Our Current Research
Research in the Institute focuses on five main themes.
Our Chemicals in the Environment group focuses on two main research themes:
Understanding the fate and behaviour of chemicals in the environment
With a population of over 60 million, the UK produces around 3.6 billion tonnes of sewage a year (1½ times the volume of Lake Victoria, the largest of all African lakes) – its treatment presents a huge challenge, exacerbated by the occurrence of often hazardous chemicals. Although the concentration of contaminants in this environment is often studied, little is really understood about factors controlling their long term fate and impacts – this is the focus of our research. To tackle this problem, we use chemical measures and bioanalytical techniques to better understand the impact of contaminants.
Dr. Mark Scrimshaw is developing this research theme through collaboration within and beyond the Institute and opportunities to link this understanding to the more complex issues surrounding human health exist through collaboration with Dr. Ariana Zeka.
Clean and clean-up technologies
The development of clean technologies involves optimisation and improved control of chemical reactions in existing processes and the development of new processes to achieve environmentally clean reactions. In particular, Dr. Abdul Chaudhary's work on the development of a concentrator cell to improve metal recovery systems from dilute solutions for the control of industrial pollution received the Queen’s Award for Environmental Achievement.
We have research expertise in past, present and future climates. Our projects cover field-based, laboratory-based and computer model-based research – this allows us to improve understanding of the climate system and climate change from a number of different perspectives.
We also examine the impacts of climate events. Our work covers a wide range of disciplines including: plant and animal distributions, sedimentary analyses, severe storms and flooding, air quality, pollution, atmospheric physics and energy generation. Our research is led by:
Prof. Suzanne Leroy – palynology, sea level changes, environmental reconstruction, palaeoecology.
Dr. Stephen Kershaw – evidence from rocks to interpret climate change, ancient and recent.
Dr. Andrew Russell – climate dynamics, climate change, convective storms, extreme weather.
Dr. Ariana Zeka – climate change and health.
The key aim of the Ecotoxicology group is to investigating the impacts of chemical pollutants on wildlife and organisms.
Brunel University has a long history of pioneering research in environmental toxicology with particular emphasis on the causes and effects of endocrine disruption in aquatic wildlife. The group has several important themes:
Chemical effects on the reproduction and sexual development of aquatic organisms, particularly fish and, more recently, molluscs
Thousands of chemicals enter rivers in effluent from sewage treatment works. Many of these chemicals are probably of no environmental concern, but a few are. We focus on those we consider most likely to be of concern and we study their effects on aquatic species, both in the laboratory and the environment.
Amphibian ecotoxicology and endocrine disruption
We have worked with the UK Government Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the potential for endocrine disruption in native British amphibians, and have contributed significantly to OECD initiatives to develop amphibian test methods for detecting thyroid active chemicals.
Our work is now considering the influence of the conditions of exposure on top of the exposure itself. For example, we are investigating factors such as temperature, oxygen levels and food availability.
See also: MSc in Toxicology and Risk Assessment
Understand and examine the factors that determine population health risk factors
The research in the Human Toxicology and Risk Assessment group falls into two broad themes:
Dealing with cocktail effects in chemicals regulation and risk assessment
Traditional chemicals risk assessment has a quite artificial orientation: It treats chemicals as if they act in isolation, when in reality there is exposure to multiple substances. We have developed ways of improving chemical risk assessment by taking “cocktail effects” into account. Following 15 years of research led by Prof. Andreas Kortenkamp, our work is beginning to influence European Union chemicals regulation, particularly in the area of pesticides and endocrine disrupters.
Hormones and human cancers
Hormones play a role in cancers of the breast, prostate and testes, but how precisely they influence the disease process remains unclear. Our research aims at elucidating the role that hormones and hormone-like chemicals play in cellular and tissue maintenance, carcinogenesis and tumour progression. Dr. Elisabete Silva is developing three dimensional breast epithelial cell culture systems for the study of signalling processes.
See also: MSc in Toxicology and Risk Assessment
Addressing impacts of climatic and geological hazards on human civilization
Natural hazards are seen as an important threat to our society and is at the core of our research here in the Institute for the Environment. Our staff have a record of involvement in international projects concerned with hazards posed to human society through rapid climatic and sea-level change and seismic events. For example, Professor Suzanne A G Leroy is leading an international focus group on "Hazards and humans" for the TERPRO commission of INQUA.
Institute for the Environment wins the Queen's Anniversary Prize
IfE's research revealing the link between chemicals in rivers and reproductive health has won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. Read the full article