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Preventing disease by enhancing the cleaning power of domestic water taps using sound

   Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

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  Prof Timothy Leighton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Supervisory Team:  . Prof T.G. Leighton, Dr Callum Highmore, Dr Tom Secker

Industrial co-supervisor: Dr Craig Dolder

Project description

This project will address, on a societal scale, the two challenges: disease and hunger. The world will need to feed an extra 2-billion people by 2050. By the same year, superbugs (e.g. bacteria resistant to antibiotics) will be killing more people than cancer, and have cost the world economy more than its current size.

Uptake of solutions is key to engineering. Therefore, it would be a huge advantage to have solution to these that is both common on a global scale, but also easy to use.

Water-taps, or faucets, are commonplace worldwide. They are easy-to-use by untrained people, and are already in the routine front-line efforts to reduce disease (washing hands, food, PPE etc.) and in food preparation.

At the University of Southampton, Professor Leighton invented technology whereby the addition of sound and microscopic air bubbles to streams of ordinary tap water can hugely increase its cleaning power [1]. This is achieved without heating the water (so saving 79-97% of electrical power compared to commercial and medical cleaning systems [2]) and without adding chemicals to the water (making it easier to purify the run-off into clean water again [3]).

Engineers at the spin-out company Sloan Water Technology Ltd. (SWT) [4] are working on particular projects, including placing surgical instrument cleaners in the NHS [4]. However, SWT has also successfully sponsored PhD projects, where students research their own unique initiatives, the successful ones having the opportunity of being included in SWT future commercial outputs.

This proposed project will look at introducing SWT’s core breakthrough (of enhancing cleaning in room-temperature tap water through the addition of sound and microscopic air bubbles) into domestic water taps. Such an initiative would improve hand-cleaning (for example, in advance of a future pandemic that is transmitted by touch), and cleaning of foods. Indeed, preliminary studies show that washing in SWT’s water stream extends food shelf life: currently 25% of the world’s food calories, and up to 50% by weight are wasted before consumption. Because water-taps are so commonly used world-wide, the widespread dissemination of this research to reduce global disease and hunger is a real possibility.

The appointed student should have a good engineering or physics degree, and be interested in learning cross-disciplinary skills, particular the staining and microscopy skills used in microbiology (two of the co-supervisors [Highmore and Secker] are microbiologists).


[1] The One Show




Entry Requirements

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

Closing date: 16 September 2022.

Funding: For UK students, Tuition Fees and a stipend of £15,609 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years.

How To Apply

Applications should be made online. Select programme type (Research), 2022/23, 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 T. G. Leighton

Applications should include:

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online:

For further information please contact: [Email Address Removed]

How good is research at University of Southampton in Engineering?

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

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