Alice Hardman

University of Birmingham


Development and application of novel palaeoclimate proxies based on 3-hydroxy fatty acids


Dr. James Bendle (University of Birmingham), Dr. Tom Dunkley-Jones (University of Birmingham)

PhD Summary

My PhD research is in palaeoclimatology and organic geochemistry. In particular, I am working with 3-hydroxy fatty acids (3-OH FAs), which are sourced from Gram-negative soil bacteria. 3-OH FA biochemistry is influenced by environmental conditions, such as soil temperature and pH. Therefore 3-OH FAs have potential as a novel terrestrial palaeoclimate biomarker. This PhD research will involve a continental calibration of 3-OH FAs in the USA, by extracting such fatty acids from surface soil and lake sediment samples from US soil and lake transects. The results will develop the current understanding of the physiological response of Gram-negative bacteria to their external environment, and will contribute to the application of 3-OH FAs as a terrestrial palaeoclimate biomarker.

What inspires you?

From a young age I was fascinated by science, particularly biology and chemistry. Then during my academic studies, I became interested in environments of the past, specifically the geological and biochemical proxies used to reconstruct past environmental conditions. Through organic geochemistry, I can work with my favourite subjects and apply them to the natural environment.

Previous Activity

Before my PhD, I undertook a degree in MSci Geology with Physical Geography at the University of Birmingham, during which the impact of climate on the environment became an interest of mine. My 3rd-year project was based on the retreat of Vatnajökull glaciers in response to climatic warming, using remote sensing as an analysis method. My 4th-year project instead focused on the extraction and analysis of 3-hydroxy fatty acids from US soil samples, to quantify the response of soil bacteria to temperature and pH. I continue to work on the latter research for my PhD.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

I enjoy the process of researching, particularly from my 4th-year MSci project, and wanted to pursue this further as a PhD. I also love studying palaeoclimates as a subject in general, and want to continue learning and contribute to the scientific research in this field. Doctoral Research will also enable me to develop my understanding in the laboratory extraction techniques used in organic geochemistry, which is a valuable skill-set in the research field.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

A CENTA studentship has provided the opportunity to study a project in a novel research area in collaboration with pioneering researchers in this subject, and to partake in additional PhD training as part of a DTP student cohort

What are your future plans

Through CENTA training and specialised laboratory training during this PhD, I will develop specialist skill-sets which I hope to apply to a research-focused career in the field of palaeoclimatology in the future