Postgraduate research opportunities

Determination and behaviour of microplastics in terrestrial systems

This PhD involves the development of analytical methods and their application to investigate the behaviour of microplastic pollutants in the environment. Laboratory and field studies will be used to assess the ability of microplastics to transport potentially toxic elements in terrestrial systems.

Number of places



2 March 2020


36 months


A degree in Chemistry or a related discipline.

Project Details

Whilst pollution of the marine environment with microplastics is now recognised as an issue of global concern, considerably less is known about their behaviour in freshwater and terrestrial environments [1]. Research is urgently needs to determine the abundance, types, and sources of plastic present in soil, and whether they act as a vector for priority organic pollutants and potentially toxic elements as they do in marine systems. However, studies to date have been hampered by a lack of suitable, standardised analytical methods [2],

This PhD project will investigate the chemical interactions between microplastic pellets and soil through laboratory and field experiments, and develop and apply appropriate analytical chemistry methods to assess the role of microplastics in transport of priority pollutants in soil systems. It will involve a combination of:

i. analytical method development

ii. weathering studies to assess how exposure to the soil environment affects the pellets

iii. sorption studies with different classes of pollutants, and

iv. field studies to determine the types and amounts of plastics present in soil.

The student will gain experience in a wide range of methods for the analysis and characterisation of soil and plastics. These will include sample extraction/digestion methods; methods for identification of plastics such as ATR-FTIR; and methods for measurement of pollutant concentrations.

  1. Microplastics in freshwater and terrestrial environments: evaluating the current understanding to identify the knowledge gaps and future research priorities. AA Horton, A Walton, DJ Spurgeon, E Lahive and C Svendsen. Science of the Total Environment, 2017, 586, 127-141.
  2. Microplastics in the environment: a review of analytical methods, distribution, and biological effects. Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 2019, 111, 62-72.

Funding Details

This project would be suitable for a self-funded student or a student in receipt of a PhD scholarship from a UK, overseas or international body.

How to apply

Potential applicants should email Dr Davidson in the first instance.