NERC-funded placements at the Universities of Leeds, York and Hull
Apply by 31st May 2023
We are pleased to announce that the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) have awarded Panorama 8 research experience placements (REPs) to be completed over the summer period of 2023. REP placements give undergraduate students a taster of what it’s like to be a postgraduate researcher, paid at national living wage for 6 weeks.
We particularly encourage students from underrepresented groups to apply (ethnic minorities, those with a disability or from low-income backgrounds). This year, one additional REP will available as a ringfenced placement for UK Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates, courtesy of additional funding from YCEDE (Yorkshire Consortium for Equity in Doctoral Education).
Applications are open to students from all universities, and all subject disciplines. You can apply to more than one NERC REP project – just submit one application form per project – and you’re also welcome to apply to the separate WACL projects scheme as well.
5pm on Wednesday 31st May 2023
How to Apply
To apply, please fill in this online REP application form, including a copy of your CV.
Placement Details, Funding and Reporting
- We have 8 REPs open to all students available for the Summer 2022, with 1 additional REP open to students from UK Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds (funded by YCEDE)
- Placement duration is 6 weeks full time the summer vacation period (starting in June/July/August).
- Placements are paid over at University of Leeds Grade 3 level.
- However, there is no additional funding available for relocation.
- REPs do not meet the requirements for a visa request, and therefore, are open to UK citizens or those who already have a right to work in the UK/Home-fees status.
- The student and the project supervisor at the host organisation will be required to complete a brief online report on the outcome of the placement at the end of the placement.
Students must be:
- undertaking their first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters).
- Note: students in their final year who have graduated and no longer have student status at the time the placement starts are not eligible. If the student meets the eligibility criteria (i.e., has student status) at the beginning of the placement, we would consider the eligibility criteria to be met even if the student graduates during the course of the placement.
- eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding (Details of eligibility for PhD studentships can be found here. Please note this guidance should be read in conjunction with the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions and guidance documents available here).
Invasive crayfish ecological assessment
Narrow-clawed crayfish are invasive in the UK but little is known about their population dynamics or ecological impacts. A population in Kirklees is tabled for eradication in the next five years but prior to intervention an assessment needs to be undertaken to understand their impacts. You will carry out one week of a mark-recapture experiment at Boshaw Whams reservoir and perform experiments in the aquatic interactions lab to understand and quantify predatory impact on different food sources under different environmental factors (temperature, habitat etc). You will be fully integrated into the aquatic interactions lab group and learn animal husbandry, experimental design and analysis, and be included in all publications resulting from the work.
Pharmaceutical burden in UK soils – A snap shot in time
Organic fertilisers, manure and slurry can contain a wide variety of emerging chemical pollutant including human and veterinary medicines, personal care products, pesticides and industrial chemicals depending on their origin, with the fate and persistence of these chemicals poorly understood within the soil environment. This project will fall under the SPADE project, currently funded through the University of Leeds Enhancing Research Culture fund. SPADE will provide a snapshot in time for the pharmaceutical burden in UK soils treated with organic fertilisers. We currently have 150 – 200 soil samples ready for chemical analysis. This summer placement project has therefore been designed with a clear objective of completing pharmaceutical analysis on sub- section of soil samples where organic fertilisers have been used from across the UK to contribute to the successful delivery of this project. This will include the extraction of pharmaceuticals from soil and their quantification using analytical chemistry techniques including liquid chromatography mass spectrometry. The summer placement student will work closely with PDRAs (postdocs) leading this project to gain laboratory experience in this research area. This work will also feed into public engagement and knowledge exchange activities that are planned as part of the project. Offering a student, the chance to gain experiences with key environmental chemistry techniques but also to be a part in public engagement activities with farmers to promote knowledge exchange.
Morphological change detection using hi-resolution LiDAR in a catchment recovering from a major flood
The project focuses upon a morphological re-survey of 500m reach of the Thinhope Burn catchment, near Alston UK. The student will undertake 2-3 days fieldwork during summer 2023, and learn how to use terrestrial LiDAR. The student will also be given tuition in morphological change detection analysis, using Cloud Compare and Surfer software. The work adds to an existing body of research focusing on the impacts of Thinhope Burn to a major flood in 2007, and subsequent recovery. The survey work conducted will eventually be published as part of a future paper in time for the next REF.
