Organic matter stabilization in technosols eco-engineered from bauxite residues

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Supervisor – Professor Longbin

Mine wastes such as tailings and/or bauxite residues was poor in organic matter and nitrogen with poor physicochemistry that restrain microbial and plant diversity development. Organic matter stabilization is of great importance in both physical structure (aggregate formation via organo-mineral association) development and ecofunctional development (as energy sources).

The present study will mainly focus on the processes and mechanisms of organic carbon and nitrogen stabilization in tailings driven by functions tolerant pioneer plant-microbial continuum. The dynamics of mineral associated organic carbon and nitrogen during long-term aggregate turnover driven by plant-microbial activities will be elucidated. Isotopic labelling and various micro-spectroscopic analysis will be employed to zoom in the mechanisms of OC/N association with minerals in the engineered mine wastes. The findings would guide advance eco-engineering pedogenesis of mine waste towards the ecosystem functionality development.

The PhD project will focus on OM formation and stabilization in the process of eco-engineered soil formation of mine waste (such as bauxite residues), in relation to mineralogical transformation, geochemical changes and microbial community evolution. Depending on applicant's background and interest, the emphasis of the PhD study could be tailored to focus on the nature and fate of OM or aggregate-occluded OC turnover driven by plants and microbes, in the technosols under a gradient of physicochemical conditions. Expected knowledge will contribute to the understanding of pedogenic processes leading to soil formation and sustainable rehabilitation.

The proposed project will be based at University of Queensland, within which the ERA ratings of related field “0402 Geochemistry” and “0502 Environmental Science and Management” are “well above world standard” in 2015. The PhD candidate will work intimately with our senior team at UQ, including Prof. Longbin Huang (mineral bioweathering, engineered pedogenesis and soil-plant systems), Prof. Ram Dalal (soil organic carbon sequestration and cycling) and Prof. Phillip Hugenholtz (molecular microbial ecology in soils and bioremediation sites), as well as research fellows and postdocs with various expertise. The PhD candidate will have access to world-class research facilities such as the Centre for Geoanalytical Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS, IC-MS); Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis (XRD, FEGF-SEM, SEM, NMR); CMLR laboratories (within SMI) (ICP-OES, physical & hydraulic analyses); Nano-SIMS facility (at UWA (UQ is a foundation member); Australian Synchrotron Facility (XFM-XANES, Soft X-ray); and Taiwan National Synchrotron and Radiation Centre (XAS), Canada light science (CLS, STXM-NEXAFS). UQ also has well-serviced and supported glasshouse facilities. The PhD candidate will also have chances to engage in industry partnerships with Rio Tinto Aluminium and Queensland Aluminium Ltd (QAL). The PhD candidate will also have opportunities to attend international conferences and communicate with the international researchers to benefit their career.

Preferred educational background

Applications will be judged on a competitive basis taking into account the applicant's previous academic record, publication record, honours and awards, and employment history.

A working knowledge of soil organic carbon biogeochemistry and/or soil biology related to rhizosphere processes would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of soil chemistry or soil biology and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of soil organic matter biogeochemistry, plant and soil, microorganisms, or environmental geochemistryis highly desirable.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2023. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

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