Post doctoral fellow on Trace Elements in Aquatic Ecosystems

University of Alberta

Edmonton, AB, Canada 🇨🇦

Post doctoral fellow

ALES RR General

Competition No. – A108449521

Closing Date – Will remain open until filled.

Position Description

There is ongoing concern regarding the potential environmental impacts and ecological significance of trace elements (TEs) from open pit bitumen mining and upgrading, including from the eventual release of treated oil sands process water (OSPW) to the Athabasca River (AR). In many if not most cases, however, total concentrations of TEs in environmental media have been interpreted as having some biological significance, regardless of the chemical form of the element: this has led to many misunderstandings and, often, concern that may be exaggerated. We have developed the analytical technology to clearly distinguish between the amounts of an element which are directly bioavailable to aquatic organisms i.e. the fraction which is “truly dissolved” (< 1 nm), found mainly as ionic species and capable of passing through cell membranes, versus organic and inorganic colloids (1 to 450 nm) and particles (> 450 nm) which are potentially bioaccessible upon ingestion, depending on their chemical reactivity. We now wish to apply our expertise to study industrial particles: those present in OSPW and treated OSPW, aquatic systems from reclaimed landscapes (demonstration pit lakes, constructed wetlands) as well as particles which may erode and leach from the mines, quarries, gravel roads, dry tailings, coke piles and overburden. We will evaluate the potential bioaccessibility of TEs in aquatic particles, using rigorous experimental studies of their chemical reactivity in synthetic gastric fluid. All of the analytical work will be undertaken in the metal-free, ultraclean SWAMP lab. For perspective and context, we will also examine the particles suspended in the AR, from selected locations, as these are expected to represent a natural gradient in bioaccessibility of TEs.

The overall objective is to examine, understand and communicate the risks to the health of aquatic ecosystems represented by TEs associated with industrial particles. The exposure pathways for TEs from these particles include 1) direct uptake of ions released from the particles to aqueous solution (e.g. unicellular organisms, roots of aquatic plants, gill membranes) and 2) indirect uptake via ingestion (e.g. invertebrates and fish). To study these pathways, we will determine TEs which are 1) directly bioavailable, ionic species using AF4-ICP-MS and 2) bioaccessible and may become bioavailable during ingestion, experimentally using synthetic gastric fluids.

Under the direction of the PI, the successful candidate will interact with a number of support staff, under/graduate students, and other PDFs in the lab. Collaboration and reporting to industry partners will also be expected.

This post-doctoral appointment will be for one year, with the possibility of an additional 18 months.

Key Qualifications

  • PhD in Analytical Chemistry, Soil Chemistry, or Environmental Geochemistry
  • Ability to engage in complex data analyses and syntheses, and interpretation of findings
  • Demonstrated skills and eager to complete literature reviews, original manuscript writing and publication process in peer-reviewed journals in English
  • A teamwork aptitude – ability to work independently but also to help organize research activities with others
  • Proactive, flexible, dedicated, well-centered, responsible
  • Strong numerical, statistical and computer skills

Sought-After Assets and Abilities

  • Ability to propose and undertake innovative analytical SOPs
  • Hands-on and theoretical experience with ICP-MS and ‘clean lab’ procedures and protocols for trace elements research
  • Experience writing research proposals and technical reports

Additional Information

University of Alberta is consistently rated as one of the top 5 universities in Canada, and one of the top 100 universities worldwide. Located in Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton (population one million), University of Alberta provides a dynamic mixture of a large research intensive university, urban culture and recreation. More than 39,000 students from across Canada and 144 other countries participate in nearly 400 programs and 18 Faculties. Within the University, the Department of Renewable Resources consists of 30 faculty members, over 200 graduate students, numerous postdoctoral fellows and support staff, and offers significant research support through sophisticated laboratories and multiple field facilities.

Website Links 


Bioavailability, bioaccessibility, suspended sediments, trace elements, synthetic gastric fluids, redox chemistry, dissolved organic matter, speciation, colloid 

Timeline for beginning the position

  • As soon as possible.
  • PhD thesis must have been completed, submitted and deposited with the home university prior to initiation of this position 

To Apply:

Please by e-mail to include CV, transcripts (scanned unofficial copy), a letter describing research experience and interests (one or two pages), an example of a scientific publication (preferably written by the candidate as a first author and published in a peer-reviewed journal), and contact information for three references to:

Dr. William Shotyk, Professor and Bocock Chair for Agriculture and the Environment, University of Alberta
c/o Tracy Gartner

Dept. of Renewable Resources,

3-48 South Academic Building,

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

T6G 2H1.

Contact email:

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority. If suitable Canadian citizens or permanent residents cannot be found, other individuals will be considered. The University of Alberta is committed to an equitable, diverse, and inclusive workforce. We welcome applications from all qualified persons. We encourage women; First Nations, Métis and Inuit persons; members of visible minority groups; persons with disabilities; persons of any sexual orientation or gender identity and expression; and all those who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas and the University to apply.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development