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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

James Ebdon is a Reader in Environmental Microbiology within the School of Environment and Technology, where he helps lead the Environment and Public Health Research Group (EPHREG). James has 19 years’ experience developing and applying novel, low-cost methods for determining sources of contamination in surface and ground waters. He also has a keen interest in the provision of safe water and sanitation in low-resource settings and has worked on water quality projects in Africa (UNICEF), India (Gates Foundation), and South America (SantanderBritish Council, Newton Fund).

Dr Ebdon has authored over 60 scientific publications, including two book chapters, eight magazine/newspaper articles and has presented his work to MPs, secondary school children, students, fellow academics, engineers, medics, the and general public in 29 countries, including invited presentations in N. America (USEPA) and NOAA Oceans and Human Health Centers (Hawaii), Asia (Ho Chi Minh Int. Uni (Vietnam) and Chulabhorn Research Inst. (Thailand)), and workshops in S. America (Uni of Viçosa and CETESB (Brazil) and Africa (KNUST (Ghana)). Dr Ebdon has has helped win research grants of £1.4 million over the past five years and has been a lead scientist on four large-scale EU projects and principal investigator on projects with the UK water industry.

Dr Ebdon's research interests also include the survival and persistence of viruses and emerging contaminants such as microplastics and metaldehyde in contaminated surface waters. Dr Ebdon is an external reviewer for nine leading journals in his field and is expert reviewer for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). He is also an expert advisor for the UK Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and ERB Foundation (US). James is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and is on the board of trustees for the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust (OART).

Approach to teaching

My teaching is underpinned by contemporary case material drawn from my personal experience of international collaborative research in the field of water and sanitation. Modules taught include ‘Water and Health’, ‘Soil and Water’, ‘Global Environmental Issues’, ‘overseas Fieldwork’, ‘Skills for Research and Careers’, along with supervision of Undergraduate and Master’s level dissertations.

Much of my teaching also involves a fieldwork component to help my students contextualise the subject matter and a laboratory component to ensure that they have a sound grasp of methods used for water quality monitoring. Students who take these modules come from a variety of disciplines including Environmental Science, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Ecology, Civil Engineers and Geology. Getting students with different, often complementary skills sets to work together across disciplines is useful preparation for the work-based challenges that await them beyond the University.

Research interests

My research career to date has focused on the development of innovative low-cost tools that tackle pressing global disease problems. In Malawi, the re-design and improved management of rural wells have provided low-income communities with safer drinking water. In Europe, new methods have identified human faecal contamination of rivers and established viral removal rates in a wastewater reuse systems. This information is helping water companies and environmental agencies to meet international standards and more effectively protect public health, by detecting, or interrupting the transmission routes of human waterborne diseases.

Supervisory Interests

I am interested in supervising postgraduate research students in the following areas: development and application of low-cost and/or rapid water quality monitoring tools; behaviour of microorganisms (particulalry viruses) within the environment and impacts on human health; understanding environmental interactions of emerging contaminants; water and sanitation within low-income and/or emergency settings.

According to French Physiologist Claude Bernard - "The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen." Anyone who has undertaken a doctoral degree is likely to agree with this analogy (at least at some point during their journey). As a PhD supervisor, I see my role as someone who can potentially make the kitchen a little less ghastly, or the journey slightly less arduous. I strive to provide a highly connected, supportive, nurturing international research environment with the Environment and Public Health Research and Enterprise Group.

To date I have overseen the supervision, career development and successful completion of 11 doctoral students from the UK, Italy, Portugal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Brazil and India. I am currently supervising a further 3 PhD candidates. My PhD students have originated from an equally diverse range of disciplines including Fisheries Engineering, Environmental Science, Biology, Biomolecular Science, Microbiology, Ecology, Environmental Management, Mathematics and have worked for NGO’s in Haiti (MSF), on Gates Foundation-funded research in India, on US AID-funded research into safe excreta disposal in emergencies (Cholera and Ebola treatment centres), led MRC-funded projects in Kenya, founded research groups in Brazil, and managed prestigious research laboratories in the US.

All have gone on to forge careers within the burgeoning field of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and or microbiology, either via academia, or industry. The sustained success of our thriving research group stems from a blend of enthusiasm for the wider subject area and from a long-held desire to break down barriers, to ensure that epidemiologists mix with engineers, and microbiologists work with modellers. This has been achieved by exchanging PhD students (and Early Career Researchers) with trusted and established international project collaborators within the public, private and voluntary sectors.

I also maintain a rolling programme of group activities, training initiatives and social events for new arrivals into the group, which is increasingly populated by previous PhD students who are even better placed to support the career aspirations of our current and future Doctoral students. With unsafe water supply and sanitation responsible for an estimated 842,000 deaths per year, the WASH sector continues to face significant challenges, which are only likely to be met through interdisciplinary, cross-border collaboration by a new generation of WASH-focussed researchers, capable of confidently sharing ideas across a range scientific domains and via an increasingly complex network of stakeholders and end-users. I hope that as my students continue to emerge into the ‘dazzlingly lighted hall’ they are as well-rounded and well-placed as possible to meet this challenge.   

External positions

Trustee, Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust (OART)

31 Jan 2015 → …


  • TD Environmental technology. Sanitary engineering
  • Q Science (General)

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Research Output 2004 2019

Assessment of Recommendation for the Containment and Disinfection of Human Excreta in Cholera Treatment Centers

Gomes Da Silva, D., Ebdon, J. & Taylor, H., 22 Jan 2019, In : Water. 11, 2, 188.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access

Assessment of recommended approaches for containment and safe handling of human excreta in emergency settings

Gomes Da Silva, D., Dias, E., Ebdon, J. & Taylor, H., 26 Jul 2018, In : PLoS ONE. 13, 7, p. 1-20 20 p., e0201344.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access

Estimating the concentration of viral pathogens and indicator organisms in the final effluent of wastewater treatment processes using stochastic modelling

Dias, E., Ebdon, J. & Taylor, H., 27 Aug 2018, In : Microbial Risk Analysis. 11, p. 47-56 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access
risk assessment

Global Distribution of Human-associated Fecal Genetic Markers in Reference Samples from Six Continents

Mayer, R. E., Reischer, G. H., Ixenmaier, S. K., Derx, J., Blaschke, A. P., Ebdon, J., Linke, R., Egle, L., Ahmed, W. & Blanch, A. R., 23 Mar 2018, In : Environmental Science and Technology.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access
reference sample
genetic marker
geographical knowledge

Human-specific phages infecting Enterococcus host strain MW47: Are they reliable microbial source tracking markers?

Purnell, S., Ebdon, J., Wilkins, H. & Taylor, H., 19 Jan 2018, In : Journal of Applied Microbiology. 124, 5, p. 1274-1282 9 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Open Access

Activities 2013 2019

Invited keynote speaker, member of the scientific conference committee and session chair

James Ebdon (Keynote speaker)
19 Nov 2019

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation

Referee for proposals to Engineering for Development (E4D) Switzerland

James Ebdon (Member of expert group)
12 Feb 2019

Activity: External funding peer-review

Programme Committee Member of the 20th International Water Association Symposium on Health Related Water Microbiology (Event)

James Ebdon (Member)
1 Jan 201919 Sep 2019

Activity: External boards and professional/academic bodiesMembership of professional body

Water science and technology: water supply (Journal)

James Ebdon (Editor)

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditorial work