PhD Opportunities

The School of Chemistry is proud to host postgraduate research students from diverse backgrounds, and offers a broad range of possibilities for PhD study to both UK and international students. In addition to regularly-updated funded opportunities, we welcome applications at any time from qualified students that are able to self-fund their studies, for example through scholarships in their home countries.

A range of available PhD projects are listed below, covering all of the research themes within the School of Chemistry: Chemical Biology, Leicester Chemical Learning Enhancement and Pedagogy, Materials and Interfaces, Spectroscopy and Atmospheric Chemistry, and Sustainable Synthesis and Catalysis.

Please see how to apply, and feel free to contact our academic staff to discuss these opportunities. 

Current opportunities

Funded Opportunities

We regularly host fully-funded PhD studentships through various Centres for Doctoral Training, and in collaboration with the College of Life Sciences or other institutions throughout the UK. Please see the current funded opportunities for more information.

Allosteric activators for treating enzyme deficiency

Project supervisor

Professor Sergey Piletsky

Project details

We have demonstrated that molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) synthesised to target acetylcholinesterase enzyme from Electrophorus electricus (EeAChE) completely counter organophosphate insecticide poisoning through allosteric activation. Allosteric enzyme activation is achieved by MIP nanoparticles synthesised for epitopes identified by a protein mapping technique developed by the Piletsky group. In the case of EeAChE, this technique facilitated the design of MIPs with nanomolar affinities which led to a 60-fold enhancement of enzymatic activity as a result of a binding-induced conformational change. Positive allosteric modulators do not interact directly with the active site but instead alter the shape or dynamics of that site. The objectives to be explored in this project will focus on epitope identification, MIP generation, and enzyme activity assays for enzyme targets of therapeutic value.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Prof. Piletsky are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Application of molecular imprinted polymer nanoparticles for surface proteomics

Project supervisor

Dr Elena Piletska

Project details

Surface proteins are very important targets for diagnostic and therapeutic applications, as they participate in major cellular functions and inter-cellular communication. This project will develop an innovative approach for discovery of molecular markers on the surface of cancer cells using molecular imprinting. This technique will allow stratification of different cell lines and tissue samples by prognostic markers, assist with understanding of pathogenetic mechanisms and help with identification of antigenic sequences (‘epitopes’), which are paramount for production of antibodies and development of synthetic receptors. The proposed approach will advance fundamental research in surface proteomics and provide an effective tool for diagnostics and personalised medicine. The proposed project is truly multidisciplinary and apart from desirable cell biology-related skills it also offers the opportunity to learn and master some complementary skills in polymer chemistry, analytical and bioanalytical chemistry, molecular modelling and nanotechnology.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Dr Piletska are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Difluorination of alkenes

Project supervisor

Dr Alison Stuart

Project details

An important strategy in the development of new pharmaceutical products is the replacement of hydrogen with fluorine because fluorine substitution can increase potency and improve the pharmacokinetic properties of biologically active molecules. The vicinal difluoroethane moiety is a particularly attractive unit because it adopts a gauche conformation in solution and it is a bioisostere for trifluoromethyl and ethyl groups.

The difluorination of alkenes provides a convenient route to the difluoroethane unit. Although difluoroiodotoluene has been used with Et3N.5HF for the difluorination of alkenes, the hypervalent iodine(III) reagent is light- and temperature-sensitive. Consequently, both Jacobsen and Gilmour independently developed the in situ formation of difluoroiodoarenes using aryl iodide, HF-amine and either Selectfluor or m-CPBA.  The issue with all these methods is the use of corrosive sources of HF.1

Scheme 1: Fluorination reactions using fluoroiodane and Selectfluor reagents 

In 2013 we reported the preparation of the hypervalent iodine(III) reagent 1 and its application as a new fluorinating reagent.2 Since then, the reaction scope of 1 has extended significantly and it is now commercially available. One advantage of using fluoroiodane 1 is that it offers different regioselectivity in fluorocyclisations compared to established electrophilic fluorinating reagents such as SelectfluorTM (Scheme 1).3 For example, the unsaturated carboxylic acid underwent a cyclisation, aryl migration and fluorination cascade to deliver the novel lactone containing a tertiary alkyl fluoride, whereas the same reaction with SelectfluorTM provided lactones containing a primary alkyl fluoride (Scheme 1). The disparity arises from the aryl migration occurring during the cascade, which is not possible with SelectfluorTM. In our initial work a transition metal was used to activate fluoroiodane 1 by coordinating to the fluorine atom, but recently we discovered that 1 can be activated by hydrogen bonding to hexafluoroisopropanol and this removed the need for transition metals.4,5 We are now interested in further developing the applications of this stable fluorinating reagent and using it to develop a straightforward, safe route to the difluoroethane unit.

