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PhD in nanoparticle and chemical sensing at the digital limit using optical microcavities

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

The sensing and analysis of chemicals and nanoparticels in microfluidic devices can be greatly enhanced by the use of optical microcavities, which confine and intensify optical fields as highly resonant standing waves. This project, based in the Department of Materials, University of Oxford, utilises open microcavities which are fabricated in-house and which have proven capabilities in sensing nanoparticles and chemicals within femtolitre volumes of fluid. The goal of the project is to further boost the sensitivity of these devices using interferometric techniques to allow measurement of mode perturbations as small as 0.1% of the linewidth/transmission and by exploring hybrid resonators utilising plasmonic nanoparticles and high Q open cavities. The principal objective will be to demonstrate inline single molecule absorption sensing, which could lead to ‘digital colorimetry’ in which optically absorbing molecules are counted as they flow through the resonator. Digital detection is powerful as the limit of detection is determined only by ‘dark counts’, eliminating the effect of large numbers of weakly absorbing species such that the presence of targets at parts-per-trillion levels might be achieved. The potential applications of such a system are very significant in the monitoring of drinking water where current lab tests are unreliable, and for portable devices for security applications and future medical diagnostic devices. Additional benefits of the instrument would be detection of smaller particles than can be detected with the standard cavity sensor instrument with potential use in nanoparticle flow cytometry.

The student will benefit from rigorous training in microcavity sensing, with elements of materials characterisation, device design, and instrumentation, as well as experimental practice, communication, and project management. By the end of the project (s)he will have a robust understanding of the limits of cavity-enhanced sensing in fluid samples.

The project is CASE sponsored by recent spin-out Oxford HighQ Ltd, who will host the student for a three-month placement to provide experience of commercial R&D, market awareness and product development.

Funding Notes

The project is supported by a 3.5 year studentship covering tuition fees and stipend (c £15,000 pa) with a CASE top-up provided by Oxford HighQ Ltd. The studentship is available to UK nationals and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years.


Keywords; Nanotechnology, Nanomaterials, Sensing, characterisation, analytic science, microfluidics, photonics, optics

How good is research at University of Oxford in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.12

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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