Self-funded PhD opportunities

Fibrous Zeolites in the Environment – Occurrence, Longevity and Risk to human health

  • Application end date: Applications open all year round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Mike Fowler, Dr Andy Gibson, Dr Dean Bullen

Project code: SEES4451018

Project description

Health problems related to asbestos fibres are very well known, such that appropriate legislation and occupational health guidance are now in place to minimise the otherwise catastrophic consequences for affected individuals. However, it is less well understood that many other naturally occurring minerals which have similar crystal morphology and may pose similar or higher risks to human health are present in locations that may pose significant risks to human health. The most commonly occurring example of this (in the UK and worldwide) is erionite, a fibrous zeolite, thought to be many times more carcinogenic than the most potent asbestos minerals (amphibole group). It is recognised as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and by the WHO as the most carcinogenic mineral. The most notorious expression of its toxicity is likely the incidence of mesothelioma recognised in the late 1970s in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, arising from the use of erionite-rich building stones from local sources

Despite this, its distribution in the natural environment is poorly known. However, fibrous zeolites are most likely to occur in zones of low grade metamorphic rocks, including volcanic tuffs and basalts where ithey crystallise in vugs and amygdales as a result of water-rock interactions at low temperature and pressure. Erionite distribution has been investigated, for example in Italy and in Dakota (USA) but despite its known presence in host rocks in the UK (principally the British Tertiary volcanic rocks of Antrim and western Scotland), its abundance and distribution are effectively unknown. This is in part because of the complex and time-consuming methods currently employed to identify erionite. This project will build on the results of a pilot study by the supervisors, and will contribute to the development of a method for confident, rapid, field-based identification of erionite and related fibrous zeolites, using NIR spectrometry. The results from detailed field surveys using the defined protocol will inform a geo-environmental conceptual model of erionite distribution in the plateau lavas of the UK. The research will also characterise the environmental persistence of erionite once released by quarrying or natural weathering. The work is an opportunity to make a significant contribution to our understanding of risk from erionite exposure in the UK and emerging government policies in this area.

Supervisor profiles

Dr Mike Fowler

Dr Andy Gibson

Dr Dean Bullen

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Mike Fowler at (02392 842293), or Dr Andy Gibson at (02392 842654)

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at  You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: SEES4451018

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

This is self-funded project, for infomration on fees and funding, please see our webpages.

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