Current Group Profiles

Dr Zoe L. Fleming - NCAS Research Scientist

Zoe FlemingI am Research Scientist for the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), a NERC (National Environment Research Council) research centre. My research is focussed on analysing long term trends of trace gases at two coastal observatories: Weybourne, Norfolk and the Cape Verde Islands (see Field Work Pics), in London Beijing and from networks of monitoring stations (such as UK Defra, European EMEP and international GAW stations. I apply trend analysis techniques and tools to study long term trends in air pollutants. I use the Met Office's NAME (Atmospheric dispersion) model run as a community tool on the CEDA JASMIN supercomputer to track the pathway of air masses arriving at the measurement sites, in order to understand the continental and marine influences.

I am a lead author on the human health chapter of the TOAR report(Tropospheric Ozone Assessment report). I am also interested in outreach and ran a stall at the NERC Into the Blue Outreach event in October 2016 and will be working on air quality public outreach days in Yorkshire in spring 2017.

I have become involved with the calibration and testing of suitability of small sensors for long term monitoring and spatial distribution of pollution and would be happy to test and compare any new prototypes and provide feedback.


Dr Rebecca Cordell - PDRA

My research interests lie in the measurement of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using mass spectrometric techniques, including hyphenated systems such as liquid chromatography and gas chromatography coupled MS (LC-MS and GC-MS), and the direct chemical ionisation MS techniques of proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometry and atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation-mass spectrometry (PTR-MS and APCI-MS).  I have worked on several projects in the past encompassing a wide range of applications including atmospheric chemistry, food and flavour, therapeutic drug monitoring and genetic disease. 
My current role is as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate on the MRC funded project EMBER - the East Midlands Breathomics Pathology Node, a project that is examining the feasibility of using VOCs in breath as biomarkers of disease diagnosis and progression, focusing on respiratory disease and heart failure. 


Lloyd Hollis - Studying for a PhD

My PhD project, funded by NERC, is entitled “Assessment of nitryl chloride as a missing oxidant in the UK atmosphere”. Nitryl chloride represents a chlorine activation pathway, and is believed to be produced mostly from dinitrogen pentoxide (primarily originating from polluted air) and chloride ions (typically from sea spray). Nitryl chloride provides a nitrate reservoir, accumulating at night and photolysing after sunrise to yield highly-reactive atomic chlorine radicals while returning stored nitrogen dioxide. Several sites across the UK have been selected at which to measure levels of nitryl chloride using chemical ionisation mass spectrometry (CIMS) and its precursor dinitrogen pentoxide via broadband cavity-enhanced absorption spectrometry (BBCEAS). These field measurements will serve to fulfil the investigation’s aim of ascertaining the prevalence of nitryl chloride under various conditions in order to assess this molecule’s impact on atmospheric composition and oxidative capacity, and thus the effects on climate and UK air quality.


Sarkawt Hama - Studying for a PhD

My PhD project, funded by HCDP, is to examine the problem of air quality in Leicester and more specifically the issue of ultrafine particles (UFPs) and air quality in relation to health, in a complete and transnationally coordinated manner. The project aims will be achieved by setting up a transnational observatory and by the implementation of targeted and novel air quality improvement measures to reduce UFP exposure in Leicester. My research project is part of the Joint Air Quality Initiative (Joaquin) project and includes the analysis of the seasonal concentration of UFPs measured in the urban background of Leicester. My work focuses on the analysis of the measured UFP concentration and size distributions. I will be involved the real-time measurements of particulate and gas-phase pollution at the new University of Leicester AURN station. In particular I will look at the development of methodologies for source apportionment of PM10 and PM2.5 and their relationship to novel measurements of ultra-fine particles.


Saleh Ouheda  - Studying for a PhD

Proton-Transfer-Reaction-Time-Of-Flight-Mass-Spectrometry (PTR-TOF-MS) is a useful technique for rapid analysis of many volatile organic chemistry in many application such as breath analysis and fracking. The use of the fluorocarbon ions CF3+ and CF2H+, generated from CF4, as reagents provide an effective means of detecting many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using direct chemical ionisation mass spectrometry.
My project is focused on using CF3+ and CF2H+ as chemical ionisation reagents on PTR-TOF-MS to detect small alkanes and some VOCs in breath samples and fracking.


Jasmine Wareham- Studying for a PhD

Air pollution is a fact of everyday life. It has a demonstrable detrimental effect on human health and ecosystems and has economic impacts through work days lost and increased health care costs. The need to monitor air pollution is therefore vital in order to establish which areas are affected, whether the pollutants are within their legislative limits, and to help inform policy makers of the options for improving and mitigating the effects of poor air quality.

My NERC CENTA funded PhD project builds on a NERC Proof of Concept project, to develop a highly sensitive analytical instrument for real-time, direct spectroscopic measurements of ambient NO2 and aerosol optical depth. Based on Broadband Cavity Enhanced Absorption Spectroscopy (BBCEAS), the new instrument uses a novel time-tagged photon detection technique to record time- and wavelength-resolved information simultaneously about the light beam traversing the sample cavity. One advantage to this new instrument over the existing BBCEAS instrument is that it eliminates the need for a complex calibration procedure involving technical input and calibration gases, therefore making it more suitable for use in air quality monitoring sites.


