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  Pulsatile flows for particle and cell collection and sorting (RDF23/EE/MPEE/AGRAWAL)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Prashant Agrawal  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Access to healthcare diagnostic technologies in resource limited and remote regions is a significant challenge in detecting and, subsequently, treating diseases. Recent advancements in ‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology that utilise microfluidics, have reduced the footprint of laboratory scale processes to devices that can fit in the palm of your hand. The small scale of these devices, parallel processing, integration with Internet of Things and the ability to work with low sample volumes have shown promise in providing remote healthcare services.

Manipulating particles and biological cells in liquid environments forms an integral part of these diagnostic devices. For example, performing liquid biopsy on blood to detect cancer by scanning for circulating tumour cells, and detecting bacteria in urine and mucus using immunoassays. As such several microfluidic techniques using electric, magnetic, optic and acoustic fields have been developed to precisely collect and sort cells. However, such techniques require complex and costly fabrication procedures. Therefore, there is a need to develop robust particle and cell manipulation technologies that are simple to use, scalable, less energy intensive and cost-effective for use in resource limited settings.

This PhD project aims at using low frequency (~10 Hz) oscillatory flows in liquids to develop a low-cost, simple and scalable platform for enriching and sorting particles. When a liquid drop resting on a surface is subjected to periodic vibrations, waves are formed at the liquid-air interface, which collect suspended microparticles at specific locations in the droplet. In this project, we will use similar periodic liquid vibrations in open and closed channels to collect and sort particles based on their size, density and stiffness. A key aspect of this project will be to study the interaction of deformable particles with liquid flow. The liquids used will exhibhit Newtonian flow (e.g. water) and non-Newtonian flow (e.g. cornstarch solution) properties. Here, the role of liquid viscoelasticity on particle motion will be investigated. This knowledge will be used to develop devices that can collect, and sort particles and cells continuously based on their size, shape and stiffness. The PhD project will be co-supervised by Dr Hamdi Torun.

 In this multidisciplinary project, you will work on a mix of experiments and numerical problems, and will cover themes of design, engineering, fluid dynamics, materials, manufacturing and bio-technology. Our diverse research group at the Smart Materials and Surfaces Lab provides a supportive where you will be working with postgraduate researchers and academics. We have an extensive and developing network of industrial and academic partners across the UK and internationally, which will provide you opportunities to collaborate on your project. You will be encourage and financially supported to attend relevant summer schools and present your research at national and international conferences. The project also holds significant potential for generating Intellectual Property (IP), and eventual commercialisation

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr Prashant Agrawal. For informal queries, please contact [Email Address Removed]. For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions.

Eligibility Requirements

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.
  • If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. 

This opportunity is open to European students who meet any of the relevant criteria above.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and application form, see

For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (e.g. FAC23/...).

Deadline for applications: 19 October 2023

Start date of course: As soon as possible, on the 1st of a month.

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our postgraduate research students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Leader, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers and are members of the Euraxess initiative to deliver information and support to professional researchers.

Biological Sciences (4) Engineering (12) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

This studentship is available to Home and EU students with settled or pre-settled status in the UK, and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2023/24 full-time study this is £18,622 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £11,173 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.

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