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Fibrous minerals in the environment – occurrence, longevity and risk to human health.


Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2020.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Science and Health, and will be supervised by Dr Bullen, Dr Gibson and Dr Fowler.

The work on this project will involve:
● State-of-the-art analytical techniques including X-ray diffraction, SEM with energy dispersive X-ray analysis and electron back-scatter diffraction
● Careful cross-calibration of the data with near infrared spectra from mineral fibres
● Fieldwork to contextualize the analytical data
● Definition of the 3D distribution of this zeolite within the lava stratigraphy
● Investigation of fibre decay using an environment chamber to simulate natural weathering processes

This project offers an opportunity to undertake careful analytical science with state-of-the-art instrumentation and use the results to have a positive impact on human safety. Health problems related to mineral asbestos fibres are very well known, such that appropriate legislation and occupational health guidance are now in place to minimise the otherwise catastrophic consequences. Erionite, a fibrous member of the zeolite group of minerals, is many times more carcinogenic than the most potent asbestos minerals. Fibrous zeolites are most likely to occur in volcanic tuffs and basalts, where they crystallize in vugs and amygdales as a result of water-rock interactions. Erionite distribution has been investigated elsewhere, for example in Italy and in Dakota (USA), but despite its recorded presence in the UK (principally British Tertiary volcanic rocks of Antrim and western Scotland), its abundance and distribution are effectively unknown.

The PhD will build on the results of a pilot study by the supervisors, and will contribute to the development of a method for confident, rapid, field-based identification of erionite and related fibrous zeolites, using NIR spectrometry. A substantial sample set is already available for study, as a result of field work by the UoP group and staff from the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI), with whom we are co-operating closely.

The overall aim of the project is to constrain the formation, distribution and fate of fibrous zeolites in the terrestrial environment. Building on the pilot study, it will require the following objectives to be met:
1. Refinement of a method for confident, rapid, field-based identification of erionite and related fibrous zeolites, using NIR spectrometry.
2. Construction of a geo-environmental conceptual model of erionite distribution in the plateau lavas of the BTVP.
3. Constraint of its environmental persistence once released by quarrying or natural weathering, by observational and experimental methods.

General admissions criteria
You’ll need an upper second class honours degree from an internationally recognised university or a Master’s degree in geology, environmental science or a closely related discipline. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements
You should have good laboratory skills, although training will be given in sample preparation and instrumental analysis.

How to Apply
We’d encourage you to contact Dr Bullen () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SEGG4861020 when applying.

Funding Notes

The bursary is available to UK and EU students only and covers tuition fees and an annual maintenance grant of £15,009 (UKRI 2019/20 rate) for three years. Bursary recipients will also receive up to £1,500 per year for research project costs, as well as office space and computing facilities.

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