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Disentangling the direct and indirect effects of bioplastics on freshwater communities

School of Biological & Chemical Sciences

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Dr John Iwan Jones , Dr Pavel Kratina No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Research Environment
Queen Mary University of London is one of the UK’s leading research-focused higher education institutions, a member of the elite Russell Group of UK universities, and ranked joint 9th in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. Queen Mary has a strong tradition of materials-based research which continues to grow successfully with multidisciplinary collaborative research programs, underpinned by centres of excellence such as the Materials Research Institute ( The Chemistry Department is part of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, within the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and it is housed in a modern building, equipped with state-of-the art analytical facilities.

This PhD position is one of four parts of a mini Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) funded by Queen Mary. BIOdegradable Plastics as emerging Environmental Pollutants (BioPEP) is a multidisciplinary consortium of 6 Queen Mary academics from three schools (SBCS, SEMS and Geography) partnered with 7 non-academic teams and 1 European team, that aims to evaluate the potential environmental impact of biodegradable plastics.
Training and Development
This is a truly interdisciplinary CDT, where material chemists will test bioplastic materials and provide them to molecular biologists to study their degradation. The impacts of these differentially degraded bioplastics will then be tested on abiotic river habitats by geographers, and the effect on aquatic communities characterised by ecologists and microbiologists. Each student will have three supervisors, including a senior and a junior academic from different but related fields and one industrial partner, who will ensure the industrial impact of the PhD project. Each student will spend at least two months seconded at a partner industry, which will provide practical skills and an essential network of contacts for future employability.
Project Details
This PhD project will combine field surveys and mesocosm experiments to determine the flow of bioplastics through different food web compartments, the toxicity and the damage that different types of bioplastics exert on the key freshwater functional groups. Replicated freshwater communities, composed of multiple trophic levels, will be exposed to different types of polymers and to bioplastics from different stages of the degradation process. The main aim is to disentangle the direct (toxicity effects) from the indirect effects of bioplastics on invertebrate and fish predators. This research will combine the approaches from stable isotopes, fluorometry, spectrometry, linking the findings to the healthy ecosystem functioning.
Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in Ecology or Environmental Sciences. Candidates currently studying or holding a Masters degree will be given priority in the selection process. A strong interest in aquatic ecology is essential, solid quantitative and modelling skills are an asset. Desire to work across disciplines is also a priority.

Applicants from outside of the UK are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details:

The School of Biological and Chemical Sciences is committed to promoting diversity in science; we have been awarded an Athena Swan Bronze Award. We positively welcome applications from underrepresented groups.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to UK/EU applicants and is funded by Queen Mary University of London. It will cover tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at the Research Council rate (£17,009 in 2019/20).
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