Novel Approaches to Detecting and Identifying Microplastics in Environmental Samples (MAYESA1_U18SF)

University of East Anglia
September 12 2017
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type

Plastic is a wonder material of the 20th Century.  Unfortunately, most plastics are produced from petrochemical feedstocks and are not biodegradable, hence they are responsible for environmental pollution both in production and in disposal.  A vast amount of plastic is disposed of annually - mostly from packaging - and a proportion of this ends up in the world's oceans. This is a problem of global importance.   Through physical and chemical degradation, plastic waste gradually breaks down into small “microplastics”, which are increasingly contaminating the environment.  Currently, there is great concern about microplastics, but wider study of their concentrations, distribution and potential impacts is severely hampered by a lack of simple, inexpensive analytical methods for detecting and identifying them (i).

Recently, the Mayes group has developed a fluorescence staining method to screen samples for microplastics (ii).  This approach is relatively simple and rapid, compared with slow and expensive spectroscopic methods, and it allows us to plan studies that could not previously have been contemplated due to prohibitive cost.  While the method has many attractive features, further development and validation of the technique is required, along with development of novel physico-chemical approaches (e.g. (iii)) that can be combined with it to allow the microplastics to be counted, but also measured and identified chemically.  This will be the main focus of the project.

This is an exciting time to get involved with a highly topical and challenging project of international significance at the interface between analytical chemistry and environmental science.  It would suit a candidate with a background in Chemistry, Environmental Science, Marine Science or Biochemistry.  Experience of any of the following would be useful, but not essential: analytical chemistry, polymers and materials, fluorescence techniques, spectroscopy, thermal methods, flow cytometry, image analysis. 

The project may be available to start earlier than October 2018, but candidates should discuss this with the primary supervisor in the first instance.

Funding notes

This PhD project is offered on a self-funding basis. It is open to applicants with funding or those applying to funding sources.  Details of tuition fees can be found at

A bench fee is also payable on top of the tuition fee to cover specialist equipment or laboratory costs required for the research.  The amount charged annually will vary considerably depending on the nature of the project and applicants should contact the primary supervisor for further information about the fee associated with the project.

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess

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