Biogeophysics for detecting microplastics in soils and freshwater via FindAPhD

University of Birmingham

Birmingham, United Kingdom 🇬🇧

About the Project

Environmental microplastic pollution has become omnipresent with mismanaged plastic waste now contaminating freshwater and marine ecosystems, groundwater, soils, and even the atmosphere. Assessing the risks of environmental exposure to microplastics requires detailed understanding of their sources as well as of their environmental fate and transport. The detection of microplastics in the environment is hampered by time consuming sampling and extraction methods with no methodology for real-time in-situ detection of plastic pollution in soil or freshwater being available yet.

This PhD project will test the applicability of different biogeophysical sensing technologies for the direct detection of plastic pollution in porous media and free flowing surface waters. The development of accurate in-situ sensing capabilities will enable direct analysis of the fate and transport of microplastics in freshwater and soil environments, including how particles interact with the soil and water environments and their constituents (biomolecules / natural organic matter, other particulate matter, microorganisms) while they are transported, how they degrade and what their residence times are under variable soil and flow conditions. The results of this PhD research will contribute to our understanding of the environmental exposure and risks formed by microplastics, which is of critical interest to regulators as well as the transport, infrastructure and manufacturing industry sectors.

How to apply

Applications need to be submitted via the University of Birmingham postgraduate portal by midnight on 11.01.2021. Please first check whether the primary supervisor is within Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, or in Biosciences, and click on the corresponding PhD program on the application page.

This application should include

• a brief cover letter, CV, and the contact details for at least two referees

• a CENTA application form

• the supervisor and title of the project you are applying for under the Research Information section of the application form.

Referee’s will be invited to submit their references once you submit your application, but we strongly encourage applicants to ensure referees are aware of your submission and expecting a reference request from us. Students are also encouraged to visit and explore the additional information available on the CENTA website.


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Drummond J.D., Nel H.A., Packman A.I., Krause S. Significance of Hyporheic Exchange for Predicting Microplastic Fate in Rivers. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2020, 7, 10, 727–732.
Karbalaei, S., Hanachi, P., Walker, T.R. et al. Occurrence, sources, human health impacts and mitigation of microplastic pollution. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2018, 25, 36046–36063.
Nel H., Krause S., Sambrook Smith G.H., Lynch I. Simple yet effective modifications to the operation of the Sediment Isolation Microplastic unit to avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contamination. MethodsX, 2019, 6, 2656-2661.
Nel H.A., Chetwynd A.J., Kelleher L., Lynch I., Mansfield I., Margenat H., Onoja S., Oppenheimer P.G., Sambrook Smith G.H., Krause S. Detection limits are central to improve reporting standards when using Nile red for microplastic quantification. Chemosphere, 2021, 263, 127953.
Tibbetts J., Krause S., Lynch I., Sambrook Smith G.H. Abundance, Distribution, and Drivers of Microplastic Contamination in Urban River Environments. Water 2018, 10(11), 1597;