PhD: Constructed floating wetlands for remediation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contaminated surface water via FindAPhD

University of South Australia

Adelaide SA, Australia 🇦🇺

About the Project

If you’re interested in advanced your career in environmental management and keen to address contemporary pollution problems, the University of South Australia—Australia’s University of Enterprise—is offering a PhD project within the Future Industries Institute, in partnership with CSIRO Land and Water.

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a group of synthetic chemicals with broad commercial applications worldwide, including manufacturing and fire-fighting foams. Upon release into the environment, however, PFAS are extremely persistent and can accumulate in organisms, causing adverse health effects in humans and animals, including immune system impairment. Food can be contaminated through contact with the soil and water used to grow the food, and wildlife that drink from contaminated water can also be harmed.

A largely unexplored strategy for the removal of PFAS from water bodies is the use of phytoremediation, alone or coupled with sorption, which can be achieved in constructed floating wetlands (CFWs). The CFW system is a green technology that removes pollutants from waters by employing green plants. CFWs promote the growth of native plant species in buoyant structures, where pollutants are assimilated into plant biomass.

CFWs can be readily installed into existing water environments, such as lakes and retention basins for the treatment of urban surface runoff. Other nature-based water treatment systems are not so easily retrofitted into existing areas.

This project aims to develop a fundamental understanding of the feasibility of using Australian native plant species for the sequestration of PFAS from water bodies (including uptake rates and mechanisms). The innovative approach will use sorptive material as planting media in CFWs to facilitate ongoing PFAS removal from water bodies through passive treatment processes as well as strategies to responsibly manage PFAS contaminated plant and sorptive material, including regeneration.

You will be a part of a multidisciplinary research team that spans the Scarce Resource and Circular Economy (ScaRCE)the Future Industries Institute, and the contaminants and biotechnologies research group based in CSIRO Land and Water, all endeavouring to find a solution for a real-world problem together.

What you’ll do

In this research degree project, you will conduct laboratory-scale experiments, extract and analyse PFAS from aqueous samples and plant tissues, work with the industry partners to improve the design of CFWs so that they are fit for purpose, operate a CFW full-scale field trial, and communicate benefits to stakeholders.

At the completion of the research degree, you will have developed your skills in analytical chemistry and environmental management practices and gained valuable field trial experience.

In this partnered project with CSIRO Land and Water and other end-users you will have the opportunity to undertake an internship, giving you the opportunity to build industry connections. You will also have the opportunity to present research results at domestic and international conferences (if travel permitted).

Where you’ll be based

You’ll be based in the Future Industries Institute (FII) and the Scarce Resource and Circular Economy (ScaRCE)  based within UniSA STEM. FII was established with a new research culture in mind—one deeply engaged with industry, with the end goal of building economic growth through relevant innovation and industry partnership.

The Institute reflects the University’s strategic ambition to be Australia’s University of Enterprise which engages fully with the professions and industry globally, whose research is informed, leading edge and relevant. FII continues to forge national and international research partnerships in new industries and technologies that address real world issues. Our goal is to support a creative and engaged culture and to help develop a sustainable ecosystem in which innovation, complex, growth-focused industries thrive.

FII’s research supports state and national research priorities and comprises top research teams able to collaborate across disciplines and to work with industry partners to deliver innovative solutions.

With a vibrant research environment, a strong industry orientation, and active international and national links, both academic and industry based, the Institute is among the very best in Australia and attracts and retains leading researchers.

Supervisory Team

Dr John Awad – Principal Supervisor

Professor Albert Juhasz â€“ Co-Supervisor

Dr Divina Navarro, CSIRO Land & Water – Industry Advisor

Mr Bruce Naumann, City of Salisbury – Industry Advisor

Eligibility and Selection

This project is open to application from both domestic and international applicants.

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally applicants must meet the projects selection criteria:


  •  Tertiary qualification in Environmental Science, Water Engineering or equivalent


  • Hands-on practical laboratory experience

All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project. A merit selection process will be used to determine the successful candidate.

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time, and to be based at our Mawson Lakes Campus in the north of Adelaide. Note that international students on a student visa will need to study full-time.

Essential Dates

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer. Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close at 11.30pm [ACST], Friday, 21 January 2022.

Principal Supervisor: Dr John Awad

Funding Notes

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. Additionally, a living allowance scholarship of $28,854 per annum is available to eligible applicants. A fee-offset or waiver for the standard term of the program is also included. For full terms and benefits of the scholarship please refer to our scholarship information for domestic students or international students.