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Low-cost paper-based device for rapid monitoring of water quality PhD


School of Water, Energy and Environment (SWEE)

About the Project

The exciting PhD opportunity was funded by UK Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) Frontier Follow-on scheme after a seed funding from RAEng. We are offering a fully funded UK/EU PhD studentship (together with another funded PhD student who started in August), covering tuition fees, competitive stipend, research and consumables, and travel for international conference. The candidate will be working with a highly interdisciplinary and international team to develop the advanced sensors technology for rapid monitoring of water quality to provide new understanding on the dynamics and transportation of contaminants and inform mitigation.

Microbiological contamination of water used for human consumption presents high risks to human health, and it occurs throughout low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). For example, more than 80% of the peri-urban population of Yaounde in Cameroon access drinking water from boreholes, hand-dug wells and rivers, and over 60 million Nigerians are exposed to water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery.

Start date: ASAP

Surveillance of drinking water are carried out at a late stage after the occurrence of outbreaks of diseases. The current detection methods rely on conventional microbiological culture or serological assays which lack sensitivity and are slow (hours-days). Molecular methods such as polymerase chain(PCR) reaction are typically expensive, require a well-equipped lab and skilled personnel to interpret results.

The project aims to implement and deploy low-cost, low-power, point-of-use paper-based biosensors for rapid monitoring of water contamination (e.g. pathogens, antibiotic resistance genes) in Nigeria, Cameroon and other LMICs where access to infrastructure, equipment and technical expertise is limiting.

Cranfield University is number one in the UK for training and producing engineering and technology postgraduates. It is one of the top five research-intensive universities in the UK and has an unrivalled reputation for transforming cutting edge technology, management and science into practical, life-enhancing solutions. This research project will be conducted within the Water Science Institute, School of Water, Energy and Environment.

We have recently established a brand-new sensors laboratory, and this dedicated laboratory is the centre of the world-class, cutting-edge research into sensors and their uses in water and the water industry being conducted at Cranfield. With an impressive legacy in biosensors, Cranfield’s UKCRIC sensors lab continues the University’s work in this area by providing state-of-the-art facilities for chemical, biological and microbial sensors’ design, elaboration, characterisation and application. The advanced sensors group aims to explore fundamental science and advanced sensors technology to address the water-environment-health nexus. The projects underway involve aspects of diverse disciplines, ranging from engineering, chemistry, environmental, biomedical and analytical science to nanotechnology.

We have demonstrated in India and Uganda a DNA-based paper-origami device which exploits hot wax printing to integrate sample preparation and microfluidic flows for pathogens detection. These low-cost assays are both sensitive and specific for pathogen detection in drinking water. We also recently shows a significant potential of our paper-based sensors for the detection of COVID-19 in sewage for early warning of infectious disease in the community, and this has been featured in Science and wide public media coverages (such as BBC, Daily Mail, Yahoo etc.)

This project aims to further improve the performance of our device (in terms of multiplexing pathogens, detecting antimicrobial resistance and improving ease of use) with new engineering approaches, and evidence their impact so that they can find widespread application in both rural and urban environments.

The student will be widely engaging with a multidisciplinary team to learn advanced sensor technology and interact with stakeholders to disseminate the research output. The funding supports travel throughout the project to meet with the collaborators, along with opportunities to attend and present results at international conferences (e.g. Biosensors World Congress). It is expected that the PhD researcher will become involved in this network, enabling the researcher to develop their profile in the sector and engage with experts in related areas.

Entry requirements

First or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline. This project would suit students with a background biosensors, microfluidics, biomedical engineering, analytical chemistry, water science, environment engineering, molecular biology, microbiology and engineering.

How to apply

If you are eligible to apply, please complete the online application form and ref no. SWEE0130


Funding Notes

Sponsored by Royal Academy of Engineering, this studentship will provide a bursary of up to £18,000* (tax free) plus tuition fees for three years, and national and international travel for conferences.
*To be eligible for this funding, applicants can be either a UK or EU national citizenship.

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