Southampton PhD: Biofilms linked to microbiologically-influenced corrosion

Modelling the bioelectrochemical response of biofilms linked to microbiologically-influenced corrosion


Major challenges due to corrosion are faced by the maritime, offshore renewable and energy industries. With the recent operating history of the offshore wind farm industry, the scale problems and associated costs are yet to be fully understood, but it has become apparent the actual environmental corrosivity can be very different from that originally assumed in the design specification. Bacteria colonise all engineering surfaces exposed to seawater and these micro-organisms act as cues for more invasive macrofouling species. 

Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion

A better understanding of biofilm formation on infrastructure in-service is necessary but limited in many cases by a lack of suitable methods that allow the biofilm bioelectrochemical performance and any surface degradation/corrosion to be studied. This leads to ineffective and inefficient biofilm mitigation strategies, resulting in loss of performance and additional economic costs from inspection and maintenance schedules. An attractive alternative to the present biofilm inhibition strategies would be the control of the bacterial biofilm using natural substances (e.g., naturally occurring enzymes, biochemicals and/or predator species) to induce biofilm removal directly by destroying the physical integrity of the biofilm matrix. Thus, there is the potential to develop new strategies to comply with increasingly stringent environmental legislation

The proposed University of Southampton research programme will thus focus on these two key areas: (i) biofilm analysis and (ii) modelling, with the ultimate long-term objective to understand the physiological properties linked to corrosion degradation at the metal|biofilm interface. 

(i) Improved understanding of which microorganisms are responsible for corrosion and how they corrode is thus essential. New diagnostic tools can now provide a genomic analysis of various interactions between individual populations within biofilms. The presence of a biofilm is known to modify the electrochemical properties of a metallic interface. Novel methods are needed to specifically to monitor the activity of the microbial community that are localized at the metal|biofilm interface and most active in the corrosion degradation.

(ii) To build physiological and genome-scale metabolic models that describe the activity of microorganisms in corrosion biofilms and their interactions with other biofilm components, analogous to similar applications in host microbiomes, bioremediation, wastewater treatment and biogeochemical cycling. Advanced electrochemical and imaging methods will make crucial contributions to this complex, interdisciplinary problem.

This research will draw on existing collaboration between Surface Engineering within the School of Engineering (nCATS), the School of Biological Sciences and NBIC. 

Entry requirements: A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 August 2024 for standard admissions.

Funding: Funding for tuition fees and a living stipend are available on a competitive basis. Funding will be awarded on a rolling basis, so apply early for the best opportunity to be considered.

How To Apply

Applications should be made online. Search for a Postgraduate Programme of Study ( Select programme type (Research), 2024/25, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. On the next page select “PhD Engineering & Environment (Full time)”. In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor Julian Wharton

Applications should include:

Research Proposal

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts/Certificates to date

For further information please contact: