Head and shoulders photo of a woman against a plain background.

Claire Richards

Loughborough University


Tracing the source of Brazil nut contamination using advanced mass spectrometric methods


  • Dr Amy Managh – Primary Supervisor 
  • Dr Matt Turner – Secondary Supervisor 
  • Dr Melanie-Jayne Howes – Co-Investigator (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew) 
  • Dr Alexandre Monro – Co-Investigator (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew) 
  • Hernán Siñani Quispe – Co-Investigator (Tahuamanu S.A. Bolivia) 

PhD Summary

Brazil nuts are grown naturally within the Amazonian regions for sale worldwide. Unfortunately, Bolivian Brazil nuts have been found to have a high concentration of Bromine which has rendered a large proportion of the nuts to be unsafe for human consumption. The project will involve tracing the source of this contamination using a custombuilt interface between appropriate chromatography and mass spectrometry instruments; recent analytical developments are able to utilise the separation capability of a gas chromatograph as well as sensitive isotope ratio analysis using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. These efforts will hopefully be able to prevent the felling of the Brazil nut trees which are vital for the local economy and for the Amazonian ecosystem. 

Previous activity

Prior to starting my PhD, I completing a BSc and an integrated MChem in Chemistry at Loughborough University. The focus of my research during my MChem project was to computationally optimise an inductively coupled plasma interface and model using flow simulations. After graduation I worked as a laboratory technician within the undergraduate analytical and physical chemistry teaching laboratories, until starting my PhD. This involved maintaining analytical instruments and laboratory equipment as well as instructing undergraduate students.  

Why did you choose doctoral research?

After seeing the advert for this doctoral research project, I knew that it would be a great fit for me as the project builds upon experience gained during my MChem project. During this project I was able to carry out computational simulations, but I was excited at the prospect of carrying out practical, realtime experiments during a PhD. I am also enthusiastic about being able to carry out environmental analysis, and in terms of sustainability, the ability to contribute towards the decline in deforestation within the Amazon rainforest was an amazing opportunity. 

Why did you choose CENTA?

The range of training opportunities and personal development that is available to students who have an internationally recognised CENTA studentship was something that attracted me to CENTA; not just in terms of academic training but personal development as well. I was excited to be part of a wider network of students who may not be part of the same department, or even University that I am, but are on the same PhD journey as me. 

Future plans

I am hopeful that during my PhD studies I will become a more well-rounded professional. Whilst I am still exploring the range of professions that I may get involved with in the future, I am excited about the opportunities that completing a PhD through CENTA will bring me. I believe that through CENTA, Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, and Loughborough University, I will be able to buildup a professional network and expand my career prospects as an early career researcher. I have particular passions for sustainability as well as science outreach so I am hopeful to be able to incorporate these into my future career, whether this be academia or industry based.