News and media exposure

Petroleum and Environmental Geochemistry Group (PEGG)

January 2018

What a Whale of a Wheez

On 16 January, Steve Rowland was interviewed by David FitzGerald on Radio Devon and discussed his research on ambergris. Later that day, he briefly appeared in a piece aired on BBC 1 Spotlight. See 'Whale dung stone' found on Ilfracombe beach for further details on this story.

February 2017

A Record of Polar Molecules

Chemistry World reported on work to unlock the history of Earth’s polar regions by Simon Belt and his colleagues using organic molecules isolated from diatom algae in ice cores.

October 2015

Wilde wins one

Mike Wilde (left) won the prize for the best presentation at the Environmental & Food Analysis SIG Meeting (EFASIG2015) held in Southampton on 28 October 2015. Mike's presentation was titled "Identification of Petroleum Acids by GC×GC-MS: A New Method Based on an Old Approach" and the prize was presented by Thomas Lambert of ARC Sciences (in the absence of the donor, Simon Lambert).

September 2015

Sticky Stuff Stumps Steve

C&EN (Chemistry & Engineering News) has recently reported that a mysterious substance responsible for killing hundreds of birds in San Francisco Bay appears to be a polymerized plant-derived oil rather than one derived from petroleum. In the article we learn that: '… 

Steve Rowland, an organic geochemistry professor at the University of Plymouth, in England, was one of the first scientists to offer assistance. His group had recently successfully identified polyisobutene as the culprit in a massive spill off the coast of the U.K. in 2013. Thousands of birds were killed during that disaster.

Polyisobutene’s physical characteristics share many similarities to the California contaminant—sticky, gummy, gluey—led many scientists to suspect it was the culprit.

But Rowland's lab compared their infrared spectra with those of the California samples, and was able to rule out polyisobutene. Rowland didn't stop there: He compared spectra from the California samples to those from a library of ocean contaminants that he's amassed over the years. None were a match. "We still could not identify it conclusively," Rowland says. "It's annoying." …'

It certainly is...

August 2015

Plastic Particle Pollution at Plymouth

Everyday cosmetic and cleaning products contain large numbers of plastic microparticles, that can be released into the environment when personal care products, such as facial scrubs, are used. The particles are included in these products as bulking agents and abrasives. Unfortunately, because of their small size they often pass through conventional sewage treatment works and are released into rivers and then the marine environment. Imogen Napper and Dr Adil Bakir (PhD and Postdoctoral Researcher, respectively along with Professors Steve Rowland and Richard Thompson, published their research in Marine Pollution Bulletin, and estimate this could result in up to 80 tonnes of unnecessary microplastic waste entering the marine environment every year from use of these cosmetics in the U.K. alone.

See Cosmetic and cleaning products contain millions of plastic particles for further details and 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.07.029 for the full article.

February 2015

Kate Creates Perfect Soil

Kate Schofield has created a cost effective and environmentally sustainable soil for the Eden Project. Kate is working on her PhD with Drs Mark Fitzsimons and Alan Tappin as well as colleagues at the Eden Project. Her work has been reported in the local press.

September 2014

Bacteria may Reduce the Impact of Diazepam in River Environments

PEGG research adorns the cover of the latest issue of Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts. The research by Drs Mark Fitzsimons and Alan Tappin at Plymouth, and colleagues at the Institutive of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool, demonstrates that natural photo degradation of diazepam (valium) and similar medicines, followed by bacterial breakdown, may reduce their potentially harmful impact on the UK’s freshwater environment. Diazepam – used to treat anxiety and other similar conditions – has been detected in rivers across the UK and Europe, having been released from waste water treatment plants. At these levels it has the potential to produce harmful ecological effects in surface waters, including changing the behaviour of fish shoals and their ability to sense danger from predators.

The study has generated considerable interest and was reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science Daily and in an industrial publication, Processing Magazine.

September 2014

Footballer Fields Fullerene

Our home grown footballing chemist, Charles West, achieves further notoriety in the local newspaper, The Herald, having been chosen as one of the Royal Society of Chemistry's 175 Faces of Chemistry.

August 2014

One of the 175 Faces of Chemistry

Charles West has been chosen to be one of the Royal Society of Chemistry's '175 Faces of Chemistry'. Professor Lesley Yellowlees, the RSC's first female president, launched the celebration on 15 October 2012 and it is running for the 175 weeks leading up to the RSC's 175th anniversary on the 23 February 2016. In all, 175 ambassadors and role models for future generations of scientists are being featured and in the last week of August 2014, Charles' unconventional journeyinto chemistry was celebrated. Well done Charles!

March 2014

Steve Presents Plenary at Kuwait Conference of Chemistry

Steve Rowland recently visited Kuwait to present a Plenary Lecture (A hump no more? Identification of toxic unresolved apolar and polar pollutants from hydrocarbon degradation) at the prestigious third Kuwait Conference of Chemistry, which was held 9-11 March 2014 at The Regency Hotel, Kuwait. The meeting was organized by Kuwait Chemical Society (KCS), Kuwait University (KU), Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR) and Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET). While in Kuwait Steve was able to catch up with Lulwa Ali, who completed her PhD with him 20 years ago in 1994. Lulwa now works for the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research and Steve commented that it's great to witness the successful careers of our alumni.

January 2014

Judge for Observer Ethical Awards 2014

Charles West has, yet again, added to his accomplishments having been selected as a judge for the Observer Ethical Awards 2014.

November 2013

Footballer, Research Scientist, Blogger... and Racing Car Driver?

Charles West was announced as the Environmental Science winner of the Scopus Young Researcher UK Awards 2013 at a prestigious event held at the The Energy Technologies Institute, Prince Philip House, London on 14 November 2013. Charles and five other early career researchers were honoured during the Award Ceremony, which was attended by university executives, policy makers, senior researchers, Fulbright alumni and Elsevier top management. The award was developed by Elsevier in association with the US-UK Fulbright Commission and recognises the outstanding achievements of the UK’s early career researchers.

The award winners are all researchers, who have published for the first time in 2010 or more recently and have an affiliation to an institution in the United Kingdom. They were assessed by a jury of former Fulbright Scholars based on publication and citation information provided by Scopus, Elsevier's abstract and citation database.

March 2013

Mark Meets Muck

Mark Fitzsimons was interviewed on ITV Westcountry on Wednesday 27 March 2013 for comment on the deteriorating bathing water quality in Southwest England, based on the Good Beach Guide published by the Marine Conservation Society. He explained the main reasons for the increased inputs of sewage to SW coastal waters and the options for improving water quality ahead of the revised, and more stringent, water quality levels required under the EC Bathing Waters Directive.

February 2013

2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge

Ten years ago, Science and the National Science Foundation launched an international competition to recognize the best examples of projects that bring scientific information to life. In its tenth year, Clare Redshaw and colleagues were the People's Choice winner for their visualisation "The Pharma Transport Town: Understanding the Routes to Sustainable Pharmaceutical Use". The authors are Will Stahl-Timmins, Mathew White, Michael Depledge, and Lora Fleming from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School and Clare Redshaw from the University of Plymouth.

The achievement was reported in Science and the team are hoping to use the graphic as an educational tool to help understanding of the issues, for scientists, policy makers and the general public.

February 2013


Steve Rowland and Paul Sutton have analysed the material found on guillemots and razobills washed up along the coast of South-West England. Using high temperature gas chromatography as well as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry they have determined that the sticky, semi-solid substance is polyisobutene (PIB), which is used as an additive in oils to improve performance. Reports on the BBC News and Science & Environment pages show Paul extracting and analysing the material from a dead guillemot, while Steve explains more of the details behind the investigation. The work has also been reported in local and national newspapers. As they say, now it's a search for those responsible.

December 2012

Go West! ...or is it East?

