HDR Scholarship - Biosorption: A sustainable water treatment solution for remote communities?

Applications now open

A PhD scholarship is available to initiate and conduct research on the topic 'Biosorption: A sustainable water treatment solution for remote communities?'

Project Supervisor


Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus

Research topic

Despite clean drinking water being something most Australians take for granted, many remote communities are regularly exposed to levels of heavy metals like lead and uranium in their drinking water far exceeding thresholds set by the World Health Organization. This can be due to Australia’s natural geology influencing groundwater chemistry, poor industrial practice, and aging water infrastructure.

The ideal water treatment solution, as well as being highly effective at removing dissolved metals from water, would be low-cost, sustainable, and self-manageable by individual communities, no matter how remote they are. Biosorbents (biological materials capable of removing contaminants from water) offer an exciting, novel solution to water treatment challenges. Current research into biosorbents tends to take a “trial-and-error” approach, varying materials, metals and aqueous chemistry until optimum metal removal is achieved. Little thought is given to the situation, or needs, of the end user.

This project centres on intelligently optimising the performance of a biosorbent readily available to a remote community, for the specific water treatment challenges they face. Intelligent optimization involves developing a molecular-level understanding of the metal uptake process, including determining the chemical identity of the plant surface groups involved in metal uptake, and the nature of the metal binding to the surface groups. From a small amount of laboratory experiments, we can build a model describing this process. The model allows us to test the effect of changing simple physiochemical parameters of the system to optimize metal removal, without the need for further lab experiments.

Project aim

  1. (Optional aim) Field work to affected communities to:
    • Understand their water treatment needs
    • Explore suitable locally-available plant materials
  2. Explore the current literature on biosorption by Australian native plants.
  3. Design & implement methodologies to:
    • Test the metal uptake capacity and kinetics of plant materials
    • Determine the molecular-level relationship between metals and plant surfaces
    • Produce surface complexation models, informed by the molecular level understanding, to predict metal uptake
    • Use models to optimise metal uptake, and test experimentally
    • Integrate biosorption into current water treatment processes
    • (This includes making use of the advanced characterisation facilities available at Deakin University, the Australian Synchrotron & the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering).
  4. Make recommendations for the feasibility of biosorption as a water treatment process for remote communities.

Important dates

Applications will remain open until a candidate has been appointed.


This scholarship is available over 3 years.

  • Stipend of $27,596 per annum tax exempt (2019 rate)

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • be a domestic candidate (domestic includes candidates with Australian Citizenship, Australian Permanent Residency or New Zealand Citizenship).
  • meet Deakin's PhD entry requirements
  • be enrolling full time and hold an honours degree (first class) or an equivalent standard master's degree with a substantial research component.
  • have a degree in Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Chemistry, Geochemistry or related disciplines

Please refer to the research degree entry pathways page for further information.

Additional desirable criteria include:

  • practical laboratory experience
  • reporting/publication track record or aptitude for written communication

How to apply

Interested applicants should email the expression of interest form and CV to Dr Ellen Moon


Contact us

For more information about this scholarship, please contact Dr Ellen Moon

Dr Ellen Moon
Lecturer in Environmental Engineering
Email Ellen Moon
+61 3 522 78656