Water and Environment

Water and Environment

The climate, energy and water crises that have rapidly come into focus in the last two-decades are shaping the engineering challenges for the 21st Century.

It is no-longer sufficient to only consider the economic benefits of new technologies or engineering structures. It is now necessary to quantify the long-term knock-on effects of development on, for example, carbon emissions, biodiversity and pollution.

The next generation of engineers will be judged as much on their efforts to design solutions to globally important, yet diffuse, problems like carbon sequestration, contaminant transport or carbon neutral waste treatment as on their ability to produce innovative technologies or imposing infrastructure.

The Water and Environment group are attempting to tackle some of these Globally important environmental problems by harnessing the most up-to-date theoretical and experimental advances in science.  In particular; molecular microbiology, nanomaterials, theoretical evolutionary biology, flow imaging technologies, novel chemical analysis and bioinformatics. 

Research topics

Environmental 'Omics and Bioinformatics

Environmental Technology and Bioenergy

Environmental Hydraulics

Nano and Environmental ScienceS for Innovative Engineering (NESSIE)


Prof Bill Sloan

Dr Manousos Valyrakis

Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay  Dr Cindy Smith

Environmental 'omics and bioinformatics

Staff: Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay, Prof Bill Sloan

A new suite of analytic tools is allowing us to explore our environment in exquisite detail.  Thus the diversity and potential power of naturally occurring communities of microbes is being revealed by molecular biological methods such as PCR, amplicon sequencing, transcriptomics and metagenomics.  The functioning of these communities is being explored using proteomics and metabolomics.  These methods are being driven on by the phenomenal increases in DNA sequencing power and rapid advances in analytical chemistry tools such as spectroscopy.

At the University of Glasgow we have been at the forefront of developing new analytical tools, especially for environmental forensics. We also deploy the molecular microbiology and sequencing technologies to explore the microbes in a wide range of engineered and natural environments. Making sense of the avalanche of complex data that these technologies unleash is now widely recognised as one of the major bottlenecks in Environmental Science and Engineering. At Glasgow we have been in the vanguard of a small international band of research groups that have been developing bioinformatics tools to ensure the quality of the data that rolls of the new DNA sequencing platforms and to interpret that sequence data, in the light of other complex chemical signatures, in a statistical robust manner. Our bioinformatics tools now sit at the core of much of the routinely used bioinformatics software. They have been applied in a large number of studies to data from inter alia: the soils, the seas, sewage works, lakes, rivers and the human gut.

Environmental technology and bioenergy

Staff: Dr Xue Jin, Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay, Prof Bill Sloan

20th century environmental engineering has delivered technologies to the most prosperous countries in the World that keep our environment clean and deliver safe fresh water. However, this comes with a hefty price tag; 3-5% of UK electricity is consumed by the water industry.  As populations grow, our fossil fuel reserves diminish and green house gases accumulate in the atmosphere there is a desperate need to invent new more sustainable environmental technologies.

At the University of Glasgow we are harnessing fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of microbial communities, bioelectrochemistry, material science, nanotechnology and synthetic biology to devise new energy-saving ways of delivering clean water, treating dirty water and cleaning contaminated ground.

Our research in drinking water revolves around two themes: novel microbiological control strategies elucidated by understanding and modelling the drinking water microbiome from source to tap and new membrane technologies.

In wastewater treatment we again focus on developing a fundamental understanding of the microbial communities that can be encapsulated in mathematical models. These are used in devising wastewater treatment technologies that simultaneous deliver bioenergy. So, for example, we are developing new bioreactors for energy and resource recovery through anaerobic digestion, we are developing bioelectrochemical systems to synthesise biofuels from wastewater and we are coupling membrane technologies with microalgae production to deliver efficient ways of extracting energy.

In contaminated land remediation we are developing new cutting edge analytical tools to elucidate and characterise the fate and biodegradation of complex organic mixtures (such as coal tar, oils and aroclors) in soils and groundwater. We are also searching for microbial life in these mixtures.  From these approaches, our goal is to select or design the most appropriate and efficient microbial communities to engineer clean and lasting remediation methods.

Environmental hydraulics

Staff: Dr Manousos Valyrakis, Professor Bill Sloan

Every year an estimated 20 billion metric tons of eroded sediment is washed into the sea via rivers, affecting both their form and function. The erosive action of flowing water and the subsequent pollution caused, further to having a truly global dimension, is also exacerbated by climate change, requiring our urgent attention. In successfully dealing with this threat to our natural environment and built infrastructure, improved understanding of a wide spectrum of processes ranging from initiation of sediment transport to the associated morphological changes along the channel, considering hydro-dynamic as well as biological feedbacks, is necessary.

Here, at University of Glasgow, an interdisciplinary group of researchers aims at bridging the knowledge gap between geomorphology and ecology, by supplying answers inspired by nature to challenging water engineering real-world problems such as flooding, morphological instability, infrastructure scour, pollutant transfer and ecosystem degradation. Implementation of novel fundamental criteria along with consideration of ecological feedbacks (from bacterial biofilms to aquatic macrophytes) to turbulent flows is key to improving our understanding of the reciprocal relationship between the physical fluvial processes and riverine ecology. These research questions can be experimentally investigated in a laboratory setting, under well controlled hydrodynamic, thermal, bio-chemical and light conditions. By providing this research data, predictive sediment transport models can be improved and validated. Such tools can then be strategically used to inform practitioners with best management practices, sustainable designs and novel strategies for remediation of riverine ecosystems, in compliance with stringent environmental legislation (e.g. EU Water Framework Directive) and while safeguarding the resilience of our infrastructure.