Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

The student will benefit from access to community gardens developed as part of a collaboration between QUB and Belfast City Council as part of the Horizon 2020 funded UPSURGE project. It is anticipated that at least one plot at the site will be dedicated to this research, to allow the student to apply pulverised rocks to the soil, and compare growth of produce with amended soils, and take samples of soil and produce for laboratory analysis.

Using the findings of the field and laboratory analysis, the student will undertake a human health risk assessment to assess any risks posed from Cr and Ni in ERW amended soils.

Essential skills

  • 2.1 Honours Degree or MSc equivalent in Earth/Environmental Science or other related discipline.
  • Experience in some of the following fields and a willingness to become familiar with the others:
    • Laboratory techniques and extractions
    • Soil geochemistry
    • Statistical analysis of environmental and geospatial data.
  • Ability to organise resources, manage time and meet deadlines.
  • Good communication skills in English (written and verbal).
  • Strong analytical and problem solving skills.
  • Ability to logically conceptualise and summarise research findings.
  • Be willing and able to carry out field work and spend time on secondment at UoA and engage with external organisations.

Desired skills

  • Experience of environmental risk assessment.
  • Experience of undertaking spatial, statistical and/or chemometric methods of analysis.
  • Knowledge of weathering processes.
  • Experience in using statistical software packages including ArcGIS or R.

Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash


Siobhan Cox

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Siobhan Cox
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Alex Brasier

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Alex Brasier
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Rory Doherty

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Rory Doherty
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment

Additional Supervisor:

Prof Jenny McKinley, QUB NBE, Geography
Institutional Webpage

Research Methods

  • It is anticipated the following laboratory work will be carried out:
    Oral bioaccessibility testing of Ni and Cr in soils and grown produce using the Unified BARGE Method (UBM) for bioaccessibility testing (Material Characterisation Laboratory, Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Stable isotope measurements using C and O isotopes (Stable Isotope Laboratory, Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Petrography of soil and plant samples (Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) including Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS)) (Aberdeen Centre for Electron Microscopy, Analysis and Characterisation (ACEMAC) facility at the University of Aberdeen).

There is also potential for enhanced weathering tests on amended soils to be carried out using environmental chambers available at QUB and for leaching tests to be carried out to determine how much Cr and Ni will be leached from the amended soils.

Proposed Supervision

The student will spend most of their time at Queen’s University Belfast, with additional time spent at University of Aberdeen. The primary supervisor will be Dr Siobhan Cox (QUB), who will be responsible for day-to-day activities, supervision on human health risk assessment, statistical methods and overall project management. Dr Rory Doherty and Prof Jennifer McKinley (QUB) will provide experience in chemical analysis, environmental geochemistry, compositional data analysis and using stable isotopes to quantify carbon sequestration. Dr Alexander Brasier (UoA) will provide expertise in stable isotope and elemental geochemistry, petrography (microscopy) and weathering processes.


  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management

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