Determining the dietary accumulation and toxicity of nanoplastics and co-contaminants (zinc oxide nanomaterials) in fish

Applications are invited for a four-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2024.


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Biological Sciences (and select the entry point of October 2024), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship and name the project at the top of your personal statement.
Online application
Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a postgraduate research programme.
For more information on the admissions process, please contact
Director of Studies (DoS): Dr Nathaniel Clark
(NB: Nathaniel Clark, School of Health Professions, will be the DoS although the project sits under the School of Biological and Marine Science).
3rd Supervisor: Dr Lee Hutt 
Applications are invited for a four-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2024.

Project description

Plastic pollution represents a global environmental challenge. The larger plastic particles can degrade to produce/release nanoplastics (NPs) that can enter the tissues of aquatic organisms. For example, up to 700,000 nanoplastics can pass across the gut of fish in four hours and once in the body, these NPs can enter the internal organs. However, linking accumulation with the effects on the gut epithelium, and the cellular storage and remobilization (i.e., excretion) following chronic exposure, remains unexplored. 
Contaminants such as NPs do not occur in the environment in isolation and the presence of other particles will affect their bioavailability and toxicity. Recently, engineered nanomaterial (ENM) production has increased, including zinc oxide (ZnO) due to its advantageous properties (e.g., piezoelectricity, semiconducting, antibacterial) and these ZnO particles can interact with larger microplastics through surface sorption. However, the interaction of ZnO with smaller scale plastic pollution (i.e., NPs), and the subsequent consequence for animal exposure (e.g., uptake and toxicity) remains unclear.
This project will understand the dietary exposure of NPs and ZnO co-exposure in fish through characterising the dynamics of NP and ZnO interactions in artificial gut fluids (stomach and intestines) and assessing the chronic toxicity and accumulation to fish using in vitro and in vivo methodologies. 
The time for this project will be split across the University of Plymouth (50%) and Diamond Light Source (50%). Please note that the successful applicant will be based 2 years in each institution with no full-remote working allowed.


Applicants should have a first or upper second-class honours degree in an appropriate subject or a relevant masters qualification. Knowledge of either Biology, Toxicology or Chemistry laboratory working processes and safety procedures is a must, including experience in how to write/follow Risk Assessments and (Bio)COSHH forms.   
Regrettably, for this studentship, we are unable to accept international students because the necessary immigration visa licences are not in place. Citizens of Ireland can exercise Common Travel Area rights (and do not require a student visa to study in the United Kingdom).
The studentship is supported for 4 years and includes full home tuition fees plus a stipend of £18,110 per annum 2023/24 rate (2024/25 rate TBC). The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home fees with relevant qualifications. 
If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Nathaniel Clark.
Please see our apply for a postgraduate research programme page for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application. 
For more information on the admissions process generally, please visit our apply for a postgraduate research programme page or contact the Doctoral College at
The closing date for applications is 24 May 2024 (midnight, UK time). 
Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview shortly after the deadline. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received a response within six weeks of the closing date should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.