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  Doctor of Engineering (EngD) - uLED-based lab-on-chip platform (Fraunhofer and University of Strathclyde)

   School of Engineering & Physical Sciences

  Prof D Reid,  Sunday, June 30, 2024  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Detection and identification of various analytes is crucial in applications spanning through bio-medicine, defence and security, environmental monitoring and various others. Many techniques have been demonstrated over the years, with varying levels of complexity and breath of information they generate, somewhat limiting their applications at the point of need. However, technological progress now allows shrinking bulky laboratory instruments into dedicated, miniature devices, in turn offering lightweight, compact and portable sensing solutions. This project aims to develop such a sensing solution with a novel lab-on-chip platform that combines two innovation strands: (i) the technology of microsize LEDs (mLEDs) to interrogate miniature sensing assays; and (ii) colloidal nanomaterials, and related structures, for enhancing the sensitivity of the optical assays.

The primary focus (i) is capitalising on the advantages brought by the development of high density, high modulation bandwidth mLED arrays pioneered by the Institute of Photonics (IoP) of the University of Strathclyde. These arrays can be realised with geometry, emission wavelength and modulation speed tailored to the needs of the application. Crucially, the compact size of each mLED emitter (pixel), coupled with their monolithic integration to a CMOS driver, allows for an extremely compact form factor and an exquisite control of the illumination’s spatio-temporal properties. Utilising these devices as an excitation source for optical assays combined with detector arrays and microfluidic structures, throughout a variety of functionalised materials, offers a route to a unique lab-on-a-chip technology for sensing.

The secondary focus (ii) is on the engineering of optical assays with enhanced sensitivity, relying for example on a change of colour or other spectral properties to detect analytes, enabled by the combination of colloidal inorganic nanoparticles and resonating structures, and their surface functionalisation.

This exciting opportunity to develop such a lab-on-chip system, builds on the spectroscopic work of the team at the Fraunhofer centre and is anchored in the extensive expertise of the team at the IoP in combining mLEDs and nanomaterials, i.e., interfacing Photonics and Life Sciences, to generate novel sensing modalities. The prospective student will be exposed to the opto-mechanical, electronic and spectroscopic instrumentation design as well as embedded instrument control and data extraction. In parallel, she/he will study functionalised assays and microfluidics platforms complementing the lab-on-chip approach. As such, this represents an ideal challenge for a candidate exhibiting strength in experimental physics and electronic engineering, as it encompasses photonics, electronics and instrumentation control, with an interest to contribute to life sciences environment.

This applications-focused EngD project is centred on developing a lab-on-chip platform based upon the combination of the mLED technology with microfluidics and functionalised nanoparticles. The project will be led between Photonic Materials and Devices group at the Institute of Photonics of the University of Strathclyde, and the Fraunhofer Centre for Applied Photonics in Glasgow – the first Fraunhofer centre in the UK.

Such a collaboration plays to the strengths and aspirations of both institutions who share a common desire to contribute to the knowledge-based economy through high-technology innovation.

The applicant will work in a vibrant, collegiate and supportive environment with access to state-of-the-art laboratory infrastructure and scientific expertise.

Fraunhofer UK Research Ltd are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We would be happy to have informal discussions with candidates about flexible working options.

CDT Essential Criteria

A Masters level degree (MEng, MPhys, MSc) at 2.1 or equivalent.

Desire to work collegiately, be involved in outreach, undertake taught and professional skills study.

Project Essential Criteria

First- or upper-second degree background in physics or electronic engineering.

The project will bridge though the fields of physics, electronic engineering, and biochemistry and/or life sciences, so the candidate must have a strong interest in these fields.

Strong ability and desire to set-up experimental systems and put theory into practice.

Ability to work with as part of a wider team and demonstrate initiative when tasked with lone working.

Desire to interact with industrial end-users.

Project Desirable Criteria

Knowledge of programming languages such as Matlab, Labview or Python.

Knowledge of FPGA programming.

Experience in setting up optical systems.

Knowledge/expertise in colloidal/solution-based inorganic or organic materials.

Industrial background and experience in executing commercial projects.


The CDT in Applied Photonics provides a supportive, collaborative environment which values inclusivity and is committed to creating and sustaining a positive and supportive environment for all our applicants, students, and staff. For further information, please see our ED&I statement Forming a supportive cohort is an important part of the programme and our students take part in various professional skills workshops, including Responsible Research and Innovation workshops and attend Outreach Training.

Physics (29)

Funding Notes

This four-year project (including CDT taught courses) is funded jointly by the EPSRC CDT in Applied Photonics, managed by Heriot-Watt University and the industrial sponsor. The first year annual stipend is the UKRI minimum stipend, the stipend in years 2, 3 and 4 includes an enhancement from the industrial sponsor. A substantial consumables and equipment budget is provided by a concurrent EPSRC grant. Travel funding for conference presentations is also available.

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