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Microplastics from mulch films: how much and where do they go?


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Dr S Lofts , Prof A Boxall , Dr Karen Thorpe , Dr Sam Harrison No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Farmers use mulch films in growing many crop types because they can provide many agricultural benefits such as suppressing weeds and conserving water. However, there are concerns that the films can break down over time and introduce microplastic particles into the soil. There is evidence that a buildup of these microplastics can have negative effects on the soil structure and the activity of soil microbes, with potentially negative effects on agricultural production over time. Our knowledge of how quickly microplastics can build up in soils, and what the effects of this buildup might be, remains rather limited. In this project, you will make a significant contribution to tackling this, by identifying important gaps in knowledge and designing and carrying out experimental work to address them. You will then integrate the new knowledge gained into a model of microplastic generation, movement and degradation in soils, and apply this model to different types of plastic and management scenarios, to develop knowledge of how different agricultural practices influence plastic buildup over time.

This is an exciting opportunity for an applicant with a strong interest in experimental and modelling work on environmental contamination. You will gain knowledge of how to design, carry out and interpret the results of experimental work, how to integrate the results into a model, and how to use this model for different scenarios of plastic mulch film use. You will also have the opportunity to learn and apply cutting edge experimental techniques such as micro-Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (µFTIR) and nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA). You will develop an awareness of the scientific and policy implications of your findings and gain experience of disseminating your findings as widely as possible.

You will be based at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) in Lancaster, and registered at the University of York. You will be supervised by Dr. Stephen Lofts (UKCEH), Prof. Alistair Boxall (University of York), Dr. Karen Thorpe (Fera Science Limited) and Dr. Sam Harrison (UKCEH), a team of internally-recognised experts in environmental contamination science, including environmental modelling and policy. While conducting the majority of your research at UKCEH, there will be ample opportunity for interaction with all your supervisors throughout the degree.

If you would like to apply for this studentship, you must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 2.1 degree or higher in a physical or chemical science, have strong numerical and experimental skills, and a keen interest in researching environmental contamination issues. If you have a 2.2 degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. Substantial relevant postgraduate experience may also be sufficient, please contact the supervisors for more information. To apply please send your CV and a covering letter stating your suitability for the project to the lead supervisor, Dr. Stephen Lofts ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of proposed topics that are in competition for funding from the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership ( Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3.5 years. The funding includes tax-free annual UKRI stipend, UK tuition fees and Research support and training charges (RSTC). International candidates (including EU) will be considered however they will need to have adequate funds to meet the difference between UK and international tuition fees.

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