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Unattended and fully automated in-situ speciation of Cu in marine systems

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Salaun
    Dr J Kenny
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This is an extract of the research project. Simply click on “Apply on-line” above for an instant access to the complete version.

This project will develop an autonomous robotic system for monitoring the concentration of trace metals, in-situ, (primarily copper – total and reactive concentration) in the marine environment. The student will first optimise a flow-through voltammetric cell comprising three solid electrodes for anodic stripping analysis at a gold wire electrode. Previous research has shown this type of electrode has remarkable analytical capabilities ([10] and references therein). The student will proceed by integrating this newly developed cell into an on-line fluidic system to allow sample treatment before analysis, measurement of reactive and total concentration as well as self-calibration and self-cleaning procedures. A simple block diagram of a possible system configuration is shown in figure 1. The analytical device requirements are sensitivity, speciation capability, reliability, robustness, ease of use and low power consumption.

In-situ testing will first take place in large tanks, then in fish tanks (present on-site at the University) for future potential applications of trace metal monitoring in land-based fish farms. In-situ testing of coastal seawater in Liverpool Bay will be achieved by placing the analytical platform on a bottom-tethered buoy and measuring reactive and total copper in conjunction with other biogeochemical parameters such as chlorophyll, salinity, temperature or particulate content. Communications between the sensor and the laboratory will be achieved via satellite to follow in-real time the measurements that are taking place in neighboring surface waters. Such in-situ measurements will be achieved for as long as possible, if possible at various seasons, to record the natural daily and monthly variations of Cu levels and understand what are the prime drivers of these variations, either in fish tanks or in coastal waters.

Adapted support will be provided to the student from the mechanical and electronic engineering teams (e.g. mechanical fabrication of components) at the Ocean Technology and Engineering Group (OTEG) at NOC Liverpool. Additional financial support from OTEG Liverpool will be provided to purchase components and materials for the construction of the system. The technology developed during this project is expected to be at technology readiness level 7 (TRL7) by the end of the studentship. Developments achieved in this project will be transferable to a number of other trace metals (e.g. Hg, As), other environments (lakes, groundwater) and onto other platforms (e.g. autonomous underwater vehicles such as a gliders or wave gliders or drifting profilers such as APEX float). The intellectual property developed throughout the course of this project has significant commercial potential and will be exploited to its fullest extent under the guidance of the NOC Enterprise and Research Impact team.

This project is in collaboration with Dr. Kenny in NOC (National Oceanographic Centre) who has strong technological experience in the development of analytical platforms (including AUVs) and sensors dedicated to marine systems. Dr. Salaun is an expert in the use of gold electrodes and Cu detection while Prof. Young and Cossins have srong research interests in sensor development for biological applications. We are looking for a highly motivated PhD student with relevant chemical and/or engineering background who is at ease with experimental work. She/He will be working and trained in the area of marine biogeochemistry, marine technology and analytical chemistry. He/She will benefit from numerous training opportunities inherent to the Doctoral Training Partnership that joins expertise from Liverpool, Manchester and the National Oceanographic Centre. The student will be part of the third cohort of enthusiastic DTP PhD students and will develop strong interdisciplinary skills through specific training programs, research seminars and a world-class research environment.

Funding Notes

Competitive tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,056 tax free) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Understanding the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean” (DTP website: led by the University of Liverpool, the National Oceanographic Centre and the University of Manchester. The studentship is granted for a period of 42 months. Further details on eligibility, how to apply, deadlines for applications and interview dates can be found on the website. EU students are eligible for a fee-only award.


[1] Wollast R. Evaluation and comparison of the global carbon cycle in the coastal zone and in the open ocean. In: Brink KH, Robinson AR, editors. The Global Coastal Ocean: John Wiley & Sons; 1998. p. 213-52.

[2] Doney SC. The Growing Human Footprint on Coastal and Open-Ocean Biogeochemistry. Science 2010;328:1512-6.

[3] Morel FMM, Price NM. The biogeochemical cycles of trace metals in the oceans. Science 2003;300:944-7.

[4] Brand LE, Sunda WG, Guillard RRL. REDUCTION OF MARINE-PHYTOPLANKTON REPRODUCTION RATES BY COPPER AND CADMIUM. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 1986;96:225-50.

[5] Jean N, Dumont E, Durrieu G, Balliau T, Jamet J-L, Personnic S, et al. Protein expression from zooplankton communities in a metal contaminated NW mediterranean coastal ecosystem. Mar Environ Res 2012;80:12-26.

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