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Understanding the role of vehicle emissions as part of urban air pollution source complexity

Department of Chemistry

York United Kingdom Analytical Chemistry Ecotoxicology Environmental Chemistry Environmental Engineering Geophysics

About the Project


This project takes a forward look at the evolving role that vehicle emissions have in contributing to air pollution in complex urban environments. While emissions of most air pollutants have decreased over the past decade or so, the emission control technologies used to achieve this has led to increased complexity of the emissions that remain. As the evidence for adverse health impacts related to emissions from road vehicles and other sources continues to grow, there is a strong need for underpinning research to develop the best policy responses to mitigate these impacts.


This project will focus on the use of experimental vehicle emission measurement techniques and new data analysis approaches to better understand these issues. The PhD is available in the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories (WACL), part of the Department of Chemistry at the University of York. WACL has many air pollution measurement capabilities with instruments including vehicle emission remote sensing, fast response plume measurement capabilities of common pollutants, the measurement of a vast range of volatile organic compounds using fast response mass spectrometers and an advanced mobile laboratory for plume measurement and source emission mapping. The main objectives will be to use a range of dedicated field instruments to better quantify the emissions of a wide range of pollutants in urban environments and use the measurements to improve understanding of urban air pollution complexity and its effective control. The student would be actively encouraged to develop the hardware/instrumentation to extend upon the current measurement capabilities.

Experimental approach

The measurement of real-world vehicle emissions of common pollutants such as NOx and more esoteric species is highly challenging to measure but a rewarding and novel area of research. Vehicle emission control technologies are becoming increasingly complex and can also be associated with the emission of species that are attracting more attention because of their wider environmental impacts – such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrous oxide (N2O). While it is valuable to measure emissions under controlled laboratory conditions for a few vehicles, extending these capabilities to actual driving conditions and to large populations of vehicles is an important focus of our work. The student would have the chance to take part in many field campaigns to provide comprehensive data sets for further analysis.

This project is match-funded by Ricardo Energy & Environment, the UK’s leading air pollution environmental consultancy. The project is led by Dr Carslaw who has a joint position with Ricardo, which will ensure the student gains valuable experience in working with Ricardo on projects of national and international importance. Ricardo manages many projects related to important national capabilities such as the UK national air quality network and the development of the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, among many other high-profile projects. The student would have the opportunity to work with many Ricardo staff on projects relevant to the PhD to extend their experience and provide an excellent opportunity for training and development, as well as enhancing career prospects. Co-supervisor Professor James Lee is part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and therefore the student will also have access to the wider resources and training that NCAS provides, such as an Introduction to Atmospheric Science course and Atmospheric Measurement Summer School on the Isle of Arran, and future developments in computations and data analysis.  

The student would join a team at York that is committed to working on important topics related to air pollution and publishing work in leading journals. The student would benefit from being co-supervision by both University of York and Ricardo staff.

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 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:

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor's name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2021. Induction activities will start on 27 September.

To apply for this project, submit an online PhD in Chemistry application:

Funding Notes

Fully funded for 3 years by Ricardo Energy and Environment (View Website) and the Department of Chemistry and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,609 for 2021-22), (ii) tuition fees at the Home rate, (iii) funding for consumables.
Studentships are available to any student who is eligible to pay tuition fees at the home rate: View Website


Candidate selection process:
• You should hold or expect to receive at least an upper second class degree in chemistry or a chemical sciences related subject
• Applicants should submit a PhD application to the University of York by 15 April 2021. Please note you will be unable to submit an application 6-12 April due to essential maintenance of the application system
• Supervisors may contact candidates either by email, telephone or web-chat
• Supervisors can nominate up to 2 candidates to be interviewed for the project
• Nominated candidates will be invited to a remote panel interview on 18 or 19 May
• The awarding committee will award studentships following the panel interviews
• Candidates will be notified of the outcome of the panel’s decision by email

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