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  University of Bath URSA project: Portable molecularly imprinted sensors detecting per- and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)

   Department of Chemical Engineering

  Dr Hannah Leese, , ,  Sunday, January 21, 2024  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the University of Bath URSA competition, for entry in September 2024.

Project Background: 

Per- and poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of synthetic organofluorine chemicals that have been widely used since the 1940s. The carbon-fluorine bond (C–F) is very strong and consequently PFAS can resist chemical attack and withstand high temperatures. For this reason they are sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals’, and have become environmental contaminants of emerging concern. They are highly persistent, toxic, bioaccumulative, and ubiquitous which makes them important to detect to ensure environmental and human health. Two of the most toxic PFAS—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), now highly regulated, are found in drinking water worldwide, and it is therefore vital that we develop portable sensitive sensors that are capable of detecting levels of specific types of PFAS.

This interdisciplinary research project will develop a portable molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) sensor with ultra-sensitivity to detect PFAS at very low levels and enable the MIP to distinguish specifically between PFOS and other PFAS molecules. With advanced techniques developed in our research groups, we will utilise the principle of molecularly imprinting polymers to install molecular memory into a sustainable polymeric sensor. Sustainable device engineering and optimisation through material design for sensitivity, stability and reliability is a core objective of this project and the Materials for Health Lab that you will be part of.

The developed sensors will be portable, cost-effective, devices that are biochemically, physically and thermally stable. By utilising polymeric materials that do not persist in the environment, this project has the potential to transform the way we produce, manufacture, and dispose of sensing devices in the future, as well as enabling PFAS detection on demand.

About us:

Research in the Materials for Health Lab, led by Dr Hannah Leese focuses on developing advanced materials for transformative sustainable health and wellbeing.

Research in the Buchard group addresses all aspects of the development of sustainable polymers and produces innovative polymers for new technologies. Research in the Estrela group focuses on the development of label-free electrical biosensors and chemical sensors for a wide range of applications such as medical diagnostics and environmental monitoring.

 Candidate requirements:

Applicants must have, or be about to obtain, a UK Honours degree 1st or 2.1, or international equivalent.

Non-UK applicants must meet the programme’s English language requirement by 01/02/2024 (unless you will be awarded a UK degree or degree conducted in English between February and September 2024).

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are encouraged! Dr Hannah Leese -

Please make a formal application via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Chemical Engineering

In the ‘Funding Your Studies’ section, please select ‘University of Bath URSA’ from the first drop-down menu. In the ‘Your PhD project’ section, please quote the project title and supervisor name in the appropriate fields.

Failure to complete these steps will cause delays in processing your application and may cause you to miss the deadline.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

We value a diverse research environment and strive to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

The Disability Service ensures that individuals with disabilities are provided the support that they need. If you state if your application that you have a disability, the Disability Service will contact you as part of this process to discuss your needs.

Biological Sciences (4) Chemistry (6) Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13) Materials Science (24)

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for a University of Bath (URSA) studentship tenable for 3.5 years. Funding covers tuition fees at the ‘Home’ rate, a stipend (£18,622 p/a in 2023/24) and a £1000/annum training budget.
You will likely need to hold UK or Irish citizenship, EU (Pre-)Settled status in the UK, or another form of indefinite leave, to be eligible for Home fees.
Are you an Outstanding Overseas student (e.g. with a UK Masters Distinction or international equivalent) who is interested in this project? Please contact the intended supervisor to discuss whether they would support your application for supplementary funding.

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