Charles West has been awarded a Royal Society of Chemistry JWT Jones Travel Fellowship. Charles will visit Monash University (Melbourne, Australia) from January to March 2013 to collaborate with Professor Philip J Marriott. The aim is to develop microscale preparative two-dimensional gas chromatography (prep-2D GC) with NMR spectroscopy to isolate and identify major individual chemicals from ‘supercomplex’ OSPW samples and sub-fractions.

February 2012

Tom and Ashleigh of the Arctic

Tom Brown and Ashleigh Ringrose returned from a cruise to Svalbard where they travelled to 82°N on a ship with ice-breaking capabilities. They collected a range of organisms such as star fish, sea cucumbers, urchins, polar cod, crabs, sponges, amphipods and shrimps. The specimens will be used to study sea-ice primary production, which they hope will provide a greater understanding of climate change. One of the highlights was venturing onto the frozen sea-ice to collect ice samples when they had to look out for polar bears but downsides included rough seas and sea sickness. They hope to return to the area in the summer to collect additional samples.

The trip was featured in the local press (Icy Wastes Teem with Life and Scientist off to the Seas of Ice).

November 2010

Marine Microplastic Miasma?

"Investigating whether microplastics cause harm in the marine environment" is the prosaic title of a ca £400,000 award to Professors Richard Thompson (MBERC), Steve Rowland (PEGG) and Tamara Galloway (University of Exeter) by DEFRA recently. Won competitively, in awarding the grant DEFRA noted that "... liked the coverage of research topics, your understanding of the MSFD, the scientific equipment immediately available to you, the added strength built in with your choice of research partners and of course your reputation in this field ...".

September 2010

Not Only But Also!

Not content with award for Best Research Team (below) BGC and PEGG in particular were delighted when Professor Simon Belt was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for 2010, making Simon officially one of the best teachers in HE chemistry in the U.K. Simon received the award from Professor Shirley Pearce, Chair of the Advisory Panel, at a Gala Dinner held at Middle Temple Hall, London, on 29th September. The award comes with a certificate and £10,000 to spend on "professional development".

September 2010

Best in the West (or at Least the Uni)

The Biogeochemistry Research Centre (BGC) comprising a merger of the BEACh and PEGG research groups, was awarded the prestigious Vice Chancellor’s Award for Best Research Team 2010 at a recent "Oscars"-type grand night in the Graduation Marquee on Plymouth Hoe. BGC Co-Director Professor Steve Rowland and PhD student David Jones suitably "bibbed and tuckered" were selected and honoured to receive the award from Pro-VC Professor Julian Beer, on behalf of all hard-working members of BGC. Well deserved... let's do it again this year!

June 2010

Belt Bags Bundle

Professor Simon Belt has been awarded a 2010 National Teaching Fellowship by the UK Higher Education Academy in recognition of his commitment to excellence in the teaching of chemistry in higher education. As part of the award, Simon will receive £10,000 to 'invest' in his professional development – first stop, an academic gown, an iPAD and a holidayconference or two. Simon will officially receive his Fellowship at a gala dinner in London in September – Cheers!

March 2010

Scarlett Sets Sights for 日本

Dr Alan Scarlett of the Biogeochemistry Centre has recently been awarded a fellowship by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) to carry out cooperative research at a leading Japanese research institution. The JSPS awards up to 25 fellowships per year from all fields of science including computer, engineering, health, biological, life, natural and physical sciences, mathematics, humanities and social sciences etc. Alan will spend three months based at the Institute for East China Sea Research, Nagasaki University, conducting collaborative research with Dr Awantha Dissanayake under the supervision of Professor Atsushi Ishimatsu. Alan and Awantha both studied for their PhDs within the UoP's Marine Ecotoxicology Group and have previously collaborated in a study into the effects of toxic compounds when transferred from prey to predator (Scarlett et al., 2009 [Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 28, 381-387 doi: 10.1897/08-298.1]).

