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PhD Geography & Earth Sciences: Developing a new chemical link between composition, abundance, and sources of atmospheric black carbon in a major urban environment

Project Description

Air pollution remains a persistent problem in the UK today, contributing to an estimated 40,000 premature deaths every year. Pollution and its effects are greatest in our large urban centres, including cities such as London, Birmingham and Glasgow, where poor air quality has featured for over a century. This project focuses on one of the most poorly-understood components of air pollution, known as Black Carbon (BC). This material is the carbon-rich, highly condensed, particulate matter from biomass and fossil fuel burning, also known as soot, char and charcoal. Our lack of knowledge stems firstly from serious problems in reliably isolating, quantifying, and chemically investigating this major air pollutant. Secondly, there is a lack of systematic studies linking atmospheric BC dynamics with its deposition in environmental records such as soils.

In this project, the student will develop and apply novel analytical techniques and approaches allowing them to reliably isolate BC on a secure chemical basis for the first time. In this way, they will probe the source, abundance and fate of contemporary and historic BC pollution across the city of Glasgow in aerosol and soil samples. The project outcomes will include an entirely new understanding of the lifecycle of urban BC over short, medium, and long timescales, which can be applied to air pollution mitigation measures. As part of this project, the student will collaborate with Air Monitors Ltd, who lead the way in private sector BC research and will provide access to state-of-the-art aerosol sampling and training opportunities. On completion of the PhD the successful candidate will have gained practical skills in a very topical area of research and invaluable experience of interacting with relevant stakeholders including policy makers.

Year 1: Analytical training; Develop & initiate sampling strategy; 2 months CASE placement; Analysis of standards & end member samples
Year 2: Aerosol & soil sampling & analysis; 2 months CASE placement;
Year 3: Sampling & analysis continues (including modeling of pollution maps); 2 months CASE placement; Initial data analysis & paper preparation
Year 4: Aerosol & soil sampling & analysis finalised; Intensive data interpretation; Paper preparation; Thesis write up.

About you: We are seeking dynamic candidates, able to function across disciplines, but with an understanding of Earth system processes / environmental chemistry. Enthusiasm for field and laboratory work is essential, along with sound laboratory chemical skills. Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a relevant subject.

Your skill-development: In addition to the project-specific skills that will leave you well-placed for a career as a research scientist, you will be expected to take part in the University of Glasgow’s extensive programme of transferable skill training development. This combination will ensure that the doctoral training you receive has balance between subject-specific research skills and broader skills that employers seek, and that you are prepared for a diverse range of career options.

About us: The student will be based in the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC; University of Glasgow) and will join a vibrant community of PhD researchers and academic staff. They will also join the Glasgow University College of Science and Engineering Graduate School. SUERC is a research-intensive centre, with an excellent portfolio of analytical instrumentation available for use in the project. The supervisory team is drawn from the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Dr. Philippa Ascough leads the NERC Radiocarbon Facility at SUERC, and is expert in novel techniques for isolating and analysing recalcitrant environmental carbon. Dr. Mat Heal is an expert in atmospheric and environmental chemistry, with extensive experience in sampling and analysis. Dr. Jaime Toney leads the Biomarkers for Environmental Change research group at Glasgow, and is expert in analytical approaches for extracting and characterizing markers from biomass burning. Mr. Jim Mills is director of Air Monitors Ltd., who have developed cutting-edge techniques for collection and qualitative/quantitative assessment of atmospheric pollution in urban environments.

How to apply: In the first instance please contact Dr. Philippa Ascough to discuss your interest in the project, providing a c.v. with relevant skills and experience: . Dr. Ascough will then advise on formal application as appropriate. The post will be open until filled, but early contact is advised.

Funding Notes

The studentship will pay the Research Council minimum stipend per year (£14,553 for session 2017/18) for four years, with fees fully covered as per NERC studentship regulations. The funding is applicable for UK nationals, and EU nationals who have spent a minimum of 3 years previously in the UK.

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