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Developing approaches to rapidly detect novel psychoactive substances

   Department of Biology & Biochemistry

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  Dr Christopher Pudney  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project commencing in October 2022.

Intended Supervisory Team:

Lead supervisor:


Overview of the Research:

Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) are compounds designed to mimic existing established recreational drugs. These drugs can be highly variable in their structures, giving rise to a range of side effects that are hard to predict. The evolving nature of these drugs makes them difficult to track and test.

The PhD project will focus on developing novel approaches for detecting several classes of NPS; synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs; Spice; K2) and benzodiazepines. SCRA use is endemic in the UK prison system and can have severe side effects, with users potentially becoming violent, psychotic, delusional and incapacitated. Similarly, benzodiazepines have recently become the leading cause of drug death in Scotland.

Our team has shown that fluorescence fingerprinting1 is a powerful tool to detect these drugs and provide a means to decrease the harm these drugs of abuse cause. Harm reduction principles are at the heart of the project and we will actively seek to implement the findings of the project in real world settings.

The student will expand and develop on our initial detection approach including recent advances in incorporating information from photochemical reactivity, detection from saliva samples, and ultra-portable device design.

The student will be part of a large multidisciplinary team, recently supported by a £1.3M EPSRC award.2 The team includes analytical science, pharmacy practice, psychology and machine learning expertise. The student will therefore have an exceptional training opportunity in contemporary analytical science, with a broad range of options to develop the PhD based on the student’s aptitudes and interests.

We anticipate the student will participate in national and international conferences, and have the opportunity to interact with our existing industrial partners. The project has high potential to generate intellectual property, and the student will be given opportunities to participate in commercialisation.

The successful candidate will have a background in an analytical science discipline and be passionate about developing applied solutions from basic research.

Project keywords: novel psychoactive substance, analytical chemistry, spectroscopy, fluorescence, synthetic cannabinoid, benzodiazepine.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should have a background in a relevant analytical science discipline, for example biochemistry and chemistry, and hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent). A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Christopher Pudney on email address [Email Address Removed].

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biochemistry.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Note: Our application system will be unavailable due to annual planned maintenance from Sunday 10 April 2022 for up to 1 week, so you will not be able to access the system in order to make an application during this time.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Exceptional Overseas students (e.g. with a UK Master’s Distinction or international equivalent and relevant research experience), who are interested in this project, should contact the lead supervisor in the first instance to discuss the possibility of applying for supplementary funding.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do

Funding Notes

A studentship includes Home tuition fees, a stipend (£16,062 per annum, 2022/23 rate) and research/training expenses (£1,000 per annum) for up to 3 years. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.


1. May et al. 2019. Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists Detection Using Fluorescence Spectral Fingerprinting. ACS Anal. Chem. 91, 12971. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.9b03037
2. https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/bath-researchers-win-1-3m-funding-to-make-a-portable-device-to-detect-street-drug-spice/

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