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The management of marine plastics

Project Description

Plastics pollution in our oceans is a wicked problem. Our current plastics economy continues to deliver large and increasing volumes of plastics waste into our environment, and the current exponential growth in global plastics production and consumption has been matched by a corresponding exponential increase in leakage of these plastics into our environment, with plastic pollution now being ubiquitous worldwide. While efforts are now underway to develop efficient and effective recycling systems to recapture and reuse the bulk of our petroleum derived plastics, ultimately we need to understand the drivers for our existing systems and identify the key intervention points where we can make a substantial difference to the system leakage into our marine environment most cost-effectively.

An opportunity exists for an outstanding PhD candidate to work on an innovative project that explores strategies for addressing this issue. This project will form part of a family of projects that seek to build a systematic framework for addressing the challenges of the new plastics economy, particularly plastic materials design, use and end-of-life management. The successful student would be part of a vibrant research group focusing on sustainability challenges.

This project will begin to address that challenge by undertaking a systems approach to framing of the challenge, before identifying key issues to be addressed, whether that be through novel materials design, strategies for waste conversion and/or repurposing, undertaking lifetime and/or impact assessment, partnering with local communities to evaluate strategic local solutions, or other approaches identified through the early analysis.

We are offering an opportunity for an excellent PhD candidate to work with Professor Paul Lant, Associate Professor Steven Pratt and Asociate Professor Bronwyn Laycock on this innovative project that will explore strategies for tackling marine plastics pollution.

As a team, we bring together a unique combination of skills in advanced polymer chemistry and materials design, polymer lifetime and impact assessment, environmental risk assessment, systems thinking and sustainability planning – skills that would enable you to deliver a unique take on this complex issue. We have a strong history of working very effectively together, as supervisors and researchers, and have won several awards for supervision and undertaken significant PhD student development activities. We would provide a challenging but impactful PhD experience. For example, depending on their interests and project targets, our students have undertaken industry placements in advanced materials design, sat on expert panels advising Government on policy, run Australia-wide surveys on attitudes to plastic, and developed fundamental models of plastics degradation and environmental impact – if it makes sense for the project, we can usually make it happen.

Expressions of Interest are invited from outstanding and enthusiastic graduates with a First-Class Honours, or equivalent qualifications through a relevant Masters degree. Candidates will have a background in chemical engineering or chemistry with a preference for some background in polymer science. Experience in modelling is not necessary but strong mathematical capabilities are desirable.
Candidates must bring a passion for global sustainability. In addition, we seek candidates who are comfortable with ambiguity, at least in the early stages as they work through the complexities of this challenging, wicked issue.

Applicants must also fulfill the PhD admission criteria for the University of Queensland, including English language requirements, and demonstrate excellent capacity and potential for research. Demonstration of research ability through publication output in peer reviewed international journals is desirable.

For further information on the Basis of Admission to a UQ research higher degree, please visit Successful applicants must accept and commence within 6 months of receiving an award.

Here at UQ we value diversity and inclusion, and we actively encourage applications from those who bring diversity to the University. Our Diversity and Inclusion webpage contains further information and points of contact if you require additional support. Accessibility requirements and/or adjustments can be directed to .

To discuss this role please contact Professor Paul Lant, at , Associate Professor Steven Pratt at , or Associate Professor Bronwyn Laycock at

Funding Notes

Prospective students will be provided with assistance to apply for a competitive UQ scholarship, or a domestic equivalent scholarship, for stipend and tuition support: View Website. The duration of the candidacy is 3 years with 2 possible extensions each for up to 6 months (PPL 4.80.01 UQ Research Scholarships).

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