Dr Tom Adams- PDRA

Tom Adams

My research background involves the detection and quantification of reactive trace gases in the troposphere using Broadband Cavity Enhanced Absorption Spectroscopy (BBCEAS) and the study of both anthropogenic and biogenic emissions. My previous field campaigns include measurements of I2 emissions in coastal regions, NO2 in urban ambient air, and VOC oxidation products during experiments in an atmospheric simulation chamber.

BBCEAS is a highly sensitive spectroscopic technique which utilises a high finesse optical cavity to make absorption measurements over extended path lengths within a compact instrument. Measurements are made over wavelength ranges that are sufficiently broad to enable several overlapping absorbers to be quantified simultaneously.
My current research as part of the NERC funded Sources of Nitrous Acid in the Atmospheric Boundary Layer (SNAABL) project involves the direct determination of HONO production from road vehicles, through measurement of HONO and NO2 in a road traffic tunnel.


Peter Qualey - Studying for a PhD

Peter QualeyThere is an hypothesis that volatile organic compounds associated with the various medical conditions and created anywhere in the body are transported in the bloodstream and a portion is then excreted in breath.  Moreover, Proton-Transfer-Reaction-Time-Of-Flight-Mass-Spectrometry (PTR-TOF-MS) is a useful technique for rapid analysis of breath-born analytes without prior pre-concentration.  As such it may potentially be useful in a clinical setting to assist in the early detection and diagnosis of disease or perturbed physiological condition or for therapeutic monitoring.

The challenge of my PhD is, by using this technique under controlled conditions, to acquire clinical data at the patient's bedside and then, using multivariate techniques, to determine patterns of mass channels within exhaled breath whose interrelationships reliably correlate with clinical characteristics of a patient.

This investigation is part of a collaborative project between Leicester University and Leicester Royal Infirmary Diagnostic Development Unit: Multi-Modality Monitoring in Emergency Medicine.


Rikesh Panchal - Studying for a PhD

My NERC funded PhD involves the development of a new, novel method to study the reactivity of hydroxyl (OH) radicals within the atmosphere through the use of Proton Transfer Reaction – Time of Flight – Mass Spectrometry (PTR-ToF-MS). This is done by studying the reactivity of OH through the Comparative Reactivity Method (CRM), the development of a reactor and experimental set up for use with the CRM technique. The CRM technique measures the rate loss of OH within an environment through the reaction of VOCs within that air sample in comparison to the OH reactivity of a species that is not naturally abundant within an air sample (pyrrole). This technique offers a fast and easy approach to measure the total loss of OH within an environment. This technique will also be developed to measure any missing VOCs that can’t be measured with other instruments and will be developed for field work.


Omolara O. Okunuga - Studying for a PhD

Locating and identifying buried remains has been an arduous task for investigators in the field of forensic science, archaeology and even law enforcement agencies. Most of the current methods used to locate buried remains such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), electromagnetic sensors and trained cadaver dogs to name a few have their drawbacks.

 My PhD research sets out to follow the dynamic succession of VOCs from putrefaction by implementing a novel real time mass spectrometric technique Proton Transfer Reaction Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (PTR-ToF-MS) in hopes of answering the scientific question which is; Can the fingerprint of air above a cadaver be used to determine forensic information?

To achieve this, I will be developing and characterising a controlled tomb in which I will be monitoring the decay of cadavers under different environmental conditions. PTR-TOF-MS allows for real time measurements and allows for simultaneous detection of almost all VOC’s even when present in parts per billion by volume.

This type of experiment and work is unique on the national and international scene and would be of interest to law enforcement agencies worldwide.


Thalassa S. E. Valkenburg – Studying for a PhD

My research project can be described as investigating the power of dried blood stain analysis for forensic science. Blood analyses are important in a variety of forensic scenarios. Pattern analysis aids in the reconstruction of a crime and DNA is commonly obtained from blood stains to verify a person’s identity. The toxicology of blood is rarely tested at crime scenes, but can give the police and criminal justice system vital clues as to the state of mind of persons involved. Finally the use of blood stains to determine the time a crime was committed could have an enormous value but is not yet possible. I’m focussing on recovery of blood sampled with a newly developed blood sampling device to study both toxicology and ageing. The project is part of the Marie Curie Initial Training Network ‘Interdisciplinary Training and Research Programme for Innovative Doctorates in Forensic Science’ (INTREPID Forensics). See my project page for more information.