This project will provide training in a broad range of modern synthetic organic chemistry, particularly air- and moisture-sensitive reactions, and a full range of analytical techniques (multinuclear NMR spectroscopy, GC, mass spectrometry and chromatography). As part of the project, the student will gain comprehensive knowledge in organofluorine chemistry. Furthermore, the student will develop good organisational, problem-solving and communication skills, both written and verbal. The Synthesis and Catalysis weekly research group meetings provide the opportunity to present work, solve chemical problems, discuss the latest chemistry research and learn about new areas of synthetic chemistry.

References

  1. “Alkene vicinal difluorination: From fluorine gas to more favoured conditions” S. Doobary and A. J. J. Lennox, Synlett, 2020, 31, 1333-1342.

  2. “Electrophilic fluorination using a hypervalent iodine reagent derived from fluoride” G. C. Geary, E. G. Hope, K. Singh and A. M. Stuart*, Chem. Commun., 2013, 49, 9263-9265.

  3. “Intramolecular fluorocyclizations of unsaturated carboxylic acids with a stable hypervalent fluoroiodane reagent” G. C. Geary, E. G. Hope and A. M. Stuart*, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl., 2015, 54, 14911-14914.

  4. “ Activation of the hypervalent fluoroiodane reagent by hydrogen bonding to hexafluoroisopropanol ” H. K. Minhas, W. Riley, A. M. Stuart* and M. Urbonaite, Org. Biomol. Chem., 2018, 16, 7170-7173.

  5. “Accessing novel fluorinated heterocycles with the hypervalent fluoroiodane reagent by solution and mechanochemical synthesis” W. Riley, A. C. Jones, K. Singh, D. L. Browne and A. M. Stuart*, Chem. Commun., 2021, 10.10139/d1cc02587b.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Dr Stuart are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Fluorescent electroactive films for visualisation of latent fingerprints

Project supervisor

Professor Robert Hillman

Project details

Latent (non-visible) fingerprints are central to biometric identification in a range of civil and criminal investigations but, by definition, they require some form of physicochemical treatment to render them visible. Electrochemically-driven deposition of metal particulates and polymer films on paper (documents, currency), plastics (drugs and explosive wraps) and metals (knives, guns, bullets and other weapons) is particularly relevant to investigation of violent and acquisitive crimes. Uniquely, electrochromic polymers (materials with electronically controlled absorption characteristics) provide the means to adjust, reversibly, optical contrast of the deposited reagent with the substrate surface. Recent preliminary work in which fluorescent agents are entrapped within such polymers suggests that simultaneous exploitation of optical emission characteristics may provide even higher sensitivity, i.e. reveal weaker marks.

This project will explore the inclusion of fluorescent molecules within electroactive polymer films derived from pyrrole-, aniline- and thiophene-based monomers. Chemical strategies include a combination of redox-driven electrostatic interactions and physical entrapment. The “masking” effect of fingerprint residue on a surface will be used to template the electrically-driven deposition of these composite materials onto exposed metal regions of the surface, resulting in a negative image of the latent fingerprint.  Fundamental understanding of the properties of the resulting films will be achieved through a combination of electrochemical, spectroscopic (visible, IR; using absorption and emission modes), nanogravimetric (QCM), X-ray/neutron and microscopy (3D microscopy, SEM/EDAX, AFM) techniques. Supporting X-ray and neutron science measurements will be made at (inter)national large facilities; the student would attend the relevant residential training schools. Chemical selectivity of surface deposition will be complemented by image enhancement techniques.

