In 1997, Dr van Dongen obtained his M.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Leiden and in 1998 he began his Ph.D. research at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. There, he conducted research on the natural preservation of carbohydrates in marine sediments and the consequences for its preservation on the chemical and carbon isotopic composition of sedimentary organic matter. His research showed that preservation through sulfurization is a more important mechanism for the preservation of organic carbon than previously thought. The enhanced contribution of normally labile organic carbon can have substantial impacts on total organic carbon (TOC) records. In addition, the difference in δ13C between carbohydrates and lipids within single organisms is much larger than previously realized indicating that preservation of carbohydrates can also cause substantial changes in δ13CTOC records.
Upon completion of his Ph.D. in 2003, he accepted a PDRA position in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol. Research conducted in this capacity included reconstruction of tropical sea surface temperatures during the early Eocene using the membrane lipids of marine Crenarcheota from cores drilling in coastal Tanzania and a study into the role of a consortium of sulfate reducing bacteria and archaea in the formation of iron sulfide nodules.
In early 2005 he moved to Stockholm University for a second post-doc in the Department of Applied Environmental Science. During his time in Stockholm his research focused primarily on the effects of amplified warming in the Arctic region on the remobilization and preservation of recalcitrant soil organic carbon. The overarching objectives were to improve our understanding of the biogeochemical fate of soil organic carbon from large-scale releases to the Eurasian Arctic Ocean, using a combination of biomarker and compound specific radiocarbon analyses.
In April 2007, he moved to the University of Manchester to accept a lecturer position in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, was promoted to senior lecturer in 2012, and to reader in 2015. His current research focuses on the application of organic geochemical techniques to the study of biogeochemical processes. He supervises the organic geochemical laboratories in the Williamson research Centre and has extensive experiences with a large number of analytical techniques including GC and LC-MS, compound specific isotope and radiocarbon analyses, pyrolysis, FTIR and many kinds of extraction and separation methods.
He has published over 70 publications, is an associate editor for Organic Geochemistry, board member of the European Association of Organic Geochemists and chair of the NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility Steering Committee.