Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

Looking forward to a summer of research

I’m undertaking a six-week funded internship as part of the Santander Summer Research Scheme as a 2nd year Environmental Sciences undergraduate student at the University of Brighton. I entered university with a clear idea of what I’d like to achieve; which in the long term is to do impactful research especially relating to rivers and water issues. The advertisement for the summer research position immediately caught my attention as a fantastic opportunity to gain experience as a researcher working alongside the skilled and experienced staff from the universities Centre for Aquatic Environments. Not only does the position offer me invaluable experience which will aid in my long-term goal of undertaking a PhD, but it also expands on what I’ve been taught so far in my undergraduate modules. I felt entirely grateful and privileged to be offered the position following the application and interview process. In part I was relieved in receiving the offer as this will undoubtedly be a great step forward to furthering my academic career.

The project will be working on expanding our current understanding of how microplastics behave within river systems. More specifically I’ll be trying to quantify the extent to which biological factors such as biofilms growing on the bed of rivers influence the behaviour of microplastics during different stages of flow. Small steps have been taken in preparation for the project such as: wading through tributaries of the river Ouse to place bricks in areas with a lot of biological activity. Once the project commences on the 15th of July 2019, we’ll be constructing multiple channels within a large flume in the lab into which the bricks will be laid with various grades of sediment. We’re hopeful that the biofilms will grow from the bricks and onto the sediment prior to introducing plastics to the flow. Ultimately, I’m looking forward to determining whether or not biofilms are a crucial factor to regard whilst investigating the behaviour of microplastics in rivers as it can lead to even further research.

I’ll be undertaking the project as a research assistant under the skilled supervision of Dr. Annie Ockelford and Dr. James Ebdon who’re both currently working on international and impactful research focused on microplastics in rivers. The project will have elements of fieldwork but will largely be centred on lab-based experimenting. Fieldwork will include extracting water and biofilm samples from tributaries of the river Ouse. These samples will be analysed for bacterium and nutrients as well as the biofilms being utilised in the inoculation of our flume. Lab based work will be the key focus and will include working with the schools flumes in which we’ll run the experiments especially flow based ones. Further lab work will include tensile strength testing and further analyses of our biofilm samples which were used in the experiments. Naturally I feel somewhat nervous going into a position surrounded by highly experienced individuals it remains but an echo in the waves of excitement and desire to begin experimenting.

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Pieter Fourie • July 14, 2019

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