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Understanding the atmospheric chemistry of biomass burning emissions and their impact on air quality and climate

Department of Chemistry

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Dr A R Rickard , Dr J F Hamilton , Dr Marvin Shaw No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Large scale biomass burning events, including wildfires, agricultural burn-off and residential fuel combustion, release large quantities of organic carbon to the atmosphere. These emissions can then undergo chemical transformations leading to a wide range of secondary gas and particulate products which can have a significant impact upon climate and air quality.

The frequency and intensity of wildfires in the US, Brazil and Australia have notably increased over the last decade, and this trend is likely to continue owing to fire/land management practises and climate change. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the formation of gas and aerosol phase products from these emissions in order to quantify their impacts and limit their detrimental effects.

In this project we will design a series of experiments to be carried out in a flow reactor built in York to study atmospheric chemistry, in order to understand the most important formation pathways of gas and aerosol phase products from a range of biomass-burning emissions. These will focus on oxygenated aromatic volatile organic compounds (VOC), such as furans and phenolic compounds. First the flow reactor will be characterised through a set of experiments carried out on aromatic systems whose chemical mechanisms are already available in the Master Chemical Mechanism (MCM: The loss of the precursor species and the formation of wide range of gas and aerosol phase products will be measured using on and off-line mass spectrometric techniques including PTR-MS (Proton Transfer Reaction mass spectrometry), SIFT-MS (Selected Ion Flow Tube mass spectrometry) for gas phase species, and UPLC (ultra-high pressure liquid chromatography) coupled to Orbitrap mass spectrometry for investigating product aerosol composition. Experiments will be designed using box models based around the detailed chemistry available in the MCM, optimised for the conditions of the flow reactor. Newly developed and evaluated chemical mechanisms for emitted biomass burning compounds will subsequently be incorporated into the MCM.

More specifically, during this research project you will gain experience of:

(1) Using a new flow reactor facility in order to investigate the atmospheric chemistry of important oxygenated aromatic species emitted in significant quantities from biomass burning.
(2) Development and optimisation of the flow reactor to carry out time resolved experiments, under a range of conditions:

a. OH, NO3 and O3 radical initiated chemistry
b. Experiments carried out over a range of NOx/VOC conditions
c. Experiments carried out at different relative humidities, with and without seed aerosol

(3) Using chemical box models incorporating the Master Chemical Mechanism (MCM: to design and optimise experiments and evaluate the chemistry for the target biomass burning precursor species.
(4) Use of a range of on and off-line mass-spectrometry methods to detect, identify and quantify gas and aerosol phase products.

You will be supervised by Dr Andrew Rickard (chemical mechanism development, chamber experiments), Professor Jacqui Hamilton (aerosol composition measurements, chamber experiments) and Dr Marvin Shaw (speciated measurements of VOC using mass spectrometry) . You will be based in the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL), part of the Department of Chemistry at the University of York ( WACL is a world leading facility bringing together experts in atmospheric measurements, lab-studies and Earth system modelling to form the UK’s largest integrated atmospheric science research team.

We appreciate that this PhD project encompasses several different science and technology areas, and we don’t expect applicants to have experience in many of these fields. The project is well supported with experienced scientists and training in these new techniques and disciplines is all part of the PhD. More project information is available:

The Leeds-York Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) PANORAMA Doctoral Training partnership (DTP) has a comprehensive programme of researcher training covering subject-specific and generic skills. Students will obtain some training and understanding of the full range of training topics. All new students are required to make a training plan when they start their PhD. Training courses are split into ‘nodes’ covering different aspects of your PhD, much of the training in transferable skills will be provided centrally. Inductions and training on specific lab instruments and techniques will be provided by individual labs/departments as required by each student.

Additionally, all Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills.

The Department holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC Panorama Doctoral Training Programme. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3.5 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 full time for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (£7,000 in total)

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however the fee difference would need to be covered from other sources. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.

Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of strong candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


Candidate selection process:
You should have a strong background in the physical sciences (at least a UK upper second class degree in chemistry, physics, engineering or similar science), a keen interest in environmental issues, and an aptitude and enthusiasm for experimental work. Please check the entry requirements for your country:
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the University of Leeds by 5 January 2021:
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone or web-chat
• Supervisors rank the candidates for the assessment panel
• The assessment panel will shortlist candidates for interview from all those nominated
• The Leeds PANORAMA DTP awarding committee will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email
• Successful candidates will then need to submit a formal PhD application to the University of York
This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2021. Induction activities will start on 27 September.
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