Impact of 11-year solar cycle on the stratospheric ozone
Changes in solar flux over 11-year cycle are considered to be very important external climate forcing. As largest changes occur in ultra-violet part of the solar spectrum that also determines stratospheric ozone concentration. Hence, analysing associated stratospheric ozone are considered be direct measure towards quantification of solar cycle forcing. We will use a output from a chemical model and number of satellite measurement based data sets to quantify effects of 11-year solar cycle on the stratospheric ozone. We would use various types of linear regression models for the data analysis.
Gair Wood: how have local weather conditions affected tree survival at a new woodland in Leeds?
In 2023 the University of Leeds created Gair Wood, a new broadleaf-dominated, native woodland of 66,000 trees for the city of Leeds. As well as improving biodiversity and capturing carbon, the woodland will be a site for research, including a large experiment of ~5,800 trees examining the effects of varying species diversity. As part of this REP you will be assessing how well these experimental trees have survived their first year in the site. You will also be collating weather information from the planting period to detect any possible impacts on tree survival, and to create a resource for future researchers on the site. Ultimately you will use this data to complete a short report on the success of tree establishment on the site. This is an opportunity to contribute to the start of a significant long-term experiment, and enthusiastic candidates will also have opportunities to build field skills by contributing to the program of ongoing monitoring on site. You will join the UBoC-supported team in the School of Earth and Environment and be part of the Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere and Forest (LEAF) centre at the University of Leeds, and will have the opportunity to attend seminars and relevant research meetings. This project will include fieldwork at a location in Leeds so the student would need to be living locally during the summer; hybrid or remote working will be considered outside of field times.
Illuminating the night: application of new technologies for standardised nocturnal insect monitoring
There is growing global concern that insect numbers may be in steep decline, with potentially catastrophic implications for biodiversity and ecosystem services. However, this knowledge is almost entirely limited to diurnal (day-active) insects. Nocturnal (night-active) insects such as moths, beetles and flies account for 49% of insect biodiversity, and are important pollinators, pests, and a key part of trophic networks. Despite their significance, our understanding of these insects is limited by the difficulty of sampling them using traditional methods that are time-consuming and require taxonomic expertise. To address this gap, we propose a research project that aims to evaluate new technologies that have the potential to revolutionize nocturnal insect monitoring. This project will primarily involve fieldwork, with some opportunities for lab work and data analysis.
Working together with you, we will develop a research plan that includes testing technologies such as DIOPSIS, which uses photography and artificial intelligence to identify nocturnal insects, eDNA, which employs molecular tools to identify species, and weather surveillance radar to identify broader patterns of nocturnal insect activity (https://biodarproject.org/). The ultimate goal of this project is to compare these new approaches to traditional methods (light traps) and assess the potential of these technologies to contribute to long-term nocturnal insect monitoring. By doing so, we hope to shed new light on the status and trends of these vital but under-studied insects and inform conservation efforts aimed at preserving their populations and the important ecosystem services they provide. The project will be supervised by Professor Bill Kunin and Dr Liz Duncan and the project may be carried out on either a full or part-time basis.
What can we learn from crowdsourced observations of UK mountain conditions?
A persistent issue in meteorology and climate science is a sparsity of observations. One rapidly growing approach for providing novel data sources is the use of qualitative crowdsourced records from online media platforms. For example, Twitter is now one of the best sources of flood observations, and is used by national forecast centres to verify their forecasts! This project would seek to examine whether publicly available logs of winter climbing routes (UKC.com) can be used to learn about meteorological process affecting UK mountain areas. The sport of winter climbing is extremely dependent on local conditions which can depend on an entire season’s weather, with different route types depending critically on different conditions. Given the expertise of the UK climbing community at successfully picking routes to climb, these records are thus potentially very useful proxies of the state of remote mountain environments. The project would seek to quantify relationships between these records and external climate drivers known to affect the UK (e.g. North Atlantic Oscillation, NAO), and compare these against station records to examine the efficacy of this novel data source. The project would be a great opportunity to learn about UK climate drivers, extreme conditions in the high mountains, and issues surrounding the application of crowdsourced data to meteorology. It would suit anyone interested in these topics! The project could be tailored to any degree of computing experience beyond an essential minimum of Excel based data analysis. For example, it could be used to build skills in web scraping or geospatial analysis. The scope is very open and could be influenced by any interactions with the lively Dynamics research group here at Leeds, which includes practitioners in mountain meteorology.
