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School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Funded postgraduate research

Be part of an active research team working to further our understanding of the environment and tackle the issues we face today.

We have a broad range of research projects that we are currently engaged in that we are seeking doctoral students for. Details of each of the projects can be found below. To find out how to apply, please visit our apply page.

Fully funded research

Each of the projects listed below is a fully funded opportunity for home and EU candidates. The projects will start in October 2018, it is recommended that you apply in good time to secure your place and funding ahead of the project start date.

Actinide colloid formation and stability in alkaline conditions

Introduction

Globally, nuclear fuel ponds are used for storage of spent nuclear fuels. In the UK, we have a number of old pond facilities at the Sellafield nuclear facility that require clean-up over the next decades. The Sellafield ponds contain alkaline, effluents with significant radioactive loadings and management of the effluents is essential to timely decommissioning of the ponds. The pond effluents are treated by neutralisation, filtration and ion exchange processes prior to discharge of low level effluents to the environment under authorisation. Building on past work from our group, recent highly novel work on these systems has examined the potential for radionuclide bearing colloid formation in representative waste waters from the legacy ponds and silos. We have identified that nanoparticulate uranium bearing colloids are stable across a range of pond chemistry regimes, and that strontium (including the radioactive isotope strontium-90) may be associated with these nanoparticulate colloids under some conditions. This has provided new insights into the structure and stability of these highly novel nanoparticulate phases in alkaline conditions.

This PhD project continues to develop our highly innovative research based on treatment of alkaline effluents. The key aim is to characterise the nanoparticle chemistry, structure and stability in the presence of key radionuclides, explore the reaction of the radionuclide bearing nanoparticles with mineral phases present within the ponds, and explore the impacts of a more varied effluent chemistry on colloid stability and therefore effluent treatment. Overall, the project will provide essential information on radionuclide speciation and fate in these complex systems, which will directly inform the pond decommissioning process, a project of high national importance. More generally, the presence of radionuclide colloids in alkaline conditions has high relevance in a range of settings, including radioactive waste management.

Project summary

This industrially sponsored PhD project is based in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester. The project is experimental in scope, and the successful candidates will join a significant ongoing research effort in the nuclear environment and waste area in the group. The project is run in collaboration with Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory.

Currently, the group has over 20 PhD researchers training across the nuclear environmental area and all of our nuclear PhD graduates have gained employment in academia, industry, or regulation. If successful, you will benefit from the excellent facilities within the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science for radiochemical, chemical, mineralogical and colloidal characterisation of samples. While studying here, you will have access to advanced facilities available within The University of Manchester such as; electron microscopy, X-ray photo electron spectroscopy, and mass spectrometry, as well as national and international facilities where we can analyse radioactive samples. Finally, you will work closely with industrial supervisors within the National Nuclear Laboratory and Sellafield to ensure your research is focused on real site challenges.

Supervisors

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Long-term interactions of radionuclides and minerals in radioactive waste

Introduction

The UK has a substantial legacy of radioactive wastes and their safe management using deep geological disposal is a national priority. Understanding the long-term fate of radionuclides in the environment is key to developing safe management of radioactive wastes and radioactively contaminated land.

In radioactive waste disposal, during evolution of the repository, iron (oxyhydr)oxide (eg hematite and magnetite) minerals will be present in wastes and will also form during the corrosion of steel canisters and engineering iron in the site. Recent studies have indicated that iron oxyhydroxides can incorporate a range of radionuclides, including actinides and Tc. These incorporation processes have the potential to act as a long-term barrier to radionuclide migration in waste disposal systems with the radionuclides immobilised within the mineral structures. However, changes in both abiotic and biologically driven geochemical processes that occur over the long-term within the environment will alter the biogeochemistry within and around the repository. In turn, this will influence the stability of the iron oxyhydroxide minerals formed and ultimately these changes will impact on the fate of the radionuclides with the potential for remobilisation to occur.

This experimental project focuses on characterising the fate of key radionuclides such as uranium, technetium and neptunium associated with deep geological disposal relevant iron oxyhydroxide minerals during conditions relevant to the long-term biogeochemical evolution of a repository. The project also examines the influence of both abiotic and biological processes on radionuclide behaviour, and utilise advanced geochemical, nanoscale characterisation and microbiological genomic techniques to probe the mechanisms of radionuclide interactions.

Project summary

This industrially sponsored PhD projects is based in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester. The project is experimental in scope, and the successful candidates will join a significant ongoing research effort associated with the Next Generation Nuclear Centre for Doctoral Training.

The project is run in collaboration the National Nuclear Laboratory. We currently have over 20 PhD researchers training across the nuclear environmental area and all of our nuclear PhD graduates have gained employment in academia or industry. While working on the project you will benefit from the excellent facilities at the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science that allows you to perform chemical, mineralogical and microbial studies. You will also have access to advanced facilities available within The University of Manchester (eg electron microscopy, X-ray photo electron spectroscopy, mass spectrometry), as well as national and international facilities where we are able to analyse radioactive samples eg Diamond Light Source. Finally, the students will work closely with industrial supervisors within the National Nuclear Laboratory.

Supervisors

Contact details

Proteome dynamics in ageing bone

Introduction

Bone is a composite material made up of an approximately 25-30% organic component, which is predominantly structural protein, and the remainder an inorganic phase, predominantly calcium phosphate mineral. The bone proteome is the complete set of different proteins that in some way interact with bone tissue, the complexity and decay state of which continues to alter during the remodelling process, which itself changes with biological ageing.

Following on from developing the use of proteomics on ancient bone proteins for species identification and phylogenetic inferences from extinct vertebrate species, our group has explored the potential ontogenetic information that can be recovered. However, despite some initial progress in this area, the processes by which proteins change through time remain poorly understood. This project seeks to explore the potential of advanced proteomic-based techniques to understand biological signatures in bone remodelling, particularly how these differ between individuals of the same species as well as between different species, and how various environmental factors influence this.

The project explores the practical reproducibility of top-down and bottom-up proteomics methods and evaluates the most appropriate means to measure the changes that occur during the ageing process, supported by mapping of the inorganic phases of the bone tissue. This project is suitable for either a molecular biologist or analytical chemist with interests in bone biology and learning advanced proteomic techniques or for archaeological scientists that have some expertise in analytical biochemistry.

Project summary

The student would join a vibrant team of bioarchaeologists and palaeobiologists as part of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life (ICAL) and be based within the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology where the Principal Investigator is based. See the Buckley Lab website for more details about our research. The project scope is flexible around the areas of ageing dynamics in bone proteomes and is funded for four years by the Royal Society. We also encourage discussions on projects that more specifically relate to the information inferred from palaeoproteomics, such as palaeobiodiversity or phylogenetics for separate applications.

Supervisors

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Radionuclide uptake during iron oxide nanoparticle precipitation

Introduction

The processing of materials (eg spent fuel) at nuclear facilities across the world has generated large quantities of acidic radioactive effluents from both reprocessing and decommissioning operations. In the UK, a key treatment facility for these effluents neutralises the acidic effluents to form iron (oxyhydr)oxide nanoparticles which remove radionuclides from solution. This precipitate is then separated from the solution in an ultrafiltration process and ultimately will be a radioactive waste.

This PhD focuses on the behaviour of radionuclides during iron (oxyhydr)oxide formation and crystallisation to inform radionuclide removal during radioactive effluent treatment, and more generally in environmental conditions where iron (oxyhydr)oxide nanoparticles and radionuclides are present.

The facility that treats acidic radioactive effluents from spent fuel reprocessing in the UK is the Enhanced Actinide Removal Plant (EARP) located at the Sellafield Nuclear Licenced Site. Our recent pioneering studies have developed the use of a lab-based system which can mimic the effluent treatment process (mini-EARP) and characterise particle formation at the nanoscale using synchrotron based techniques. This has allowed a fundamental understanding of the iron (oxyhydr)oxide nanoparticle nucleation, growth and aggregation processes operating during effluent neutralisation. In addition, we have determined the atomic scale mechanisms of actinides (U and Np) incorporation into the structures of key iron oxide phases.

This PhD project extends these initial studies to understand the behaviour of radionuclides during the nanoparticle formation and aggregation and during ultrafiltration. Crucially, the research looks to examine the impact of changes in the effluent stream on radionuclide uptake by the iron (oxyhydr)oxide as post operational clean out of the site infrastructure occurs from ~2020 onwards. Indeed, timely cleanout of defunct facilities at Sellafield is a national priority to reduce risks and hazards on site. The fully funded project is sponsored by Sellafield and the National Nuclear Laboratory and is available from Sept 2018 for 3.5 years, the stipend is at standard RCUK rate.

Project summary

This industrially sponsored PhD project is based in the highly successful nuclear environment and waste group within the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The University of Manchester. The project is experimental in scope, and the if successful, you will join a group of more than 20 PhD and postdoctoral researchers focused on issues in the nuclear environmental sciences including radioactive effluent treatment.

While working here, you will benefit from the excellent facilities within the Williamson Research Centre for Molecular Environmental Science, which allows you to perform chemical, radiochemical, mineralogical and colloidal characterisation of samples. You will also have access to the advanced facilities available within The University of Manchester (eg electron microscopy, X-ray photo electron spectroscopy, mass spectrometry) as well as national and international facilities where we routinely analyse radioactive samples. Finally, you will work closely with industrial supervisors within the National Nuclear Laboratory and Sellafield Ltd to ensure your research is focused on real world application.

Supervisors

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