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The Role of Multiple Stressors on the Degradation and Fragmentation of Plastic Pollution into Micro- and Nanoscale Plastic and its Biological Uptake in the Terrestrial Environment


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  Dr Gloria Pereira, Dr R Platel, Dr Richard Cross, Mr James Lymer, Dr Suzane Qassim  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Lancaster United Kingdom Ecology Ecotoxicology Environmental Chemistry Zoology

About the Project

PhD opportunity based at the UK Centre for Ecology Lancaster and Wallingford with degree award from Lancaster University

The fragmentation and generation of secondary micro- and nanoplastics in the environment introduces complexity to the assessment of risk of plastic pollution. Robust quantification and characterisation of these secondary microplastics is required for effective risk assessment and management of plastics accumulation in the environment. This requires novel methods and combinations of state-of-the-art analytical techniques. Bespoke, bio-based polymers allow for tuning the biodegradation of these plastics, which must be assessed and understood in terms of their fragmentation into ever smaller plastic particles, or their ultimate breakdown into constituent monomers. Not only must the fate of the plastic particles be traced as they degrade and fragment, but also how the uptake and availability of these particles to biota changes as these secondary microplastics evolve over time.  The project will develop and optimise methods to extract micro- and nanoplastics from complex terrestrial environmental and biological samples, to allow hypotheses concerning fragmentation rates and biological uptake to be tested.

The student will be primarily based at UKCEH Lancaster site under the lead supervision of Dr. M. Glória dos Santos Pereira, a leading analytical chemist, head of Centralised Chemistry UKCEH. The student will be co-supervised by Dr Richard Cross, an Ecotoxicologist and expert in the detection of microplastics in complex environmental matrices based at UKCEH Wallingford site; Dr Rachel Platel, polymer chemist in the Department of Chemistry, Lancaster University, whose work focuses on the design of biocompatible and biodegradable plastics, whilst stakeholder supervisors are Dr Suzane Michelle, Natural England and James Lymer, Environment Agency. This supervisory team is multi-disciplinary, bringing together leading analytical chemists, polymer scientists, ecotoxicologists, and Natural England and the Environment Agency, to address this cross-cutting, highly topical issue. 

The student will develop expertise in analytical chemistry for the detection and characterisation of plastics, polymer synthesis and ecotoxicology. They will develop skills in the design of biological exposures and an understanding of the regulatory context of environmental exposure, hazard and risk assessment for plastic pollution.



This project is one of 22 projects being advertised by the NERC-funded ECORISC (Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use) Centre for Doctoral Training programme. More information on the CDT can be found at: https://www.york.ac.uk/environment/postgraduate/ecorisc/. Funding will be provided for 3 years and 10 months.

Over the first two years of their PhD programme, you will receive training in ecotoxicology; environmental chemistry, ecology; and risk assessment. Successful completion of this training will result in the award of phase 1 of the Certified Environmental Risk Assessor qualification from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The formal training programme will be complemented by residential events, an ECORISC annual conferences and skills training. You will also be asked to undertake two workplace experiences with our business, policy and regulation, third sector, and research partners.

An inclusive CDT programme

Inclusivity is at the heart of the ECORISC programme. We strongly encourage applications from under-represented groups and are employing a number of mechanisms, such as the possibility of part-time working, to ensure the programme is open to all. Any questions please contact us at [Email Address Removed].

Eligibility and Application process

The studentships are open to highly motivated UK and international/EU applicants with at least an upper second class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

To be considered for this and other ECORISC PhDs, you should initially complete an online application at: https://cardiff.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/ecorisc-cdt-student-application-202122-2. Applications should be submitted before 17:00 GMT on Monday 3rd January 2022. You will be notified of the outcome of your initial application by Monday 17th January 2022.

Successful applicants will then be provided with an opportunity to meet with supervisory teams and then be invited to submit a project-specific application from which candidates will be shortlisted for interview.


ECORISC open afternoon

We are running an online ‘open afternoon’ for you to learn more about the CDT and application process. This event will run from 1400-1630 GMT on the 9th December 2021 and booking details can be found on our website at: https://www.york.ac.uk/environment/postgraduate/ecorisc/

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded under the NERC-sponsored ECORISC. Full details at the end of this advert.
This award provides annual funding to cover tuition fees and a tax-free stipend of £15,609 per year tax-free stipend.
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