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Understanding the changing sources of volatile organic compounds in the UK over the last two decades and implications for the future

Project Description

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted into the atmosphere from a wide variety of sources and can be anthropogenic (man-made) or biogenic (naturally produced) in origin. Dominant sources of hydrocarbons vary greatly on global and regional scales, depending upon the population, vegetation and industry within the surrounding environment. This variation in source strength often leads to a corresponding variation in the significance of different species. Once emitted into the atmosphere, VOC concentrations are influenced by a number of factors including meteorology, dry and wet deposition and chemical reactions. The atmospheric chemistry of VOCs is dominated by the hydroxyl radical which leads to their oxidation at a range of timescales, from hours to months, dependent upon their structure. Ultimately their oxidation leads to the formation of carbon dioxide (CO2), an important climate gas. Their greatest significance to the atmosphere, however, is the secondary pollutants produced during their oxidation which tend to be more harmful, including ozone, formaldehyde and other highly oxygenated compounds which are all implicated as key contributors to respiratory illnesses in people as well as limiting crop yields through damage to plant stomata and leaves. The efficiency with which different VOCs can produce these important secondary pollutants in the atmosphere is dependent upon their structure so it is, therefore, vitally important to make observations of individual (speciated) VOCs in the atmosphere as a bulk measurement of the total VOC concentration tells us very little about their potential for harm.

This project aims to:
1. Provide the UK with continuous quality controlled measurements of VOCs at three urban sites in order to better understand their role in the UK atmosphere. Compare between different cities to identify the significance of different localised sources and meteorology to their ambient concentrations. Provide near real-time, automated observations to yield important information regarding local air quality at these locations.

2. Place the data produced in the context of historic data collected at UK air quality sites and short-term deployments of equipment during field projects in the UK to investigate the changing composition and the contributions of individual sources to the ambient VOCs over the last thirty years.

3. Compare current and historic observations of VOCs to the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory outputs to evaluate its effectiveness in predicting ambient levels of VOCs in the UK.

The student will develop transferable skills in quality assessment and evaluation of atmospheric observations. They will apply data analysis tools for measurement comparison and analysis of long term trends of atmospheric gases using a variety of statistical techniques. They will also gain understanding and knowledge to enable them to place their observations in the wider context of historical, regional and global composition.

More details of the project can be found on the NERC PANORAMA DTP web page (panorama-dtp.ac.uk).

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 by the Staff and Departmental Development Unit (SDDU) at Leeds and the equivalent service at York (Skills Forge). 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.

You will be based in the Department of Chemistry at the University of York.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel: https://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/ed/. This PhD project is available to study full-time or part-time (50%).

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2020. Induction activities will start on 28 September.

Funding Notes

Value: The studentships are fully funded by NERC for 3.5 years and cover: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 for 2019-2020, to be confirmed for 2020-2021 but typically increases annually in line with inflation), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.
Eligibility: Unless stated otherwise, fully funded studentships (stipend + fees) are offered to both UK and EU applicants.


Candidate selection process:
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the university of Leeds by Monday 6 January 2020
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone, web-chat or in person
• Supervisors rank the candidates for the assessment panel
• The assessment panel will shortlist candidates for interview from all those nominated
• Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview at the University of Leeds on the week commencing 24 February 2020
• 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

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 47.06

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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