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Funding boost for the next generation of environmental scientists

Two female scientists working with a computer and a digital microscope in a laboratory

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has invested in new £3.5 million centre for doctoral training (CDT).

The new centre, named Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use (ECORISC) CDT, will fund 39 new PhD studentships over six years. It aims to produce a new generation of researchers with the knowledge and skills to change how the environmental risks of chemicals are monitored, assessed and managed.

The centre is led by the University of York, with:

  • Cardiff University
  • University of Exeter
  • The University of Sheffield
  • Lancaster University
  • UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The centre brings together world-leading institutions with a wealth of experience in the delivery of PhD programmes in ecotoxicology and chemical risk assessment science. The multidisciplinary programme also draws on the first-hand experiences of 28 external partners from research, industry, government and third sectors.

Unique programme of research and training

Successful applicants will embark on an exciting and unique programme of research and training. During their research, students will benefit from the co-supervision of two ECORISC institutions and a centre partner.

They will also receive training in pollution science and transferable skills. On completion, this will result in the award of phase one of the Certified Environmental Risk Assessor qualification from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, one of the partners in the programme.

The formal training programme will be complemented by:

  • yearly residential challenge events
  • ECORISC annual conferences
  • tailored specialist skills training.

ECORISC students will also gain real-world experience in applied chemical research and management through the provision of work placements hosted by the partner organisations from the industry, consultancy and policy spheres.

The project has been designed to ensure the knowledge and tools developed will be applicable to a wide range of chemical types in use today, such as:

  • pesticides
  • pharmaceuticals
  • biocides.

It will also help forecast future chemical risks from climatic, demographic and technological change.

Talented scientists

Robyn Thomas, Associate Director, Discovery Science, Talent and Skills at NERC, said:

This investment will support talented scientists and build understanding and expertise in this key area of environmental science.

Chemicals benefit society every day in a diverse range of contexts including agriculture, industry and our homes, but they can also pollute and disrupt balance in fundamental ecosystems. This centre will help tackle the challenge of chemical pollution and train a future generation of ecotoxicologists that understands the impact of chemicals on the planet and can work to reduce those effects.

Professor Alistair Boxall, ECORISC CDT Director at the University of York said:

We all use chemicals in our lives but our understanding of how these impact the natural environment is still quite limited. The ECORISC project will produce a new generation of scientists who are able to better assess and manage the environmental risks of chemicals meaning that we can enjoy the many societal and health benefits of chemicals while not negatively affecting the environment.

Sustainable chemicals

The project will help businesses to develop more sustainable products. Oliver Price, Global Head of Product Sustainability for Reckitt Benckiser, a partner in the project said:

We need scientists that can help us advance our ambitions on safer and more sustainable products. Students will have opportunities to partner with a range of stakeholders to advance how they manage and develop sustainable chemicals that promote people’s health and wellbeing, support economic development and protect our environment.

The programme will comprise three cohorts of 13 students. The first cohort is due to begin in autumn 2021.

Top image: Two female scientists working in a laboratory (credit: katleho Seisa/GettyImages)

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