The new research project "Assessing the Health of Japan's Marine Environment: An Integrated Biological and Chemical Approach", will make use of the Biogeochemistry Centre's new state-of-the-art tandem chromatograph-time-of-flight mass spectrometer (GC×GC-ToF-MS) which has the power to separate and identify thousands of previously unidentified chemicals. As well as providing novel insights into marine pollution within Japan's coastal regions, the research will provide additional data for Professor Steve Rowland's European Research Council funded project "Overlooked Unresolved Toxic Organic Pollutants: Resolution, Identification, Measurement and Toxicity (OUTREACH)".

December 2009

Sizzling Science and Freezing Frazil

Continuing their quest to obtain sea-ice from every available source, Simon Belt and Tom Brown have teamed up with polar explorer Antony Jinman. In February 2010 Antony and his team will attempt to ski to the Geographic North Pole and along the way they'll collect samples of algae from the sea-ice over which the team will travel (as if they don't have enough to do already!). The samples, once brought back to the laboratory, will provide invaluable data for our research into the extent of past sea-ice.

December 2009

Malcolm Simon in the Middle (or is it the Bottom?)

Simon Belt will be giving an invited lecture at the forthcoming 2009 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, U.S.A. (14-18 December 14-18 2009). The meeting will be attracting leading palaeoclimate scientists from around the world, and Simon will be presenting at a session entitled: Take it From the Top: Climate Variability in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic During the Holocene. The first part of Simon’s presentation title ( ... the middle and the bottom ... ) may take a little working out!

November 2009

PEGG Publishes Proxy

PEGG’s most recent Arctic research work has recently been published in Nature Geosciences (doi: 10.1038/ngeo665). Working alongside Professor Ruediger Stein and PhD student Juliane Mueller from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany, Simon Belt and Guillaume Massé have reconstructed a sea ice record for the northern Fram Strait region of the Arctic for the last 30,000 years. The study site is a major gateway between the Arctic and the northern North Atlantic Oceans and represents a pivotal location for investigating past climate change.

November 2009

Kevin and the Katt

One of PEGG's PhD students, Kevin Thomas, has featured on Schrodingers Katt, a popular science TV show in Norway (unfortunately the program is now off-line). Kevin completed his PhD in 1995 under the supervision of Steve Rowland having worked on Characterisation and environmental effects of unresolved complex mixtures of hydrocarbons and now heads up the Ecotoxicology and Risk Assessment Unit at NIVA, Norway. We're wondering if this signals a change of career for Kevin!

August 2009

Naomi Helps Research Red Tide

First year PhD student, Naomi Downes-Tettmar (co-supervised by Dr Carole Llewellyn, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Professor Steve Rowland, PEGG), featured on BBC TV and radio in August when a red tide of toxic algae killed fish in St. Austell bay. Naomi’s research project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, aims to develop chemical analytical methods for assessing the levels of algal toxins such as domoic acid, in seawater.

March 2009

Yet More Hot Stuff!

In association with Dr Neil Chilcott of Kernow Analytical Technology Ltd. Dr Paul Sutton was a runner-up in the University of Plymouth Business Ideas Challenge 2009 competition and received £1000 in cash to develop our idea for "Thermal Separations" plus professional and service support packages worth up to £2000.

February 2009

Extreme Weather Affects Plankton

Heavy rain in the summer of 2007 washed large amounts of nitrogen into the English Channel, causing algal blooms and changing the function of marine phytoplankton, according to new research published by Dr Mark Fitzsimons and others in Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science (10.1016/j.ecss.2008.12.005) and discussed in NERC's PlanetEarth (see Storm Nutrients Disturb Plankton Populations). The research has also been featured in the local press (Heavy Rain 'May Harm Sea Life').

February 2009

Hot stuff!

PEGG Senior Scientific Officer, Dr Paul Sutton and industrial collaborator Dr Neil Chilcott of Kernow Analytical Technology Ltd. were awarded a Highly Commended citation at the first round of the 2009 regional Business Ideas Challenge hosted by the University of Plymouth on Friday night for their idea "Thermal Separations". A further two rounds of competition will take place before March when the 16 winners from the first round will be narrowed down to the eventual winners.