The student will obtain training in a wide range of aspects of materials science, electrochemistry, surface analysis, imaging and forensic science. Engagement with international collaborators with complementary expertise, and with forensic practitioners responsible for setting standards and for implementing novel forensic methodologies, will provide career enhancing professional skills.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Prof. Hillman are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Fluorinated metallopharmaceuticals for cancer stem cell-direct therapy

Project supervisors

Dr Rama Suntharalingam and Dr Alison Stuart

Project details

Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a small sub-population of tumour cells that have been heavily linked to cancer relapse and metastasis, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. This association arises from their ability to self-renew, differentiate and remain untouched by conventional therapies. The realisation that CSCs may contribute to cancer recurrence has prompted an intense search for small molecules and biologics that specifically target CSCs in the expectation that these agents can be combined with conventional chemotherapeutics to provide more sustained responses in cancer patients. Certain CSC traits have been identified as potential therapeutic targets such as overexpressed cell surface proteins, deregulated cell signalling pathways, and components within the CSC microenvironment, nevertheless, a clinically effective anti-CSC agent remains elusive. Recent studies have revealed that some mitochondrial features are distinctly different in CSCs compared to the bulk tumour population. These include, but are not limited to, mitochondrial DNA content, metabolic phenotype, intracellular ATP, reactive oxygen species (ROS) level, and mitochondrial membrane potential. Furthermore, independent studies showed that CSCs have a higher mitochondrial mass than bulk cancer cells, highlighting the significance of mitochondrial function to CSC regulation. Therefore, mitochondrial-targeting could offer a viable approach to effectively remove CSCs.

We recently reported a metallopeptide containing a ROS-generating copper complex, affixed to a mitochondrial-penetrating peptide, capable of selectively killing breast CSCs over other cell types, by mitochondrial dysfunction. Although this metallopeptide exhibited promising ‘cellular-level’ CSC potency, potential ‘human-level’ application is limited by challenges relating to pharmacokinetics and clearance (akin to state-of-the-art peptide-based chemotherapeutics). Targeting CSC mitochondria using non-peptidyl small molecules could yield a more effective and clinically translatable strategy. In this project we wish to explore the CSC efficacy of metallopharmacueticals comprising of ROS-generating copper complexes tethered to phosphonium, a charged lipophilic moiety, well-known to direct compounds to mitochondria. Fluorine atoms will be strategically installed on the phosphonium component, such that their favourable biological properties (like bioavailability and biocompatibility) will embellish the mitochondriotropic and anti-CSC potential of the metallopharmacueticals. This is the first time that ‘fluorinated metallopharmacueticals’ will be applied as anti-CSC agents. The long-term outcomes of this project will inform (and potentially revolutionise) CSC-directed chemotherapy.

References

  1. Lamb R, Bonuccelli G, Ozsvari B, Peiris-Pages M, Fiorillo M, Smith DL, Bevilacqua G, Mazzanti CM, McDonnell LA, Naccarato AG, Chiu M, Wynne L, Martinez-Outschoorn UE, Sotgia F, Lisanti MP, “Mitochondrial mass, a new metabolic biomarker for stem-like cancer cells: Understanding WNT/FGF-driven anabolic signaling” Oncotarget 2015, 6, 30453-30471.

  2. Ozsvari B, Sotgia F, Lisanti MP, “First-in-class candidate therapeutics that target mitochondria and effectively prevent cancer cell metastasis: mitoriboscins and TPP compounds” Aging 2020, 12, 10162-10179.

  3. Laws K, Suntharalingam K*, “The next generation of anticancer metallopharmaceuticals: cancer stem cell‐active inorganics” ChemBioChem, 2018, 19, 2246-2253.

  4. Laws K, Bineva-Todd G, Eskandari A, Lu C, O'Reilly N, Suntharalingam K*, “A Copper(II)-Phenanthroline Metallopeptide that Targets and Disrupts Mitochondrial Function in Breast Cancer Stem Cells” Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2018, 57, 287-291.

  5. Laws K, Eskandari A, Lu C, Suntharalingam K*, “Highly charged, cytotoxic, cyclometalated iridium(III) complexes as cancer stem cell mitochondriotropics” Chemistry - A European Journal, 2018, 24, 15205-15210.

  6. Minhas HK, Riley W, Stuart AM* and Urbonaite M, “Activation of the hypervalent fluoroiodane reagent by hydrogen bonding to hexafluoroisopropanol” Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry, 2018, 16, 7170-7173.

  7. Geary GC, Hope EG, Stuart AM*, “Intramolecular fluorocyclizations of unsaturated carboxylic acids with a stable hypervalent fluoroiodane reagent” Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2015, 54, 14911-14914.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Dr Suntharalingam and Dr Stuart are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Frustrated Lewis pairs in Rare Earth chemistry

Project supervisor

Dr Fabrizio Ortu

Project details

Research into Frustrated Lewis pair (FLP) chemistry has flourished over the last three decades. Their remarkable reactivity comes from the strong polarising capabilities generated by its isolated components (i.e. a Lewis acid and a Lewis base). This enables the activation of strategic molecules and substrates which would be otherwise fairly inert, such as H2 and CO2, thus creating essential building blocks to be exploited in catalytic reactions. Crucially, such transformations usually require expensive and toxic transition metals, whilst most FLP systems involve main group elements which are readily available and non-toxic.

Very little attention has been given to the use of Rare Earth (RE) and Lanthanide (Ln) metals in FLP chemistry. REs are very strong Lewis acids, however they tend to have very high coordination numbers in their complexes (up to 12), where they try to maximise the number of electrostatic contacts. Because of this, it is extremely challenging to develop FLP systems with REs and these have been underdeveloped compared to main group elements.

In this project, we will target the development of a new class of RE FLPs which will then be employed for the activation of small molecules, such as H2, CO and CO2. The main focus will be on using ligand design to fine tune the coordination chemistry of the RE metal centre and match it with the steric properties of various Lewis bases (e.g. amines, phosphines). The ambitious goal will be to deliver facile activation of target substrates and using the most abundant and cheap REs (e.g. La, Ce). To achieve these targets we will employ advanced anaerobic manipulation techniques (Schlenk line and glovebox), paired with the use state-of-the-art equipment and characterisation techniques (e.g. single crystal XRD, multinuclear NMR, EPR, electrochemistry). This project will offer a multi-faceted approach to the theme of green and sustainable chemistry by combining various aspects of synthetic f-element chemistry, spectroscopy and electrochemistry.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Dr Ortu are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Interstellar ion spectroscopy

Project supervisor

Professor Andrew Ellis

Project details

This project aims to exploit expertise developed at the University of Leicester to explore ions of relevance in astrochemistry. One of the most exciting developments in astrochemistry in recent years was the detection of C60+ in the interstellar medium (ISM) [1]. However, the ISM is also replete with proton donors, such as H3+, and therefore protonated species, such as protonated C60 and protonated polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are likely to be of importance in ISM chemistry. Such ions may be responsible for the long-standing mystery that surrounds the so-called diffuse interstellar bands [2]. We aim to provide spectroscopic signatures of such ions to aid astronomers and to provide a detailed understanding of the structure and properties of these ions in an astrophysical context. As well as protonated C60 and C70, and protonated PAHs, we are also interested in ions of relevance to prebiotic astrochemistry, particularly protonated amino acids.

The study of molecular ions in the gas phase has seen a rejuvenation in the past 5-10 years because of new techniques, such as the production of ions via electrospray and the ability to trap those ions in ion traps for spectroscopic studies. The spectroscopy is aided by the ability to add relatively inert tags to the ions, such as noble gas atoms or H2 molecules, so that when the ion is excited the tag is ejected and serves as a messenger of absorption. For this reason, the approach is often referred to as messenger spectroscopy. The best tag is helium because it binds so weakly, and therefore offers least disturbance to the underlying ion structure and properties. Helium messenger spectroscopy using ion traps has recently been developed but has so far seen little use because it is technically challenging and costly to develop.

In our lab we have recently discovered a new method for recording IR spectra of ions via helium tagging. This method has evolved naturally out of our studies on neutral molecules and their clusters in helium nanodroplets and we have started to apply it to a number of systems, ranging from small ions such as H3O+ and HOCO+ [3] to somewhat larger species, such as protonated acetic acid [4].

The method we have developed for recording infrared (IR) spectra of ions involves electron ionization of helium nanodroplets doped with the molecule(s) of interest. We recently made the discovery that, by careful adjustment of the experimental conditions, we can switch from recording spectra of neutral molecules to spectra of ions. This is a major breakthrough which allows us to create ions tagged with helium atoms, which can then photodissociate via IR absorption, leading to a method for recording IR spectra.

The person appointed to this PhD studentship will join a research group with wide expertise in the spectroscopy of molecules and molecular ions, as well liquid helium nanodroplets. This research programme will include a strong experimental element but will also include some computational work in support of the experiments. We are looking for someone who is keen to be involved in both aspects of the project and who also wants to learn more about astrochemistry.