Does dust from Antarctica make ice in clouds and influence global climate?
Clouds over the Southern Ocean around Antarctica play a major role in the planet’s climate by reflecting incoming sunlight and trapping outgoing heat energy. However, clouds in this region are poorly represented in climate models because the amount of ice in them is poorly defined. These clouds have a tendency to persist in a supercooled state, where they remain liquid despite being well below zero degrees C. Hence, they are very sensitive to the presence of particles like dust that can trigger ice formation. These ice-nucleating particles are therefore key to understand these clouds and the planet’s climate. At present, no one has quantified the ice-nucleating ability of dust from Antarctica, hence we are unable to determine its role in producing ice in clouds over the Southern Ocean. In this project you help to quantify the ice-nucleating activity of dust samples collected in Antarctica by our colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The project will involve working alongside scientists in Leeds (in particular Dr Mark Tarn and Prof. Ben Murray) and from the British Antarctic survey. This work is part of the CloudSense project. This is an experimental project where you will be involved in dispersing this Antarctic dust into our aerosol chamber, using advanced tools for measuring the size distribution of dust and then sample the dust onto filters. Your primary job will be taking these filters using our droplet freezing assay to quantify the ice nucleating ability of Antarctic dust. To do this quantification you will need to analyse your laboratory data and in doing so will gain experience in Python coding. We anticipate that your work will contribute to an important published paper. This project will suit students with and Environmental, Physical or Chemical Science background. Further reading: Murray et al. (2021), Cloud-phase climate feedback and the importance of ice-nucleating particles
Green Space Access and Equity across the Urban-Peri-Urban Continuum
Access to green space, in its various forms, is important not only for its inherent environmental biophysical properties, but vital for human wellbeing. This summer project will allow a student to analyse the green space accessibility in Leeds and the surrounding area, looking at both accessibility via walking or public transport to a variety of green spaces (inner urban to peri-urban) and the equity in access for different groups. The project will involve use of pre-existing data sets, and collection of primary data through engaging local community groups and stakeholders, and validation of green spaces. Analysis will involve spatial analysis. The student will complete the project by producing a summary brief, that will be shared back with the community involved in the project. The project has been designed to allow a host of environment graduate relevant skills (data collection, analysis, community engagement, document production) to be practiced, that can be used to demonstrate proficiency when the student enters the employment market, or further academic studies, post degree. The student will be supervised and trained by Dr Arjan Gosal, Lecturer in Socio-Environmental Data Science in the School of Geography.
Acoustic imaging for automated monitoring of masonry structures – initial feasibility study
Structures ranging from old buildings to large civil engineering constructions deteriorate over time. This need practical and efficient structural health monitoring. Simple visual inspection is often used. Recent work demonstrated using photos of fractures in masonry that machine learning can be applied to visually and automatically classify the fractures (Dais et al, 2021). However the results are for large visible well-developed fractures. Non-visual techniques are needed to monitor fractures at earlier stages prior to coalescence into large scale fractures. Seismic, acoustic and ultrasonic imaging are likely to be very suitable candidates for such monitoring ultimately with similar automatic classification using Machine Learning. This project will make an initial investigation into the feasibility of acoustic monitoring for masonry structures. It will entail producing a numerical model in the seismic research code WAVE3D. The study will also utilise example images of masonry fractures to help develop an appropriate numerical model. The model will simulate some basic field tests which could be made either at seismic or at ultrasonic frequencies. A key aspect of the models is to determine the appropriate frequency range to investigate masonry fractures. The first step will investigate acquisition on large open fractures. The next step will simulate smaller more closed fractures at an earlier and less visible stage of development. A short project report will cover the methods and results achieved, and hence will give very useful direction to future work and an initial indication of feasibility for this work.