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Fate and transport of microplastics in partially saturated soils

School of Engineering

About the Project

Recent research indicates that microplastics are now ubiquitous in the environment: they have been found in lakes, rivers, and even groundwater. Not only may they themselves pose a health risk if consumed, there are concerns that microplastics can act as a vector and promote the spread of other harmful substances in the environment that may otherwise be immobile.

While microplastics in surface waters have received a lot of attention, relatively little is known about the processes that control their fate and transport in the subsurface. The aim of this project is to improve our understanding of the fate and transport of microplastics in both groundwater (in fully water-saturated regions of the subsurface) and in soils only partially saturated with water.

You will extend a protocol recently developed in the research group to create artificial soils with systematically varied surface textures (Ibekwe et al 2019). You will determine the spatial distribution of microplastics within the pore space of artificial soil columns using X-ray micro-computed tomography under a range of grain textures, residual air saturation, and microparticle concentration. You will simultaneously measure in situ contact angles in each water/air/soil system (e.g., Ibekwe et al 2020). Using your data as a guide, you will develop predictive models for microparticle retention as a function of grain roughness and residual saturation.

The successful candidate will interact with members of two Research Groups within the School: (a) Mechanics of Fluids, Soils and Structures Research Group and (b) the Petroleum & Natural Gas Engineering Research Group. Members of these Groups use different combinations of laboratory experiments, field measurements, numerical simulations, and theoretical analysis to study physical processes associated with a wide range of applications, including groundwater remediation, geological CO2 storage, and coastal erosion.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in relevant engineering or physical science discipline with an essential background in fluid mechanics.

Previous laboratory experience and familiarity with MATLAB are essential.

Experience in programming and data processing will be an advantage.

Good written and spoken communication skills are essential.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering
• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
• State ‘Self-funded’ as Intended Source of Funding
• State the exact project title on the application form

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

• All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)
• Detailed CV

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr Y Tanino (), with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ()

Funding Notes

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of environmental fluid mechanics.

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting View Website.



A Ibekwe, Y Tanino & D Pokrajac (2019) A low-cost, non-hazardous protocol for surface texturing of glass particles, Tribology Letters 67(4): 115.

A Ibekwe, D Pokrajac & Y Tanino (2020) Automated extraction of in situ contact angles from micro-computed tomography images of porous media, Computers & Geosciences 137: 104425

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