Coatings for Agriculture: Food Security without a Microplastics Problem

Coatings on seeds and leaves can protect crops and help feed the growing world population. But there are concerns these coatings might produce harmful microplastics. We have an idea to prevent that.

Start date

1 September 2021


3 years

Application deadline

Funding source

NERC. This project is supported by Syngenta who offer training support and a 3-month internship.

Funding information

£15,285 per year in 2020-21 plus a Research Training and Support budget to cover costs such as conferences, workshops and equipment.


Agricultural coatings are applied directly onto seeds and leaves to make pesticides and other active ingredients more effective, to increase crop yields, and to contribute to global food security. However, there are concerns that such coatings can form microplastics: microscopic polymeric particulates that can negatively affect marine food chains and that may transfer pathogens.

This project will develop biodegradable coatings for agriculture and investigate whether they can biodegrade without forming harmful microplastics. In this interdisciplinary project you will be trained in the chemical synthesis of polymers, the casting and characterisation of coatings, and the synthesis of model microplastics. The polymer biodegradation will be analysed using a combination of analytic methods (including ellipsometry, dynamic light scattering, nanoparticle tracking analysis, optical/electron microscopy, and various NMR spectroscopic methods). Specifically, we aim to compare different types of established and novel polymers under identical conditions including simulated environments, and, working with a leading agricultural company, real soil samples. We expect that the project can provide clear guidelines on the future design of agricultural coatings that contribute to food security without posing a microplastics risk.

This project includes training and mentoring in all associated chemical, physical, analytical, and environmental methods. The successful applicant will be part of the SCENARIO doctoral training partnership cohort and will have access to training and networking events. Funding is available to attend (international) conferences. The PhD student will also spend 3 months on an industrial placement with Syngenta.

Related links

Soft Matter group Department of chemistry

Eligibility criteria

This project is suited for applicants with a first class or upper second-class BSc or Master’s level degree (or international equivalent) in chemistry or a closely related subject area.

This studentship is available for UK, EU and overseas students.

IELTS requirements: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category (not for native speakers).


How to apply

All applications to SCENARIO are made via the University of Reading, whether the projects you are interested in are based at Reading, Surrey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, British Geological Survey or Institute of Zoology.

Choose the PhD projects that interest you most (maximum of 4) and rank your choices in order of interest. Your application is only sent to supervisors for projects where you express an interest, so listing more increases your chances of success. If in doubt, choose 4. There will be limited possibilities to express interest for other projects later in the Admissions process.

Each project description indicates the name and institution of the lead supervisor and has a reference number. You are welcome and encouraged to email the lead supervisors of projects to ask them any questions you may have or to discuss the project.

Main interview day: 10 February 2021

It is likely that our interview day will be an online event, but that decision will be made nearer the time based on governmental Coronavirus guidelines.

Application deadline

Contact details

Peter Roth
34 AZ 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686396


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