Exploring the adaptability of the Welsh air quality monitoring network to measure airborne microplastics (AirbourneMP)


An opportunity to apply for a funded full-time PhD in the College of Arts, Technology and Environment, UWE Bristol.  The studentship will be funded by UWE Bristol and the Welsh Government.

The expected start date of this studentship is 01 April 2023.

The closing date for applications is 19 February 2023.

Studentship details

Large numbers of microplastic fragments have been found in both indoor and outdoor air samples, indicating that plastic is not just ubiquitous in the water we drink and the food we eat, but also in the air we breathe. A significant proportion of these microplastics are fibrous in appearance but very little is known of their origin. Our exposure to microplastic is likely to be higher via the airborne route and evidence also demonstrates likely health risks associated with their inhalation. The Welsh Government operates a significant number of PM10/PM2.5 air quality monitoring stations within the UK Automatic Urban and Rural Network (AURN). Some of these, including Beta Attenuation Monitors, retain time resolved samples on glass fibre tapes, which are routinely disposed of. By utilising ‘waste products’ from such instruments it will be possible to develop the a microplastics monitoring network and would facilitate the exploration of new knowledge on measurement, geographies of microplastics and pathways towards proactive management.

The aim of this PhD will be to develop and validate the ambient airborne microplastics monitoring capability in Wales, producing time resolved data on microplastics concentrations across Wales.

The objectives are: 

  • Desk based assessment of the characterisation, source types and environmental, social and health (inhalation and ingestion) impacts of microplastics and nanoplastics 
  • Identification and screening of air quality monitoring devices in Wales from which microplastics may be recovered 
  • Developing analytical approaches to the isolation and characterisation of microplastics within collected samples 
  • Scoping the development of a GIS based microplastics emissions inventory for Wales
  • Identifying a case for change, further evidence requirements and steps to future policy pathways.

The PhD will benefit from academic supervision provided by UWE and Welsh Government policy and analytical experts with an aim of maximising policy impact.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please email Ben Williams at ben3.williams@uwe.ac.uk or Enda Hayes at enda.hayes@uwe.ac.uk.


The studentship is available from 01 April 2023 for a period of three and half years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax-exempt stipend, which is currently £17,668 per annum. 

In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years (Home). 


Applicants must have a good first degree in an appropriate subject and ideally will have a Masters in Environmental Science, Geography or a related discipline.

Being able to speak Welsh is desirable but not essential. However, the candidate must be willing to learn basic Welsh phrases and be comfortable with the pronunciation of Welsh place names.



How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 2223-APR-CATE10

Supporting documentation: You will need to upload your research proposal, all your degree certificates and transcripts and a recognised English language qualification is required.

References: You will need to provide details of two referees as part of your application.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is 19 February 2023.

Further information

It is expected that interviews will take place on weeks commencing 27 February 2023.  If you have not heard from us by 24 February 2023, we thank you for your application but on this occasion you have not been successful.

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