EPSRC PhD Studentship in: The impact of sample line biofilms on drinking water quality and microbial compliance

University of Sheffield

This PhD will fundamentally advance our understanding of biofilm dynamics and interactions with bulk-water within drinking water, transforming sample line management within the water industry.

A combination of laboratory research and fieldwork using bespoke full-scale pipe loop facilities will be used to study biofilms within drinking water sample lines. Sample lines are critical infrastructure within the water industry, transporting water from the main drinking water supply to the tap where water quality regulatory samples are collected.

Approximately half of all samples that exceed regulatory standards annually (1 in 2000) are reported to be due to bacteriological parameters, creating large economic costs for water utilities. Current biofilm management strategies within drinking water systems lack a scientific basis, resulting in false positive results and a reluctance to modify existing operational procedures. This research, in collaboration with three UK water companies, is essential to address this knowledge gap and manage microbial risk associated with sample lines, and protect public health.

This PhD will be at the forefront of microbial water quality research, examining the potential for sample line biofilms to be a source of pathogenic microorganisms, and causing bacteriological exceedances in samples when mobilised.

Working within a supportive research team of industrial and academic collaborators, the research will involve:

  • Combining laboratory work using full-scale facilities at The University of Sheffield with fieldwork (with project partners, costs covered)
  • Investigating the impact of sample line design, operation (e.g. hydraulics) and final water characteristics on biofilm growth and stability, to develop evidence-based management and sampling strategies
  • Furthering understanding of biofilm ecology, including providing insight into coliform and biofilm dynamics to advance root cause analysis of bacteriological failures
  • Providing an evidence-based approach to determine and evaluate the role of sample line biofilms in bacteriological exceedances
  • Informing guidance on optimal sample line design, operation and management to mitigate biofilm impacts on regulatory samples

This is an exciting opportunity for motivated individuals to contribute to world-leading, applied biofilm research and inform practices within the water sector.The PhD programme benefits from being part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Infrastructure and Resilience (CDT WIRe). CDT WIRe is a collaboration between the three leading UK Universities in water resilient infrastructure. Students will benefit from a bespoke training scheme delivered by world leading experts from academia and industry, access to world-leading experimental and computational facilities as well as close and regular contact with industry and end user partners.  CDT WIRe is committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive community, and offer a range of family friendly, inclusive employment policies. For further information on the CDT WIRe scheme visit the web site at:  https://cdtwire.com/


The project will be supervised by Dr Fish, Prof Boxall and Dr Pick in collaboration with partners from Severn Trent Water, Welsh Water, Scottish Water and Anglian Water.

Eligibility Criteria

This studentship is supported by EPSRC WIRe CDT and the University of Sheffield. It is open to all students with UK residency.

Selection Criteria

  • A good first degree in a relevant science or engineering discipline
  • Enthusiasm for the topic area
  • Experience of experimental work
  • Microbiological, molecular or environmental analysis experience would be beneficial

How to apply

Interested candidates should email a covering letter and their Curriculum

Vitae to Lindsay Hopcroft ([email protected] ).

For information and informal enquiries, please contact: Katherine Fish ([email protected] ).

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