Investigating the formation, presence, and distribution of nanoplastics in aquatic environments


The Project

Troubling images, showcasing the large amount of plastic litter that contaminates our waters and threatens wildlife, have become a regular focus of the popular media. Not everyone realizes that we cannot account for a very large fraction of the plastic that escapes into the ocean. A significant portion of this “missing plastic” is hypothesized to result from the degradation of plastics and are named nanoplastics. A multidisciplinary team will now use a breakthrough approach to investigate the formation, presence, and distribution of nanoplastics in aquatic environments. We will study size, structure, and composition of nanoplastics, their transport across the ocean, as well as their interplay with and impact on the Earth’s aquatic microbiome. The reactivity of nanoplastics will also be assessed, allowing to investigate potential degradation pathways, including those involving microbial interactions.

The Nanoplastics: Origin, Structure and Fate project is funded through an NWO ENW Groot grant.


The Team

Bert Weckhuysen

Professor
@ Utrecht University

Bert is PI of the project and expert in catalysis chemistry

Linda Amaral-Zettler

Professor
@ NIOZ and UvA

Linda is Co-PI of the project and expert in microbiology

Erik van Sebille

Associate Professor
@ Utrecht University

Erik is Co-PI of the project and expert in Lagrangian Ocean Analysis

Irene Groot

Associate Professor
@ Leiden University

Irene is Co-PI of the project and expert in surface science and microscopy

Florian Meirer

Assistant Professor
@ Utrecht University

Florian is Co-PI of the project and expert in spectro-microscopy


Open Positions

PhD in physical chemistry

Troubling images, showcasing the large amount of plastic litter that contaminates our waters and threatens wildlife, have become a regular focus of the popular media. Not everyone realizes that we cannot account for a very large fraction of the plastic that escapes into the ocean. A significant portion of this “missing plastic” is hypothesized to result from the degradation of plastics and are named nanoplastics. This PhD project is part of a consortium that will investigate the origin, structure and fate of nanoplastics. The consortium consists of Utrecht University, NIOZ/UvA, and Leiden University. In the project taking place at the Leiden Institute of Chemistry we will make use of STM/AFM to obtain atomic-scale structural information of polymers that are constituents of nanoplastics found in the marine environment and of samples collected from this environment. The chemical composition and oxidation state of the elements present will be investigated using XPS. As a next step, the aging and degradation of polymers and nanoplastics will be investigated and compared. This encompasses studying the effects of exposure of the samples to gases at atmospheric pressures (e.g. H2, H2O, and O2 and mixtures thereof) and/or elevated temperatures on the atomic-scale structure and chemical composition.

Selection criteria
We are looking for a highly motivated candidate, who has:
  • A Master’s degree in Chemistry or Physics, or related disciplines;
  • A strong interest in surface science;
  • Excellent proficiency in English;
  • Good technical experimental skills.
The candidate should feel comfortable working in a collaborative environment with complex experiments. Initiative, creativity and an independent working attitude are highly valued. Experience with vacuum equipment and/or scanning probe microscopy is considered an advantage.

For more information, also on how to apply, see here.

Associated Projects