An investigation of the chemistry of a new type of light emitting sensors for the detection of explosives and for medical diagnostics

A studentship opportunity, leading to an MPhil or PhD, in the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol, supported by a living stipend and tuition fees at Home/ EU rates.

The closing date for applications is Monday 28 May 2018.

About the studentship

UWE Bristol has developed new types of sensors which show significant promise as a new generation of explosives detectors. These detectors would be portable, lightweight and inexpensive; capable of being easily and widely deployed in the field. UWE Bristol has produced a prototype system in collaboration with a commercial company and this has been deployed in realistic field testing scenarios with good utility.

The sensor technology is based on the concept that light is emitted from particular semiconductor films when interacting with volatile compounds. The nature of the emission appears to be related to the nature of the volatile and the semiconductor type. The films in question are conventionally nano-metal oxides, which are usually heated to high temperatures and may be doped with rare earth metals. The volatile compounds can change the chemistry of the surface and change the electrical resistance.

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 and selectivity for particular volatiles, presently being submitted as a patent application. This we term multi-modal sensing. A key part of the project, in need of development, is combining several outputs from arrays of multimode sensors and this needs data fusion know-how.

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. 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.

The 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. Data fusion approaches to analysing sensor responses and identifying key volatile compounds.

The postgraduate researcher will benefit from the following proposed supervision team:

Principal supervisors:  Ben Costello (sensor chemist) and Paul White (statistical/ data analysis)

Second supervisor:  Tim Cox (physicist), Norman Ratcliffe (materials chemist)

Funding details

The studentship will start on 1 October 2018 and consists of an annual tax-free stipend of £14,777, subject to satisfactory progress, for three years. In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for the length of the funding period.

The studentship will only fully fund applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees. Applicants who are normally required to cover international fees will have to cover the difference between the Home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates.

Eligibility criteria

Applicants must have a good honours degree (2.1 or equivalent) in a relevant scientific discipline. 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 PhD 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 28 May 2018.

Further information

If you have not heard from us by the end of June 2018, we thank you for your application, but do not wish to pursue it on this occasion.

The start date of this postgraduate research studentship is 1 October 2018.

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