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Using Catalytically Powered Microfluidic Transport to Enable Medical Diagnosis

Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering

About the Project

Microfluidic devices have the potential to enable diagnostic tests to be performed rapidly at the "point-of-care" enabling rapid responses to medical emergencies, and allowing patients to self-monitor medical conditions in their homes. Ideally these devices will be portable and low cost, or even disposable. However, due to the challenges of producing controlled fluidic motion at the micron scale, many microfluidic operations still require expensive bulky equipment. In this project, the PhD student will investigate the potential to exploit motion produced by catalytic activity to solve the challenge of transporting materials within microfluidic devices. Two approaches will be investigated, the first where patches of surface attached catalyst cause fluid pumping, and the second where catalytic colloid transporters move through static fluids. This project will build on the significant progress made by my research group to develop methods to guide catalytic colloids using physical structures, gravity and self-assembly. While these guidance methods have so far been investigated in isolation, the student will produce complete devices that exploit these phenomena together, and address the challenges of attaching cargo to colloidal transporters. The student will also test and develop new approaches to guide colloids involving surface chemical patterning. The PhD will be experimentally focused, and exploit advanced manufacturing methods such as ink-jet printing to produce the devices, combined with a wide range of colloidal and surface modification and characterisation methods. The ultimate aim is to produce fully autonomous microfluidic devices that can perform diagnostic tasks powered solely by catalytic motion. The PhD student will benefit from the potential to collaborate with scientists from different disciplines in order to achieve this ambitious goal that can potentially enable a radically new approach to healthcare diagnostics.

Extensive training in all relevant skills will be provided. Training will be provided in a wide range of surface modification techniques (vacuum metallisation, surface chemical modification, surface plasma modification and device fabrication using ink-jet printing) and characterisation methods (NTA, SEM, advanced microscopy and image analysis, UV-vis spectrometry, Zeta Potential measurement, XPS). In addition there will be the opportunity to learn software skills in the graphical language Labview, which is widely used in industry. Wider personal development, and gaining advanced subject specific knowledge will be facilitated by the Universities doctoral training program.

The PhD will equip the student with the ability to demonstrate a wide range of interdisciplinary skills which are well sought after both in industry and academia. Experience in state of the art manufacturing methods such as ink jet printing and training in machine vision software (Labview, an industry standard platform for instrumental development and control) is desirable across a wide range of high technology manufacturing industries. In addition, surface chemistry skills and associated characterisation methods are attractive to many sectors. Furthermore the student will gain experience that will provide a strong platform to start an academic research career.

My laboratory is fully equipped with the instrumentation required for the planned program of work. Consumables be supported by DGF funds. The student will also be actively encouraged to seek funding via travel scholarships to support conference attendance.

Funding Notes

A 2.1 degree in chemistry, physics or a related physical science or engineering discipline.

Demonstrable high level of written and spoken English. If English is not your first language, then you must have International English Language Testing Service (IELTS) average of 6.5 or above with at least 6.0 in each component.

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