Molly Hayle

University of Warwick


Reading the molecular fine print: Ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry and the environmental impact of the Athabasca oil sands industry.


Dr Mark Barrow (UoW), Dr Gary Bending (UoW), Dr John V. Headley (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

PhD Summary

The oil sands industry in Canada provides an alternate resource to petroleum. Water is needed to process the oil but the resulting oil sands process affected water (OSPW) cannot be discharged back into the environment and is instead stored in large tailings ponds. This OSPW contains components known to be toxic to aquatic environments thus the risks associated with environmental contact is of great concern. A greater understanding of the effects that environmental processes have on the molecular profiles of OSPW is essential. This can be used to generate a model of the environmental fate of oil sands components. Ultrahigh resolution Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) mass spectrometry (MS) has played a key role in the characterization of these complex OSPW samples, developing their molecular profiles. This work will utilize advances in proprietary software tools, developed at the University of Warwick, to improve the molecular characterization of OSPW components, including providing greater insight into isotopic features and correlating this to environmental influences.

What inspires you?

My passion for the natural world grew up with me, and continues to do so. From regular camping trips and museum visits to collecting shells on the beach, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became fascinated by nature. And of course there's Sir David Attenborough!

Previous Activity

At university I undertook a Summer research project comparing detection methods for Dichelobacter nodosus, the causative agent of footrot in sheep. My dissertation project investigated the invasiveness of Harmonia axyridis (harlequin ladybird) and the environmental impact of this invasion. During my Masters I spent 12 months working at GSK in the Bioimaging department. As interesting as this was, I knew it was environmental research I wanted to do. Outside of my studies I have volunteered in Croatia and Brazil where I carried out conservation research in both a marine and terrestrial setting; both equally amazing opportunities that I would strongly recommend to anyone with a love for nature.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

A PhD is beneficial for a career in research. Climate change, pollution and the biodiversity crisis are areas of great importance to me and I hope my research, both during my PhD and career, will influence future environmental policies and improve conservation efforts.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

Wanting to do environmental research I searched for a DTP funded by NERC. CENTA offers excellent training opportunities in addition to working as part of a multidisciplinary cohort, allowing me to continue to develop my skills and knowledge, beneficial for a career in research.

What are your future plans

I want to contribute to environmental research, helping overcome the challenges our environment faces, whether this is in academia or outside of it. I hope to put my knowledge and research to good use, to influence future policies and decisions contributing to a more sustainable future as well as educate others of the necessity of protecting our planet's biodiversity.