Developing new chemical based sensors for the detection of organic compounds- MPhil studentship

A funded MPhil studentship opportunity, located in the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol, is available with a living stipend and tuition fees at Home/ EU rates.

The closing date for applications is Monday 3 March 2019.

About the studentship

A funded MPhil studentship opportunity, located in the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol, is available with a living stipend and tuition fees at Home/ EU rates.

This funded MPhil position represents an exciting opportunity to undertake work in a world class sensors laboratory helping to develop new sensor technology which will be used in systems to detect human disease and traces of explosives.

UWE Bristol has developed new types of sensors which show significant promise as a new generation of sensors and have patented this technology.

One of the new types of sensor is based on the concept that light is emitted from particular semiconductor metal oxide films when interacting with volatile compounds – this is a specific type of chemiluminescence called cataluminescence. The amount and type of light emitted seems to be dependent on the volatile organic compound and the sensor material (metal oxide) The sensor materials are typically nanoparticles of metal oxides, which are usually heated to high temperatures and may be doped with rare earth metals (examples are Europium and Terbium oxides). In addition to the light emitted from the sensor, the volatile compounds can change the chemistry of the surface and change the electrical resistance of the material. This is how many conventional metal oxide sensors work, where the change in resistance (conductivity) indicates the level of a certain target gas. However, many of these sensors have poor selectivity to the target gas and are cross sensitive to inteferents and environmental changes. Therefore, combining both the light emission and the electrical resistance has proved to give sensors with better selectivity to target compounds. Our initial work has shown that the resistance change and light emission occurs reversibly when the surface is exposed to volatiles. We have come up with the idea of using both responses to aid identification for particular volatiles (selectivity) – this is termed multi-modal sensing (this concept is the subject of the patent).

In addition to this sensor approach, UWE Bristol has pioneered the development of sensors that rather than being heated, can be energised using UV Light emitting diodes (LEDs). This enables a highly sensitive sensor at room temperature – which has benefits over many heated metal oxide sensors. These sensors have been shown to have utility in detecting hydrogen peroxide, which has been implicated as a pre-cursor of improvised explosive devices, but is also emerging as a compound with increased industrial applications and with links to medical conditions.

Our research group combines research into identifying markers of disease using conventional analytical instruments such as Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry with research into making new types of targeted gas sensor. These targeted gas sensors could be incorporated into systems for the detection of disease and explosives for example. Sensor systems of this type should have high sensitivity (typically compounds of interest are in the part per billion range) and good selectivity to the target gases. They should also be much cheaper and more portable than conventional analytical devices. We have built hybrid systems which combine aspects of analytical instruments such as separation via gas chromatography but incorporate inexpensive sensors as detectors rather than expensive mass spectrometers. These systems have shown great promise and a final goal of the project would be to incorporate these new sensor types into our existing disease diagnosis instruments which have shown promise in detecting bladder cancer and other diseases such as bacterial infection and bowel diseases.

The MPhil programme of work is to:

  1. explore the processes/mechanism of operation to further improve/optimise the response of these sensors
  2. investigate and synthesise new materials capable of multimodal sensing
  3. combining sensors into arrays to enable selective detection of target compounds such as explosives or volatile compounds implicated in disease
  4. combining selected sensors into UWE built disease detection systems and/or prototypes for detecting explosives in the field.

Funding details

The studentship will start on Monday 1 April 2019, and consists of an annual tax-free stipend of £14,777, subject to satisfactory progress, for two years. In addition, full-time UK/EU tuition fees will be covered for the length of the funding period.

Eligibility criteria

  • This MPhil studentship is only open to UK/EU Nationals.
  • Applicants must have a good honours degree (2.1 or equivalent) in subjects such as Forensic Science, Chemistry or Biomedical Science.
  • A recognised English language qualification is required. 

How to apply

Download and complete the Graduate School studentship application form and send it directly to the UWE Bristol Graduate School. Please ensure you include the title of the research project you propose to undertake, and detail why you are interested in undertaking this MPhil project and what relevant knowledge, experience and qualifications you would bring to the research. Please see the Graduate School studentship application guidance notes for further information about how to complete the application form.

Please also complete the Equal Opportunities monitoring form and complete the first section of the Graduate School application reference sheet before sending to your nominated referees.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please email Dr Ben de Lacy Costello at

Closing date

The closing date for applications is Monday 3 March 2019.

Further information

If you have not heard from us by Monday 18 March 2019, we thank you for your application, but do not wish to pursue it on this occasion.

The start date of this PhD studentship is Monday 1 April 2019.

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