Details of tuition fees can be found at  
A bench fee is also payable on top of the tuition fee to cover specialist equipment or laboratory costs required for the research.  The amount charged annually will vary considerably depending on the nature of the project and applicants should contact the primary supervisor for further information about the fee associated with the project.


i)  T Maes, R Jessop, N Wellner, K Haupt, AG Mayes. 
A rapid-screening approach to detect and quantify microplastics based on fluorescent tagging with Nile Red. 
Scientific Reports 7 (2017) 44501. 

ii) Silva, Ana B.; Bastos, Ana S.; Justino, Celine I. L.; et al.  
 Microplastics in the environment: Challenges in analytical chemistry –A review 
 ANALYTICA CHIMICA ACTA (2018) 1017  1-19  
Data from the 2017 edition of Journal Citation Reports  

iii) G Renner, T.C. Schmidt, J. Schram 
Analytical methodologies for monitoring micro(nano)plastics:  Which are fit for purpose? 
Current Opinion in Environmental Science and Health (2018) 1:  55-61 
iv) Sources, fate and effects of microplastics in the marine environment: a global assessment” 
(Kershaw, P. J., ed.). (2015)  (IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/UNIDO/WMO/IAEA/UN/UNEP/UNDP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection). Rep. Stud. GESAMP No. 90, 96 p 

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