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Developing X-ray spectroscopy techniques to investigate uranium biogeochemistry in contaminated land and nuclear decommissioning systems

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Prof S Shaw, Dr Thomas Neill, Prof K Morris, Dr M Baker  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Understanding the biogeochemistry of uranium (U) during exposure to key environmental processes is essential for predicting the fate and mobility of U in natural and engineered environments. Uranium is the major radionuclide by mass in many radioactive wastes. This means that a fundamental understanding of uranium behaviour is necessary for the safe decommissioning of nuclear sites, contaminated land treatment, as well as the long-term disposal of radioactive waste in an underground facility. This PhD project focuses on the development and use of state-of-the-art synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopy to understand the environmental behaviour of uranium. The chemical form of uranium undergoes changes during key biogeochemical processes that occur in the environment, including changes in pH, redox and groundwater composition. Understanding these processes is essential for predicting the environmental mobility of uranium.

Uranium M edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy, in particular uranium M4, M5 edge high energy-resolution fluorescence detected X-ray absorption near edge structure (HERFD-XANES) has great potential for characterising the chemical form of U, which in turn controls the environmental behaviour of this radioactive element. This project aims to investigate the use of HERFD-XANES and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS) for identifying changes in uranium oxidation state and chemical form in environmentally relevant scenarios. This will be done using facilities at Diamond Light Source. Alongside this will be more traditional laboratory-based experiments and characterisation using the University of Manchester’s brand-new Radioactive waste Disposal and Environmental Remediation (RADER) laboratories (

This project will be co-supervised by beamline scientists at Diamond Light Source and researchers at the University of Manchester. The successful applicant will be anticipated to spend equal amounts of time at Diamond and Manchester during the project, with the possibility for work at external facilities and travel to international conferences. This PhD project will be based in the highly successful nuclear environment and waste group within the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester. The successful candidate will join a group of 20+ PhD and postdoctoral researchers focussed on issues in the nuclear environmental sciences. The student would be trained extensively in the handling of radionuclides including U and possibly Np. Additionally, the student will become familiar with a wide range of experimental and analytical techniques including those associated with advanced X-ray spectroscopies.

This project is experimental in scope and the successful candidate should have a strong background in the Chemical, Environmental or Geological Sciences (BSc / Masters in Chemistry, Environmental Science/Chemistry, Geochemistry/Geology or similar).

For application questions please email Sam Shaw ([Email Address Removed]) or Tom Neill ([Email Address Removed])

To make an application please visit -

Please search and select Environmental Science (academic programme) and  PhD Environmental Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology(academic plan)

Funding Notes

4 year PhD fund jointly between UoM and Diamond Light Source covers standard fee's and stipend.


• Roberts et al. Uranium(V) Incorporation Mechanisms and Stability in Fe(II)/Fe(III) (oxyhydr)oxides. Environmental Science & Technology Letters 2017 4, 10, 421–426
• Stagg, et. al. Fe(II) Induced Reduction of Incorporated U(VI) to U(V) in Goethite. Environmental Science & Technology 2021 55, 24, 16445–16454
• Fuller et al. Organic complexation of U (VI) in reducing soils at a natural analogue site: Implications for uranium transport. Chemosphere 2020 254, 1268592
• Townsend et. al. Formation of a U (VI)–persulfide complex during environmentally relevant sulfidation of iron (oxyhydr) oxides. Environmental science & technology 2019 54, 1, 129-136

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