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Soil Sensing Using SERS Excited by Leaky Waveguides (LWs)

School of Chemistry

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Dr Ruchi Gupta , Dr S Ullah No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The aim of this project is to develop analytical methods and tools for simultaneous measurement of the concentrations of nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia in soil. This in turn will provide a holistic understanding of the nitrogen cycling processes in soils and its implications for nutrient availability to trees under land use and climate change [1]. Currently, ion-selective electrodes (ISEs) are used for monitoring ions in soil, but are prone to interferences, poor selectivity and rapid fouling. To address these issues, this project will develop analytical methods and tools based on surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) excited via high intensity light propagating in leaky waveguides (LWs) [2]. The SERS technology for nutrient sensing in soils is a bold new step and thus this studentship will offer an exciting opportunity for training and development of sensors that are designed to be selective, robust, reproducible, and applicable at large scale even in remote locations for in situ monitoring. The ability to monitor nutrients at high spatial and temporal resolution will enable a more accurate assessment of the impacts of global change on nutrient availability to trees.

The objectives of this project are as follows:

i) Fabricate LWs comprising few microns thick hydrophobic film containing metallic nanoparticles deposited on glass substrates.

ii) develop instrumentation to measure LW excited SERS spectra of analytes.

iii) determine the selectivity, response time, limit of detection, and longevity of the proposed LW-SERS method for nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia in air/water followed by air/water filled pores in soil.

iv) apply the sensor in forest soils and benchmark against passive nutrient samplers in forest soils and against laboratory analytical approaches (colorimetric and chromatography i.e., the gold standard method for the measurement nutrients extracted from soils and water.

The student will be based in the research group of Dr Ruchi Gupta (School of Chemistry) and will be co-supervised by Dr Sami Ullah (Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences) at University of Birmingham. The student will gain skills in analytical chemistry, microfabrication, and soil nutrient sensing techniques using varied sampling and analytical quantification approaches and the implications of nutrient sensing for ecosystem functions under global change and nitrogen pollution.

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Ruchi Gupta at [Email Address Removed]. Please include a CV and transcripts in your email.


1) Ullah, S., and T. R. Moore, Soil Drainage and Vegetation Control of Nitrogen Transformation in Forest Soils, Southern Quebec, Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences, (2009), 114.
2) R. Gupta, N.J. Goddard, Leaky Waveguides (LWs) for Chemical and Biological Sensing − A Review and Future Perspective, Sensors and Actuators B, (2020), 128628.

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