Development of Advanced Spectroscopic Acoustic Lab-on-a-Chip for Point-of-Care Sensing of Diseases

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Millions of people worldwide die from late diagnosis every year. In emergency care practice, life-critical decisions must be made rapidly, influencing patients’ prognosis and the efficacy of treatment. Current diagnostic technologies are woefully inadequate either requiring large equipment, long-waiting times or not sensitive and timely enough. There is an urgent need for new lab-on-a-chip technologies to achieve timely intervention through rapid and accurate diagnostics at the point of care (PoC).

Surfaces-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) is a highly sensitive spectroscopic technique enabling detection down to single-molecule levels via enhancement of localized optical fields on metallic sub-microstructures. It offers distinct advantages over other spectroscopic methods for sensing, enabling immediate and rapid detection of analytes at considerably lower detection limits without complex sample preparation. It can further be deployed out of a laboratory setting without significant loss of its performance. These attributes make SERS well suited to address the challenges associated with PoC sensing. Nevertheless, its implementation has been inhibited by numerous factors, limiting the achievable signal enhancement and hence not providing sufficient sensitivity. Until recently producing three-dimensional low-cost substrates, which simultaneously fulfil a multitude of criteria of high sensitivity, tuneability, mulitplexicity and integrability for rapid sensing has been impossible.

Moreover, the overall sensitivity could be substantially enhanced if it were possible to concentrate the analytes of interest in the vicinity of the sensing surfaces.

Project goals

This project aims to develop an extremely sensitive approach for early diseases diagnostics:

  1. The development of new micro-engineered portable lab-on-a-chip system, to be tested and optimised to enable accomplishing ultra-sensitivity, tuneability and timeliness aimed towards transforming the field of PoC sensing.
  1. The pathway to the development of this device will include significant advances, which will resolve many of the current issues in the field of SERS and thus, unlock its potential as a widespread analytical tool.
  1. Through a fundamental understanding and subsequent precise control of structuring materials on the submicron scale, in an unconventional manner of inducing interfacial electrostatic instabilities in thin films, and the development of integrated synthetic nanocavities for highly specific plasmonic nano-roughness will enable pioneering manufacture of design surfaces with tuneable feature sizes.

These, further combined with using acoustic fields to selectively drive particle accumulation to the sensing areas around the microfabricated structures will deliver the enhanced sensitivity and high signal enhancements, enabling rapid detection of ultra-low levels of target molecules (e.g., disease biomarkers, biochemical hazards, viruses etc.)

Supervision team

*Click on the researcher's name above to learn more about their publication and grant successes.

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in the field of engineering, medical sciences, physics and computer sciences.
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date)
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

  • The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.  The supervisory team is highly multidisciplinary and comprises experts in nanomaterials, device micro-fabrication and lithographic techniques, computational modelling and statistical analysis, biology and medicine with specific expertise and strengths in areas of ‘Point-of-care Diagnostics’ and ‘Microfluidics’.
  • This PhD project will be based at the University of Birmingham with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Melbourne, with exact dates depending on project needs and planned in consultation with the PhD candidate.
  • The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the School of Chemical Engineering and Institute of Healthcare Technologies (HTI), University of Birmingham and in the PhD program at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Melbourne  The candidate will be supported by ANMSA’s Group and £10M Science City facilities at the University of Birmingham, which have a wide range of well-equipped laboratories for the fabrication and assessment of micro-optofluidic device platforms including confocal Raman (with 4 lasers and optical trapping set-up) and, £7 Million HTI, which brings together engineers and clinicians in 1200m2 new laboratory space, and is specifically focused on advancing state-of-the-art diagnostics with world-class facilities to catalyse scientific and clinical input in an integrated structure, supporting the design and delivery of complex technologies aimed at patient stratification and pathway validation.
  • On the UoM side, students at the University of Melbourne have access to a wide range of fabrication and experimental facilities. Melbourne is host to the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, the largest cleanroom in the Southern Hemisphere, which further has dedicated staff for UoM research training and support. The MCN is a world-class, purpose-built facility boasting state-of-the-art cleanrooms at class 10,000 and class 100, reconfigurable biochemistry and PC2 labs, a microscopy lab and a focused ion beam lab. These specialised work environments house top-of-the-line micro/nanofabrication equipment and instrumentation


To apply for this joint PhD opportunity, and to view the entry requirements, visit How to apply.

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