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Lateral-flow field tests for marine macronutrients

   Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

   Friday, March 31, 2023  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Supervisory Team:   Dr Adrian Nightingale, Dr Darren Bradshaw, Dr Allison Schaap,

Project description

Nutrient molecules, such as nitrate and phosphate, underpin the natural cycles of life within the oceans and seas. They are essential for healthy phytoplankton growth and hence constitute the ultimate base of the marine food chain. They can also be potentially harmful. Nutrient pollution is a real problem in coastal waters, with human input from agricultural run-off and sewage often leading to toxic algal blooms. Measuring the concentration of marine nutrients is essential for both understanding how our oceans work and safeguarding against harmful pollution.

Traditionally nutrient levels are measured by taking samples and transporting them to a lab for analysis. Transport costs fundamentally limit the number and frequency of measurements and ultimately how well we can monitor nutrient levels. This project looks to a different approach by developing lateral-flow diagnostics like those used for home pregnancy- or COVID-testing. As no sample transport is required, they offer a much cheaper alternative, allowing widespread frequent testing with significant potential impact in low resource parts of the world.

In this project you will be developing lateral-flow-style tests for in-the-field quantification of macronutrients in seawater, making use of metal-organic-frameworks (MOFs) as the sensing element. MOFs are crystalline porous solids that can be rationally designed as receptors for specific molecules, and the project team has already developed protocols for preparing MOF-based materials for lateral flow devices. The final device should be low cost and user-friendly, such that they can be widely used by non-experts. They should be capable of accurately measuring major macronutrients (e.g. nitrate, nitrite, ammonium, phosphate, silicate) at typical environmental concentrations from a small (<1 ml) sample of water.

This is a multidisciplinary project, and as such would be suitable for a candidate with a good undergraduate degree in chemistry, oceanography, environmental sciences, or environmental engineering. You will be trained in all practical skills you may require as well as the softer skills (e.g. project and time management, scientific writing) required to complete a PhD.

 In practice you will be required to synthesise MOFs from literature procedures, integrate them in paper devices, and then design and 3D-print device housings. You will work through the major macronutrients (nitrate, phosphate, and ammonium first, then nitrite and silicate if time allows), in each case identifying appropriate MOFs, trialling them and comparing to standard colorimetric reagents, looking at:

•         How easily they can be incorporated into a lateral flow device

•         Analytical performance (accuracy, precision, sensitivity etc)

•         Shelf life and stability

•         Resilience against potential interferents (changing salinity, turbidity etc)

Devices will be user-friendliness-tested by yourself as well as oceanographers at sea.

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent).

Closing date: 31 March 2023

Funding: For UK students, Tuition Fees and a stipend of £17,668 p.a for 3.5 years.

How To Apply

Apply online: Search for a Postgraduate Programme of Study (soton.ac.uk). Select programme type (Research), 2023/24, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, next page select “PhD Engineering & Environment (Full time)”. In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor Adrian Nightingale

Applications should include:

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts/Certificates to date

For further information please contact:

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