Sir Joseph Swan Centre for Energy Research

Staff Profile

Professor Russell Davenport

Engineering for the Environment and Human Health



Throughout my education and career, I have always been fascinated by the diversity and metabolic capabilities of microbes that are critical to sustaining many vital natural processes on Earth, some of which can be enhanced or managed for the benefit of humanity. The services microorganisms can provide are especially pertinent given the increasing anthropogenic pressures on the Earth system that threaten both environmental and human well-being. These pressures include chemical and nutrient pollution that affects soils, sediments and the water environment.

My research has therefore focussed on understanding relationships between microorganisms and the processes that they mediate, using a combination of quantitative molecular tools and modelling in natural and engineered environments.  Such knowledge is critical for the prediction, management and mitigation of pollution in the environment, and naturally necessitates an interdisciplinary approach.  I have largely applied this approach to engineered treatment systems and to regulatory hazard classification/risk assessments for manufactured chemicals.


I have extensive experience and expertise at the interface of environmental engineering, microbiology, and environmental risk assessment. 

After gaining a first degree in microbiology, I worked for two years as a process engineer with a subsidiary of Yorkshire Water specialising in industrial wastewater treatment, including high-rate anaerobic biological systems. I first moved to Newcastle to complete an MSc in Industrial Biotechnology.

I then joined the School of Civil Engineering & Geosciences as a postdoctoral member of staff in 2000 after completing my PhD; one of the first in the UK to take advantage of the newly emerging quantitative molecular tools to gain an improved understanding of biological wastewater treatment. I was subsequently awarded an EPSRC Research Associate Industrial Secondment to Brixham Environmental Laboratory, AstraZeneca where I was based during 2002, which started my interest in the role of biodegradation in the fate, ecotoxicology and regulation of chemicals. On returning to the School in 2003 I became a School Research Fellow and was awarded an RCUK Academic Fellowship in 2007.

More recently, I won an EPSRC Challenging Engineering award in 2011, which officially makes me a Challenging Engineer, although I think this sends out the wrong message; I prefer to think that my chosen engineering subject is challenging and not me! 

Roles and responsibilities

Member of the Health & Safety Committee

Biological Safety Officer

Environmental Engineering Research Web Co-ordinator


PhD Environmental Engineering, Dept. Civil Engineering (Newcastle University, 2000)

MSc (Distinction) Industrial Biotechnology, Dept. Microbiology (Newcastle University, 1994)

BSc (Hons) Microbiology (Leeds University, 1991)


Member of the International Water Association
Member of the Society for Applied Microbiology

Industrial experience 

I have two years’ experience at Esmil, Yorkshire Water in consultancy; design, commissioning and monitoring of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), including upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactors; and the project management of design and build schemes.

In the last 16 years, I have provided research and molecular microbial ecological analysis expertise to the environmental and water industries including; AstraZeneca, Northumbrian Water Ltd., Severn Trent Water, Thames Water and Yorkshire Water.


Research Interests

Understanding the fate, especially biodegradation, of chemicals in natural environments and engineered biological treatment systems.

The development and application of molecular-based techniques for the quantification of bacteria, especially in relation to key functions.

The application of ecological theory, molecular measurement techniques and mathematical models to understand, predict and manipulate microbial communities in engineered treatment systems.

Esteem Indicators

Member of the EPSRC Peer Review College 

EPSRC Challenging Engineering Awardee (2011)

RCUK Academic Fellow (2007) 

Invited speaker to European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals (ECETOC) Workshop on Persistence, Paris, France, 2012; one of only 3 academics invited to speak on the persistence of chemicals, their assessment and regulation, which included 8 leading international regulators

Invited advisro to European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) Long-term Research Initiative project Eco12 -Developing a set of reference chemicals for use in biodegradability tests for assessing the persistency of

Co-author of keynote paper at 8th IWA International Conference on Wetland Systems and Water Pollution Control in Arusha, Tanzania, from 16th-19th September, 2002.

Invited to European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals (ECETOC) Workshop on Biodegradation and Persistence, UK, 2007

Invited speaker at Sensors for Water Interest Group (SWIG), March 2006.

Invited session chair, Molecular Microbial Ecology Group (MMEG) Conference 2005, University of East Anglia

Invited speaker to EU COST624 Working Group 4 meetings for 2 years May 2001, June 2002.

Invited author of a review title ‘Abiotic Degradation’ for a technical guidance document for Brixham Environmental Laboratory (2002).

Invited book chapter on ‘Quantitative FISH; statistical methods for valid cell counting’, for Molecular Microbial Ecology Manual, Kluwer Publishing (2004).

Awarded with a EPSRC Research Associates Industrial Secondment (RAIS), spending 9 months at Brixham Environmental Laboratory, AstraZeneca (2002).

Runner-up, Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, Young Authors Competition (1998).

Currently funded projects

EPSRC Impact Award (Newcastle University) - Mitigation of risks from emerging hazards: Integration of field training, energy-conserving waste treatment and next-generation sequencing technologies. Co-I, £27.8k

EPSRC Impact Award (with Durham University) - Promoting the use of next-generation sequence technologies for soil quality assessment and environmental monitoring. Co-I, £19.5k 

EPSRC Challenging Engineering - Mitigating the risk of micopollutants in the environment. PI, £1.14M

BBSRC CASE award with AstraZeneca - The effect of chemical substance and inoculum characteristics on persistency. PI, £93k

EPSRC - Predicting the acclimatisation of microbial watewater treatment communities as a function of the environment, random immigration, births and deaths. Co-I, £647k

Cefic LRI (Eco11) - Towards rationally designed hazard, risk and persistency assessment: putting the "bio" back into ready biodegradability tests. PI, Euro399k

EPSRC - What is the true temperature limit for anaerobic treatment of domestic wastewater? Co-I, £655k

EPSRC Platform Grant - General and unifying concepts for wastewater treatment plant design. Co-I, £761k

EPSRC - The use of waste Mn oxides as contaminated land remediation products. Co-I, £92k 


CEG8103 MSc Water Supply and Treatment (40% and module leader)

CEG8109 MSc Engineering Biology through Molecular Microbial Ecology (40% and module leader)

CEG8101 MSc Core Concepts in Environmental Engineering (3% contributor)

CEG8104 MSc Wastewater Engineering (20% contributor)