Sofia Mirmigkou - Studying for a PhD

My research project is focussed on the analysis of drugs of abuse, and their detection in breath through metabolic pathways. Breath analysis is constantly gaining ground in research lately, especially in medicine and cancer detection. Since it is a non - invasive sampling technique, it is ideal for the detection of drugs of abuse. By using several techniques available at the university and other collaborating laboratories, we will try and focus on the detection of drugs of abuse and their metabolites through breath. The main target compounds are VOC metabolites of drugs of abuse that can be potentially found in breath after consumption. This project is part of the Marie Curie Initial Training Network ‘Interdisciplinary Training and Research Programme for Innovative Doctorates in Forensic Science’ (INTREPID Forensics). Further information on the project and work can be found via this link.


Jonathon Brooks - Studying for a PhD

The breakdown of biological tissue during mammalian decomposition results in the production of both gases and liquids.  A variety of inorganic gases are produced in the process e.g. CO2 and NH3, along with a diverse range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These volatile substances are intermediate products of decomposition produced when large macro-molecules such as proteins, are broken down. Cadaver recovery dogs can be trained to detect this unique mixture of volatiles to allow their use in victim recovery.  Currently there exists no standardised method of police dog training across the UK, with different police forces implementing diverse training techniques using a variety of sample types. With the current lack of scientific basis to the training and a deficiency in funding, the effectiveness of police dogs has been met with criticism. The University of Leicester is currently applying a variety of analytical techniques to identify and quantify the volatile profile of decomposition in real life scenarios. This work is then being applied to cadaver dog training, in conjunction with the police dog training unit at Nottingham Police Headquarters, to enhance the training methods used for detection of cadaveric material into a more reliable and effective procedure.


 Luke Bryant - Studying for a PhD

My project is focused on the merging of different analytical measurement techniques currently used in breath analysis. The current gold standard method, Gas-Chromatography- Mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is a time consuming process that yields large volumes of information about a sample, but with a lengthy delay between Sampling and results. Proton Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometry (PTR-MS) offers a real time alternative to GC-MS and offers temporal data that GC-MS is unable to. The challenges of the project involve finding methods that enable for the merging of the data generated from the two analysis methods and retain the density of information that both methods provide. Multi-Variate Analysis is a collection of techniques that may provide insight into the data generated and provide attempts to describe the variation between the two data types.
My project is a part of the MRC EMBER (A collaboration between the University of Leicester, Loughborough University and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust) and is supported by the British Lung Foundation.

Dr Michael J Wilde - PDRA

Analytical scientist for the MRC funded, East Midlands Breathomics Pathology Node (EMBER); a multidisciplinary, international breathomics centre focused on the development of breath tests for the rapid diagnosis of disease. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released during metabolic processes within the body, are exhaled in breath. Monitoring of these metabolite signatures has the potential for the non-invasive diagnosis of specific diseases.
My role includes using an array of analytical instrumentation, including gas chromatography and comprehensive multidimensional gas chromatography with ion mobility and mass spectrometry (GC-MS, GCxGC-MS, GC-IMS), as well as chemical ionisation mass spectrometry (PTR-TOF-MS and APCI-MS) for both offline and real-time detection of biomarkers in breath. Previous experience includes the use of GC-MS, NMR and GCxGC-MS for the identification of toxic pollutants within petroleum and oil sands wastewaters.


Dr Bob Blake - Honorary Visiting Fellow

Bob BlakeSince 2002 I have been part of the Atmospheric Science Group first as a PhD student and latterly as an Honorary Visiting Fellow. The group has been developing equipment using Chemical Ionisation as a precursor in the analysis of atmospheric and ground-emitted gas mixtures containing traces of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The technique has been widely used in atmospheric composition measurements over the past decade, but there are other areas of interest in which the techniques have been successfully applied. We have identified several alternative precursors which can be used for chemical ionisation studies and of these, the most popular is H3O+ (hydronium) or protonated water. Other variants of the process are now in regular use to address special situations. On the other hand, the basic technology we have developed here in Leicester has been successfully employed to investigate other areas of scientific interest, such as Geologic and Forensic studies. In the RAFT laboratory we employ and Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometers (GC-MS) to provide a detailed analysis of test samples and Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometers (TOF-MS) to follow the dynamic time-dependent production of the more interesting components of these samples.

Dr Roberto Sommariva - Honorary Visiting Fellow

My research at Leicester is focused on the chemistry of halogens and radicals in the troposphere, combining measurements and modelling.

I am using Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometry (CIMS) to measure halogen compounds (e.g. molecular chlorine and nitryl chloride) in the boundary layer. I work with highly detailed chemical models (eg, the MISTRA 1D model) to study the formation and evolution of pollutants in the troposphere.

I am also involved in a research project on the characterization and release of hydrocarbons from shale, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey. For a list of publications see:

Marios Panagi - Studying for a PhD 

Project:  Pollution footprint of a Chinese Megacity and its implications on human health.

This project is looking into understanding the sources of pollution from and around China, the transportation path of the pollutants and the health implications they have on humans. Using dispersion modelling (NAME model) to create footprints for deriving air mass climatologies, source apportionment and transport episodes. Also I will be creating a programing code for regional analysis to show where the air was came from and which regions have the highest impact. This code will be applicable for any monitoring site.


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