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Environmental applications of fluorescence spectroscopy

Project Description

Fluorescence spectroscopy enables microbiological activity in water to be characterised rapidly as organic molecules fluoresce when excited at certain wavelengths of light. This technology was originally developed for the marine science community, however, developments in optical science enable fluorescence to be quantified in-situ at specific wavelength pairs, avoiding the need for time-consuming laboratory processing and analysis. As research in this area moves beyond ‘proof-of-concept’, there are exciting opportunities in the practical application of this technology to address one of the key Sustainable Development Goals, given that at present, an estimated 785 million people lack a basic drinking water service, and there are widespread problems associated with drinking water contamination.

Following laboratory trials at Birmingham, environmental fluorescence has been correlated with E. Coli enumerations in areas of poor sanitation in Southern Africa (Baker et al. 2015). Subsequently collaboration between the University of Birmingham and RS Hydro has led to the development of an in-situ fluorescence sensor system – focussing on ‘Tryptophan Like Fluorescence’ (TLF) which provides a proxy for Biochemical Oxygen Demand (Khamis et al. 2018).

This PhD project continues the collaboration between Birmingham University and RS Hydro, focussing on in-situ applications of the new ‘Proteus’ sensor. The supervisors have recently used fluorescence sensors to investigate dissolved organic matter dynamics in an urban river in the UK (e.g. Khamis et al. 2018) and consider event-based variations in urban water quality. There is enormous scope to apply this technology in different environments to increase our understanding of water quality problems, particularly in the developing world. The PhD student will work with the supervisors, and RS Hydro to identify opportunities to use RS Hydro’s Proteus sensor in the UK and overseas. A particular focus is likely to be on validating the technology for ‘clean water’ applications, in situations where questions of the minimum detection limit of faecal indicators is critical.

Funding Notes

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.
• Annual stipend, set at £15,009 for 2019/20
• Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Baker, A, Cumberland, S, Bradley, C, Buckley, C & Bridgeman, J 2015, 'To what extent can portable fluorescence spectroscopy be used in the real-time assessment of microbial water quality?', Science of the Total Environment, vol. 532, pp. 14-19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.05.114
Khamis, K, Bradley, C, Stevens, R & Hannah, DM 2017, 'Continuous field estimation of dissolved organic carbon concentration and biochemical oxygen demand using dual-wavelength fluorescence, turbidity and temperature', Hydrological Processes, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 540-555. https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.11040
Khamis, K, Bradley, C & Hannah, D 2018, 'Understanding dissolved organic matter dynamics in urban catchments: insights from in-situ fluorescence sensor technology', Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water, vol. 5, no. 1, e1259. https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1259
Manjang, B, Hemming, K, Bradley, C, Ensink, J, Martin, JT, Sowe, J, Jarju, A, Cairncross, S & Manaseki-Holland, S 2018, 'Promoting hygienic weaning food handling practices through a community-based programme: intervention implementation and baseline characteristics for a cluster randomised controlled trial in rural Gambia', BMJ open, vol. 8, no. 8, e017573. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017573

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