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A lab on a chip: using nano-plasmonics tongues for building miniaturized ecosystem sensors (SUPER DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, December 13, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Sustainability and human wellbeing depend on resources from marine and freshwater systems, and to monitor how they are changing, a range of observations are needed. In situ measurements of physical water properties like temperature and salinity are almost trivial, but higher-level sensors that address biogeochemical properties, or even trophic levels, are often complicated, expensive or need expert operation. Therefore, there is a desperate need for instrumentation that can deliver in-situ, real time information from physics to biology in aquatic ecosystems supporting researchers, industry, policy makers and the public. A recent technological development of ours that could address this problem is the realisation of a passive “artificial tongue” device capable of detecting and classifying a myriad of complex chemical mixtures in real-time.

In this project, you will use this new class of nano-scale sensor in an aquatic environment for the first time. Through the development of a portable tongue device specifically tuned for aquatic field measurements you will aim to demonstrate a versatile, low- power, high-resolution optical sensor array capable of classifying and identifying a range of physical, biological and ecosystem indicators.

You will join an exciting multidisciplinary project team and will spent the first year in an optics lab at the University of Glasgow to characterise the optical performance via transmission/absorption spectrometry. The aim will be to start with relatively straight forward measurements like temperature before aiming to capture biogeochemical measurements like dissolved oxygen, total and dissolved carbon dioxide, nitrate, nitrite, ammonium and pH. This work involves training in fabrication techniques including; electron-beam lithography, metal-evaporation; scanning electron microscopy; and atomic-force microscopy. You will also be trained in transmission/absorption spectrometry to characterise the sensor’s optical performance. In subsequent years, you will test the instrument outside of the lab in more challenging environments and will work more closely with marine scientist in Glasgow and St Andrews testing the instrument in several environments and settings (research, survey, industry). You will test the long-term stability of the instrument and work through real-world examples of how the measurement of concurrent parameters can improve our understanding of small-scale processes in the marine environment. You will be trained in physical, optical and biological marine data collection and will develop skills in computer programming using Matlab.

This project is part of the Scottish Universities Partnership for Environmental Research (SUPER) Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) and you will get additional interdisciplinary training through this partnership.

We are looking for a scientist with a good degree (BSc/MSci 2(1) or above, or MSc) in a relevant field, e.g. optics, engineering, physics, physical oceanography. Applicants with degrees in other subjects are invited to discuss their qualifications with the supervisors. A masters-level degree is an advantage.

Dr Lars Boehme, University of St Andrews, UK
Dr David McKee, University of Strathclyde, UK
Dr Alasdair Clark, University of Glasgow, UK

Funding Notes

The project is fully funded through a Super Standard PhD Studentship Award (67%) and the University of St Andrews (33%) which includes:
- Stipend at national UKRI standard rate
- Tuition fees
Studentships commence: 27 September 2020.


Macias, G., J. R. Sperling, W. J. Peveler, G. A. Burley, S. L. Neale and A. W. Clark, 2019, Whisky Tasting Using a Bimetallic Nanoplasmonic Tongue. Nanoscale, doi:10.1039/C9NR04583J.

Agagliate J., Röttgers R., Heymann K., McKee D., 2018, Estimation of suspended matter, organic carbon and chlorophyll-A concentrations estimation from particle size and refractive index distributions, Applied Sciences, 8, doi:10.3390/app8122676

Benedetti-Cecchi, L, Crowe, T, Boehme, L, Boero, F, Christensen, A, Grémare, A, Hernandez, F, Kromkamp, JC, Nogueira García, E, Petihakis, G, Robidart, J, Sousa Pinto, I & Zingone, A 2018, Strengthening Europe's capability in biological ocean observations. Future Science Brief, 3(1), European Marine Board, Ostend, Belgium.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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