Microplastics and health

Understanding the pathological effects of microplastic

Degree type


Closing date

29 October 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore

About the research project

Asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), tobacco, thalidomide, fossil fuels - throughout history we have seen a time lag between the proliferation in the use of a product and the realisation of its devastating economic, ecological and health consequences. Now we find ourselves, again, in the midst of the dangerous lag period of unawareness with regards to the newly identified threat- microplastics.

While the issue of visible large plastic pollution has been widely acknowledged and researched for over fifty years, it has only recently become clear that sub-millimetre microplastics are an extremely prevalent and potentially hazardous form of plastic. Microplastics are capable of penetrating organs, sequestering in tissues and entering individual cells, and thus have the potential for substantial detrimental physiological effects. However, to date, there have been no in-depth investigations into the negative physiological consequences of microplastic exposures; meaning thousands of species, including humans, may be suffering severe effects of which we are mostly unaware.

In this project we will use a wide range of techniques, ranging from cell culture models to molecular and histological analyses of wildlife species currently afflicted by plastic pollution, to explore the question - how do microplastics effect cells, tissues and organisms. We aim to elucidate the potentially inflammatory and pathological nature of microplastics and explore what attributes of microplastics mediate their physiological effects.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Jack Auty


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


The project is open to domestic (Australian and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from international applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First-class Honours degree or equivalent qualifications in environmental science
  • High level oral and written communication skills including at least one publication in an international, peer-reviewed journal
  • Ability to work independently and as a productive member of a team

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Experience in applied research, working with laboratory and tissue samples and/or field experience
  • Detailed knowledge of plastic pollution and/or animal physiology

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select the project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Jack Auty, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including contact details of two referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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