Rory Downham

University of Warwick


A better understanding of environmental impact through ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry and organic geochemistry


Dr Mark Barrow (Warwick) & Dr Chris Vane (BGS)

PhD Summary

I will be learning how to use an ‘ion cyclotron resonance’ mass spectrometer, which has such high resolution and mass accuracy that it is able to characterize some of the most complicated natural sample mixtures, such as crude oils. My project will follow the work of others, looking at how to get the most from the technology to analyse samples of interest selected by the BGS, e.g., mud cores contaminated with oil from industrial practices.

What inspires you?

My parents – they showed me the joy of the outdoors from a young age.

Previous Activity

I was a forensic research chemist at the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology. I specialized in fingermark visualisation techniques, for example, scoping out which techniques were best deployed in combination to detect fingermarks on the new UK polymer banknotes.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

Working in collaboration with academics, I gradually realised that I might like to be one myself! I also wanted to redirect my efforts towards environmental science and help solve a different set of problems that society faces. Doctoral research was the natural starting point.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

I liked the themes that CENTA supported, and the emphasis of a multidisciplinary approach. The project itself was particularly interesting as well; analytical chemistry, environmental monitoring, and co-supervised by the BGS.

What are your future plans

Mass spectrometry is an incredible tool with a wide range of applications, for example, it helped unlock the story of past climate change via the analysis of climate proxies such as ice cores. I feel a background in analytical chemistry would open many doors in the environmental sciences, if not those more directly related to my project. I also think that working with BGS will help me to learn more about career options I’ve only just started thinking about!