Harnessing the power of plants for enhanced tailings remediation (phytoremediation)

Based at University of Western Australia, University of Queensland, or the University of Limerick (Ireland)


Revegetation is a key aim of tailings remediation and safe, sustainable closure of tailings storage facilities. Most remediation and closure strategies to date have relied upon importing and installing a capping layer of high quality topsoil material, which is deposited over the tailings, in which to grow vegetation. This is expensive, incurs soil losses offsite, and is prone to failure. Here, we aim to create a high quality soil material in the tailings itself, removing the need to import soil material. Microbial biotechnologies have been developed to initiate and complete the first stages of transformation of tailings to soil, creating a medium in which plants may now survive.


This project will identify which crop and grass species can survive and thrive in the tailings-based soil, and develop a novel ‘vegetation reinvestment’ approach which involves returning plant biomass to the tailings after each growing cycle, thereby enhancing tailings transformation to soil through accumulation of organic matter, nutrients, and improving pH, salinity, and aeration and drainage. This will involve glasshouse germination trials, field-based germination, growth, and tillage trials, analysis of plant and soil samples, and synchrotron and microscopy element mapping techniques.

This position can be based at the University of Western Australia (Talitha Santini), the University of Queensland (Peter Kopittke), or the University of Limerick (Ronan Courtney).


Research team leader: Associate Professor Talitha Santini

My research interests are centred on soil formation and weathering, geochemistry, mineralogy, and microbiology; in particular, the interactions between abiotic and biotic processes that drive soil development and global biogeochemical cycles.


How to Apply

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project - The ideal candidate will have a Bachelors or Masters degree in Botany, Environmental Science or Biological Sciences, with previous experience in mine site rehabilitation or revegetation.
Submit enquiry to research team leader
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact [email protected] to proceed with your application


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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