First listed on: 30 November 2022

CSIRO Industry PhD Scholarship: Microbial breakdown of Microplastics for Wastewater Treatment


Acknowledgement of Country 
CSIRO acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land, sea and waters, of the area that we live and work on across Australia. We acknowledge their continuing connection to their culture and pay our respects to their Elders past and present. View our vision towards reconciliation. 

The Opportunity

  • Gain experience working with industry to solve real-world problems while you earn your PhD 
  • Develop transferable professional skills 
  • Get access to specialised expertise, equipment and training 

The CSIRO Industry PhD Scholarship (iPhD) Program is an industry-focused, applied research scholarship and training program that brings together an industry partner, the university and CSIRO. 

You will undertake a co-designed research project that will develop your ability to translate research into commercial outcomes.  

You will get real-world experience and access to specialised expertise, equipment and training.

Our graduates develop transferable professional skills and are well positioned to work at the cutting edge of industry focussed research.  

Scholarship details 

The Program includes:

  • admission to the university PhD program  
  • a four-year scholarship package of approx. $45,000 per annum  
  • a four-year Project Expense and Development package of up to $13,000 per annum  
  • an in-business component with an industry partner of at least 3 months 
  • professional development training to enhance your applied research skills  
  • supervision by CSIRO, the industry partner, and the university  

Project Title:   Microbial breakdown of Microplastics for wastewater treatment 

Project Description:  The world-wide production of plastics has reached more than 300 million tons per year, with a significant amount of plastic ending up in waste-water treatment plants (WWTPs). With plastics in the environment breaking down into smaller pieces, microplastics (MP) (25µm to 5mm) have the potential to harm organisms from their inadvertent uptake. WWTPs do not provide a complete barrier to these particles.    

This project will start by identifying the various types and concentrations of MP from WWTPs. Then the focus will be identifying local microbial populations that have the ability to speed up the breakdown of the MPs.  These studies will be approached using bioreactors to determine the longer-term degradation rates of the MPs and the most efficient microbial consortiums. Parameters to be tested range from WWTP inoculum location, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and nutrient addition to plastics biodegradation. Microbial populations will be identified by high throughput genetic sequencing

Project supervisors:   

    CSIRO supervisor: Zongli Xie (principal supervisor) and Anna Kaksonen (Co-Supervisor) 
    Business Unit: Manufacturing (Clayton) and Land and Water (Floreat) 
    Research program: Advanced Materials and Processing (AMP) Program 
    Email address: and 

    University supervisor: Thomas Yeager 
    Victoria University 
    Email address:
    Faculty: First Year College 
    School: Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities (ISILC) 

    1. Company name: IOTA SERVICES PTY LTD 
    Website: Iota Services: IoT Water & Wastewater Management 

    2. Company name: South East Water Corporation 
    Website: South East Water


  • Primary location of the student: Victoria University - Werribee campus. 
  • Other potential locations: CSIRO Manufacturing at Clayton, VIC &/or CSIRO Land & Water at Floreat, WA 
  • In-business component with Industry partner: Iota Office, South East Water Office & various South East Water sites in Melbourne  

Overview of who we are looking for 

The ideal student will have:

  •     Self-motivation, be well organised and have good time management skills 
  •     Experience with various laboratory techniques from preparing solutions to working with microbes 
  •     Reasonable writing skills and can work well as a team 
  •     Data entry and data analysis experience (Excel or similar) 

It is also desirable that the student has DNA sequencing/sequence analysis experience 


To be eligible to apply you must:

  •     be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or a New Zealand citizen 
  •     meet host university PhD admission requirements 
  •     meet university English language requirements 
  •     not have previously completed a PhD 
  •     be able to commence the program in the year of the offer 
  •     enrol as a full-time PhD student 

Applications will be assessed on:

  1. Experience relevant to the field of research, including any research experience
  2. Suitability for the project
  3. Academic excellence
  4. Motivation for undertaking an Industry PhD project

At CSIRO Australia's national science agency, we solve the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology. We put the safety and wellbeing of our people above all else and earn trust everywhere because we only deal in facts. We collaborate widely and generously and deliver solutions with real impact. 

Further information about the CSIRO Industry PhD Program can be found at:  

How to Apply:

Applicants are required to submit an expression of interest (EOI) to Victoria University.

For full details on how to apply, please see website at:

Applications close:   13 January 2023, 5:00pm AEDT


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