A NERC-funded CASE PhD studentship Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)

Assessing the fate of microplastics in the waste water treatment process.

Supervisors: Dr Melanie Sapp (Food and Environment Research Agency) and Dr Jesus Javier Ojeda (Brunel University)

A NERC-funded CASE PhD studentship is available starting October 2013 for 3.5 years. The objective of this PhD project is to advance the understanding of the fate of microplastics derived from industrial and domestic products in the municipal waste water treatment process, and assess the transfer of such particles into the environment.

Nowadays, industrial and domestic products have become two of the most rapidly growing sources of microplastic particles entering into the water system. They include polymeric fibres released by washing of synthetic clothing and also, hand, body, and facial cleansers that contain tiny polyethylene and polystyrene particles with less than 1 mm in diameter. The average consumer now has a microplastic-containing product in their home and uses it on a daily basis. For example, the majority of facial cleansers in supermarkets list polyethylene as an ingredient, present in forms described as ‘‘micro-beads”, ‘‘microbead formula” or ‘‘micro exfoliates”. This is because microplastics have replaced the more expensive natural exfoliating materials (e.g. oatmeal, apricot or walnut husks) in body and facial cleansers. This increased use of domestic products containing microplastic particles gives raise to the assumption that such particles will – at least to some extent – be found in the environment with unknown consequences for the long term.

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Being an interdisciplinary studentship, the student will benefit from a variety of research training including high resolution microscopic and spectroscopic techniques, wastewater treatment, and expert state-of-the-art instruction in analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis (such as micro-FTIR, XPS and SIMS) at Brunel University. In addition, the student will have the opportunity to work with Fera scientists including Dr Chris Sinclair and Dr Emma Bradley, at the forefront of molecular biology methods, molecular characterisation of bacteria (sequencing) and of studies of the fate and behaviour of contaminants in the environment. The student will get an impression on Fera’s applied research leading to science solutions for private and public sectors. The student will also have the opportunity to receive expert guidance from Prof. Mark Osborn (University of Lincoln) on molecular- and microscopy-based characterization of biofilm assemblages on microplastic particles.

Candidates should (or expect to) hold a good bachelor’s degree (first or upper second class honours degree) or a Master’s degree in natural sciences (preferably in chemistry, biology, microbiology) or environmental / chemical engineering. Background in other relevant areas may also be considered. Candidates should be interested in spectroscopy, surface analysis, microbiology, molecular biology or keen to learn about these areas. Preferably experience in these aspects is advantageous but not required.

NERC CASE awards are open to UK citizens or students having a “relevant connection with the UK” as outlined in the NERC student handbook http://www.nerc.ac.uk/funding/application/studentships. EU students who have been resident in the UK for at least 3 years may also be eligible.

Applicants should send a cover letter and full CV with the names and addresses of two academic referees to Dr Jesus Javier Ojeda: jesus.ojeda@brunel.ac.uk

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Closing date: Wednesday 31st of July 2013

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