References

  1. “Laboratory confirmation of C60+ as the carrier of two diffuse interstellar bands”, Campbell, E.K., Holz, M., Gerlich, D. & Maier, J.P. Nature 523, 322-323 (2015).

  2. “C60 as a diffuse interstellar band carrier; a spectroscopic story in 6 acts“, H. Linnartz, J. Cami, M. Cordiner , N.L.J. Cox, P. Ehrenfreund , B. Foing, M. Gatchell, P. Scheier, J. Molec. Spectros. 367, 111243 (2020).

  3. “Infrared Spectroscopy of a Small Ion Solvated by Helium: OH Stretching Region of HeN-HOCO+ ”, J. A. Davies, N. A. Besley, S. Yang, A. M. Ellis, J. Chem. Phys. 151, 194307 (2019).

  4. “Probing Elusive Cations: Infrared Spectroscopy of Protonated Acetic Acid”, J. A. Davies, N. A. Besley, S. Yang, A. M. Ellis, J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 10, 2108-2112 (2019).

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Prof Ellis are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Manganese catalysis: unlocking the door to new sustainable reactivity landscapes

Project supervisor

Dr Gregory Solan

Project details

This project is geared towards the development of novel catalytic materials based on earth-abundant manganese. The capacity of these materials to promote fundamentally significant chemical transformations will be investigated via an environmentally friendly strategy known as “acceptorless dehydrogenation”. The drive for increasingly greener and more cost-effective approaches has sparked international interest in the replacement of well-established precious metal catalysts (e.g. ruthenium, iridium and rhodium) for cheaper and more available ones based on base metals (e.g. iron and cobalt). In this programme, we focus on the application of the third most abundant transition metal, manganese, with a view to enabling industrially important organic reactions to be conducted with greater efficiency, lower cost and in a more sustainable manner. In addition, the amenability of these catalysts to promote transformations currently inaccessible by their noble metal counterparts offers an intriguing challenge.

Of paramount importance to catalysis in the 21st century is atom-economy, sustainability and environmental considerations. In this regard, the conversion of hydrogen-rich alcohols to give aldehydes (and ketones) via acceptorless dehydrogenation (AAD) represents a transformation that has seen transition-metal complexes emerge as effective catalysts [1,2]. In the past, hazardous oxidants have been used to promote the dehydrogenation of an alcohol leading to wasteful by-product generation. In an acceptorless approach, no oxidant is necessary and molecular hydrogen is generated as the only by-product, underlining its desirability in terms of atom-economy and environmental considerations. Perhaps more significantly, the products from the dehydrogenation can be used upstream in a process allowing access to a plethora of highly prized organic materials such as acetals, esters, amides, imines, amines and heterocycles. However to date, the types of transition metals employed to promote AAD are largely limited to precious metals; the replacement with base metals would be transformative to the chemical industry.

As part of this programme, we are interested in developing well-defined manganese-ligand combinations that can promote AAD-type pathways in coupling reactions to form pharmaceutically relevant N-heterocycles such as pyridines and quinolines. It should be noted that we have had some initial success in the regard and would like a PhD project to develop these exciting early findings [3]. At a more general level, it is worth emphasizing that manganese complexes have been seldom used in AAD catalysis but have nevertheless shown great potential [4-7].

References

  1. S. Schneider et al., Chem. Rev. 2019, 119, 2681-2751.

  2. G. A. Solan et al., Catal. Sci. Tech., 2017, 7, 1654-1661.

  3. G.A. Solan et al., 2021, unpublished work.

  4. C. Gunanathan and D. Milstein, Science, 2013, 341, 1229712.

  5. For the first disclosure see, D. Milstein et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138, 4928-4301.

  6. Kirchner et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138, 15543-15546.

  7. Kempe et al., Angew Chem. Int. Ed., 2017, 56, 7261-7265.

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Dr Solan are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).

Micro- and Nano-plastics in the environment

Project supervisor

Professor Shengfu Yang

Project details

By 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics, 6.3 billion tons of which had already become waste. Of that waste total, only 9 percent was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. The quantity of plastics on our planet will continue to grow, reaching 40 billion tons by 2050. Plastics is now a major feature of the changed, anthropocene, state of our planet.

