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Water fingerprinting with mass spectrometry for environmental and public health assessment

   Institute for Sustainability

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  Prof Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, Prof Julie Barnett  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Centre for Sustainable & Circular Technologies at the University of Bath is inviting applications for the following funded PhD project commencing in October 2022.

There is a need to reduce pharmaceutical levels in the aqueous environment due their impact on natural environment and humans, as well as to comply with changing water quality regulations. Pharmaceuticals in the environment are mainly attributed to the discharge of treated effluent from wastewater treatment works. To reduce the load of pharmaceuticals in the environment, greater control and treatment at wastewater treatment works would be required. However, this would lead to a significant increase in the costs of wastewater treatment, embedded and operational carbon in addition to an increase in water bills. This is in addition to the wider costs of illness to society, which pays twice to exacerbate a problem. The current situation is therefore unsustainable and needs disruptive change. The intention of this project is to provide the data and evidence to help prompt that change.

This project will focus on the development and application of water fingerprinting approaches with utilisation of powerful mass spectrometry techniques: triple quadrupole analysis for selected pharmaceutical targets and high-resolution mass spectrometry for non-target/retrospective analysis of environmental and public health determinants. Water fingerprinting (or wastewater-based epidemiology) has the potential to revolutionise health-care provision as it can provide real-time and cost-effective community-wide public health diagnostics, since urban water can be considered as a diagnostic medium for the health status of a community and surrounding environment. 

The year 2020 witnessed a crisis in healthcare systems due to the COVID19 pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 has had an unprecedented impact on humanity globally. It exposed the acute inability to manage the virus due to lack of reliable surveillance systems focussed on rapid identification of SARS-CoV-2 hotspots. WBE has since enabled SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in the UK. Post-COVID applications will include the development of new approaches that will be explored in this project. The project will:

Objective 1. Develop mass spectrometry focussed frameworks for spatiotemporal water fingerprinting of existing digitally frozen samples in EChPH group repository.

Objective 2. Undertake analysis of urban water samples to establish spatiotemporal trends in environmental and public health determinants (pharmaceuticals, metabolites, endogenously formed markers). 

Objective 3: Undertake data triangulation to verify environmental and public health status and risk assessment

Subject to the signing of a contractual agreement, the project will be carried out in collaboration with Wessex Water.

Supervisory team: Prof B. Kasprzyk-Hordern (UoB, environment fingerprinting, mass spectrometry), Prof Julie Barnett (UoB: public health) and Dr Kishore Jagadeesan (UoB: modelling in R and mass spectrometry) and Mr Richard Standerwick (WW: water systems).

Training: Training in a range of modern analytical and bioanalytical techniques including cutting-edge state-of-the-art chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry techniques will be provided. In addition, he/she will work with the leading water utility company in the UK, Wessex Water. Experience of academic / industrial research and development at the cutting edge of water quality analysis, and development of legislation and water policy, will provide an exciting opportunity for further personal development. 

Project keywords: analytical chemistry, computational chemistry, environmental chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, physical chemistry, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, hydrology, pollution

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent). A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Prof Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern (email [Email Address Removed]).

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Chemistry

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Funding Notes

A studentship is for 3.5 years’ duration and includes Home tuition fees, a stipend (£15,609 per annum, 2021/22 rate) and a budget for research expenses and training. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.


Examples of our recent work can be found here:
1. Kasprzyk-Hordern, B., K. Proctor, K. Jagadeesan, L. Lopardo, K. J. O'Daly, R. Standerwick and R. Barden (2021). "Estimation of community-wide multi-chemical exposure via water-based chemical mining: Key research gaps drawn from a comprehensive multi-biomarker multi-city dataset." Environment International 147.
2. Lopardo, L., A. Rydevik and B. Kasprzyk-Hordern (2019). "A new analytical framework for multi-residue analysis of chemically diverse endocrine disruptors in complex environmental matrices utilising ultra-performance liquid chromatography coupled with high-resolution tandem quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry." Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 411(3): 689-704.
3. Proctor, K., B. Petrie, L. Lopardo, D. C. Muñoz, J. Rice, R. Barden, T. Arnot and B. Kasprzyk-Hordern (2021). "Micropollutant fluxes in urban environment - A catchment perspective." J Hazard Mater 401: 123745.
4. Sims, N. and B. Kasprzyk-Hordern (2020). "Future perspectives of wastewater-based epidemiology: Monitoring infectious disease spread and resistance to the community level." Environ Int 139: 105689.
5. Kasprzyk-Hordern, B., K. Proctor, K. Jagadeesan, S. Watkins, R. Standerwick, R. Barden and J. Barnett (2021). "Diagnosing Down-the-Drain Disposal of Unused Pharmaceuticals at a River Catchment Level: Unrecognized Sources of Environmental Contamination That Require Nontechnological Solutions." Environ Sci Technol.
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