2023 RTP round - The Chemistry of Antibiotic Resistance in Water Systems - PhD

Curtin University

Perth WA, Australia 🇦🇺

Status: Open

Applications open: 8/07/2022
Applications close: 18/08/2022

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About this scholarship

Description/Applicant information

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food and water security, and economic prosperity today. Antibiotics are medicines which are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. More broadly, antimicrobials, including antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals, treat infections and diseases in humans, plants and animals. Antibiotic (or antimicrobial) resistance occurs when bacteria (or fungi or viruses) change or adapt in response to the use of antibiotics and become antibiotic-resistant. Infections caused by these bacteria are then much harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant microorganisms can share their resistant genes with other microorganisms, such that the other organisms can become antibiotic-resistant, even if they have never been exposed to antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant microorganisms have been found in environmental water systems, such as rivers, lakes and oceans. These organisms can often be traced back to wastewater discharged from hospitals, farms or wastewater treatment plants. Even if a wastewater treatment plant is performing well, antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and genes may not be fully removed from the raw wastewater, resulting in their discharge to the environment. Once in the environment, antibiotic-resistant microorganisms can infect humans, animals and aquatic life, as well as share resistant genes with native microorganisms. Thus, water systems contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance and are a key part of a ‘One Health’ multi-sector response to this global issue.

The occurrence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms in wastewater treatment plants derives not only from human excretion of these organisms but from prolonged, low-level exposure of the suite of microorganisms in biological wastewater treatment stages to antibiotics present in the wastewater. These antibiotics arise from disposal of unused medicines and human excretion into the sewerage system.

The aim of this project, therefore, is to study the occurrence of specific antibiotics and their human metabolites in wastewater treatment plants, as well as examine existing and emerging technologies for mitigation of antibiotic resistance in water systems. This project will be undertaken in collaboration with partners in the water industry and with microbiological researchers.

Objective 1: The first stage of this project will involve development of novel methods, and optimisation of existing methods, for analysis of antibiotics in wastewaters and environmental waters, using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. In addition, high resolution mass spectrometric techniques will be used to identify metabolites of antibiotics present in these water systems.

Objective 2: The second stage of this project will focus on removal of antibiotics and their metabolites in various wastewater treatment processes. Existing technologies will be studied initially. Emerging technologies for mitigation of antibiotic resistance will then be investigated for their capacity to additionally remove the antibiotics and their metabolites.

An Internship opportunity may also be available with this project.Student type

  • Future Students


  • Faculty of Science & Engineering
    • Science courses
    • Engineering courses
    • Western Australian School of Mines (WASM)

Course type

  • Higher Degree by Research


  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa

Scholarship base

  • Merit Based


The annual scholarship package (stipend and tuition fees) is approx. $60,000 – $70,000 p.a.

Successful HDR applicants for admission will receive a 100% fee offset for up to 4 years, stipend scholarships, valued at approx. $28,800 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3.5 years, are determined via a competitive selection process. Applicants will be notified of the scholarship outcome in November 2022. 

For detailed information, visit: Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarships | Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Scholarship Details

Maximum number awarded

1Eligible courses

All applicable HDR coursesEligibility criteria

Ideally a Chemistry Honours graduate with skills in analytical chemistry and organic chemistry and an interest in application of chemistry to real-world systems. 

Strong written and oral English communication skills are essential. 

Application process

If this project excites you, and your research skills and experience are a good fit for this specific project, you should contact the Project Lead (listed below in the enquires section) via the Expression of Interest (EOI) form.

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2023


To enquire about this project opportunity that includes a scholarship application, contact the Project lead, Professor Cynthia Joll via the EOI form above.