While attention has now been drawn to macro-plastic debris accumulating in oceanic gyres and on coasts, or causing damage to wildlife, the insidious effects of plastics at a much smaller scale, the micro- and nanoplastics, go relatively unnoticed. These particles come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. Although they are largely unseen, small particles (<1 mm) have become ubiquitous in the marine environment over several decades. They can have negative consequences for marine ecosystems and humans through physical damage to organisms that ingest them and chemical transfer of toxicants. Recent studies have also shown that micro-and nanoplastics can interact directly with biological systems, e.g., with proteins that are important for fat metabolism, immune defense and blood coagulation, and may alter the behaviour, physiology and metabolism. Plastic particles have been found in a third of UK-caught fish such as cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish, and people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year, and have been recently identified in human stools.

Plastic pollution has emerged as a real threat to Earth’s ecosystems, especially in the ocean. However, little is known so far about micro- and nanoplastics once they enter biological systems. It has been hypothesized that ingestion of microplastic increases exposure of aquatic organisms to hydrophobic contaminants but how these particles transport, accumulate and interact with organisms, and how these impact on the chemical environment with consequent changes to growth, behaviour, reproduction, and physiology, remain unclear.

This is multidisciplinary research involving chemistry, nanoscience and biology, which will be carried out through collaborations between the teams in Chemistry and NPB at UoL. The project will use zebrafish as a model system, and will focus on particles of commonly used plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) and polystyrene (PS). Particles ranging from 50 nm – 1 mm will be prepared by a dissolution and reprecipitation procedure. To enhance the visibility and ease the detection of particles in fish, highly fluorescent nanoparticles will be synthesized and will be incorporated into plastic particles.

The project will start by studying the pathways of plastic particles in zebrafish and how they accumulate by using confocal microscopy. By comparison with zebrafish in clean water, the impact on behaviours such as foraging, social and reproduction will be monitored. In addition, we will measure behaviours including aggression, anxiety, boldness, sociality and learning using protocols already established at NPB. The changes on chemicals and gene expressions of organisms that host plastic particles  will also be studied, allowing the prediction of potential hazards of micro- and nanoplastics to human health.

The student will receive wide-ranging training in this project, including the procedures to synthesize micro- and nanoparticles and fluorescent metal-semiconductor nanomaterials, characterisation techniques, measurements of zebrafish behaviour, neurochemistry and gene expression changes, etc. The student will benefit from the extensive expertise in nanoscience at Chemistry and in behavioural neuroscience at NPB. Facilities for the work at UoL are excellent and include an extremely well-equipped open-plan laboratory at Chemistry and state-of the art aquariums and behavioural setups in available in NPB. Upon finishing the project the student will be equipped with a full set of skills in nanoscience and behavioural neuroscience.

References

  1. Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., T. Siegler, R., Perryman, M.,  Andrady, A., Narayan, R., Law, K. L (2015) ‘Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean’ Science 347, pp.768–771.

  2. Hoornweg, D., Bhada-Tata, P., Kennedy, C. (2013) ‘Environment: Waste production must peak this century’. Nature 502, pp. 615–617.

  3. Mattsson, K., Ekvall, M. T., Hansson, L.-A., Linse, S., Malmendal, A. and Cedervall T. (2014) ‘altered behavior, physiology, and metabolism in fish exposed to polystyrene nanoparticles’. Environmental Science and Technology 49, pp. 553-561.

  4. Gigault, J., ter Halle, A., Baudrimont, M., Pascal, P.-Y., Gauffre, F., Phi, T.-L., El Hadri, H., Grassl, B., Reynaud, S. (2017) ‘Current opionin: what is a nanoplastic?’, Environmental Pollution 235, pp. 1030-1034.

  5. da Costa, J. P., Santos, P. S. M., Duarte, A. C., Rocha-Santos, T. (2016) ‘(Nano)plastics in the environment – sources, fates and effects’, Science of the Total Environment 566-567, pp. 15-26.

  6. Besseling, E., Quik, J. T. K., Sun, M., Koelmans, A. A. (2017) ‘Fate of nano- and microplastic in freshwater systems: a modelling study’, Environmental Pollution 220, pp.540-548. 

Funding

There is no University of Leicester funding for this project. Applicants must be able to fund their own study or have their own external funding if they wish to apply.

Further information

Informal enquiries to Prof. Yang are welcome. For further application details, please contact postgraduate admissions (pgradmissions@le.ac.uk). Details can also be found via the University of Leicester study pages (apply for PhD).