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What lies beneath: Resolving fundamental controls on the stable oxygen isotope composition of phosphate in soils

Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for food production but rock phosphate reserves are non-renewable and set to become increasingly scarce, making phosphorus critical for global food security. Therefore, it is vital that we better understand how P is cycled in soils in order to support future food production. This project will develop a highly novel stable isotope technique and use the technique to provide new insights into the P cycle within soils. The project offers the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s leading experts in this new isotope approach in order to advance our knowledge of the P cycle. Specifically, you will examine how the uptake of P by bacteria and fungi, how the release of P from mineral phases and how the mineralization of organic P control the stable isotope composition of P within soil environments. The training opportunity: This project offers you the opportunity to work across three leading institutions in the UK (Rothamsted Research; Lancaster University and the British Geological Survey) in order to become an expert in the stable isotope biogeochemistry of phosphorus in soil environments. You will learn how to design and implement controlled laboratory experiments, including gaining hands-on experience of culturing techniques for bacteria and fungi alongside stable isotope labelling approaches. You will also gain direct experience of operating a range of cutting-edge analytical instruments, including being trained in the operation of mass spectrometers at the NERC Stable Isotope Facility at BGS Keyworth.

Applicants should hold a Masters degree and/or a Bachelors degree (at 2.i level or equivalent) in subjects such as Environmental Science, Natural Science, Chemistry or Physical Geography. Applicants will ideally have some experience of analytical work in a laboratory.

If you’re interested in this project, you’re encouraged to contact Dr Martin Blackwell (; 01837 883500) to discuss the research and training opportunities involved.