Titanium diatoms: biocatalysis of emerging micro-contaminants using Ti-doped diatom frustule nanostructures

Project Summary

Emerging micro-contaminants (EMs) are a global water quality threat. Novel nanoparticles, composed of diatom skeletons doped with titanium, will be created and investigated for use in oxidizing of these EMs.


The occurrence of new and emerging micro-contaminants (EMs), including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, in water and wastewater presents a global water quality challenge. The presence of EMs in the aquatic environment has many adverse environmental impacts including ecotoxicity, endocrine disrupting compounds, the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, amongst other hazards to human and ecosystem health. Conventional wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) were not originally designed to treat EMs and are hence limited in their ability to remove these contaminants. Advanced oxidation processes (AOPs), including photo- and biocatalysis, are capable of degrading hazardous and recalcitrant EMs1. However, one of the disadvantages of AOPs that currently prevents wide-scale application is the cost and recovery of the catalytic material. Diatoms (Fig. 1A) are photoautotrophic unicellular microalgae, of which an estimated 200,000 are thought to exist. They differ from algae in that they have a silicified cell wall or frustule (Fig. 1B). These frustules are often incredibly strong and have a sophisticated architecture. Under certain cultivation conditions, diatoms are capable of incorporating titanium into their frustule2, 3. This presents to opportunity of producing a robust nanomaterial scaffold, with a high surface to volume ratio, for use in the elimination of EMs using AOPs.   

Key Research Questions

  • Which diatom species is the best in terms of readiness to incorporate titanium and frustule architecture?
  • What is the best method for producing these inorganic titanium-laced frustules?
  • How do these titanium frustules compare to conventional catalysts for breaking down EMs?
  • How easily can the frustules be recovered and re-used, in comparison with other catalysts?

Further Information: 


A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferrable professional skills. The student would be expected to undertake training courses related to algal cultivation, microscopy, and chromatographic techniques (e.g. HPLC and/or GC). 

For more information and to apply please visit https://www.ed.ac.uk/e4-dtp/how-to-apply

Closing Date: 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


RCUK eligibility rules apply (RCUK Terms and Conditions of Training Grants)

Eligible for a full funding: UK/EU citizens or settled overseas students only, who have worked and/or studied in the UK for at least three years before the programme starts (this applies to all, including British citizens).

Eligible for fees-only: UK/EU citizens who do not comply with the 3-year UK residency criteria. The award includes fees and research cost but not stipend. Students have to find match funding to cover their living costs for 3 years minimum.

Non Eligible: Overseas students who are currently on a Visa or would need a Visa to come to the UK.

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: