PhD Studentship: Droplet-based water analysers for nutrient monitoring

United Kingdom
Dec 22, 2017
Sep 01, 2018
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time
This project aims to develop the next generation of field-deployable water analysers for monitoring nutrient levels in rivers, lakes and other waterways.  

Monitoring of nutrient levels (e.g. nitrate, phosphate, ammonium) is important as they are fundamental to a healthy aquatic ecosystem, and are a key indicator of water quality. For example increased nutrient levels, due to fertiliser run-off from farmland or poorly treated waste water, can lead to dangerous algal blooms and eutrophication (removal of oxygen) of the water body.  

Nutrient levels are typically measured by taking manual samples and then transporting to a laboratory for analysis. This is logistically inefficient, costly and intrinsically limits the amount of data that can be acquired. A more efficient strategy is to bring the lab to the water body and analyse it in situ, thus removing all sample transport logistics. Microfluidic technology, in which small volumes of liquid are manipulated in ~100 µm diameter channels, offers a route to achieve this, as it allows laboratory processes (fluid additions and titrations, mixing, extraction and separation, optical analysis etc.) to be miniaturised into integrated portable devices.  

The current state-of-the-art microfluidic analysers offer accurate readings, but their use of consumables (fluid and power) has limited their uptake. Droplet microfluidics, in which water samples are manipulated as discrete droplets dispersed within a stream of oil, has the potential to deliver the same versatility and accuracy of current microfluidic systems but using much less fluid and power. While a long-established laboratory technique, droplet microfluidics is only now making its way into the first field-deployable devices. In this project you will develop field-deployable droplet-based water analysers for monitoring nutrient levels. You will develop fundamental droplet microfluidic technology, implement it into field-deployable systems and test them in the field.  

We are looking for a student with a First or Upper Second (2:1) class undergraduate degree, or equivalent qualification, in engineering (mechanical, chemical or environmental), analytical chemistry, environmental science or another closely related subject. The student will be supported by a generous stipend and will have opportunities to undertake field work.  


The following qualities are desirable in the candidate:  

  • Experience in device design and engineering, including 3D computer aided design (CAD), microfabrication, 3D printing, custom electronics.  
  • Experience in analytical chemistry and associated techniques, including absorbance and/or fluorimetric spectroscopy.  


If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Adrian Nightingale, Mechatronics research group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 2873.  

This project is being run in participation with the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (View Website). For details of our 4 Year PhD programme and further projects, please see

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