PhD: Sensor encapsulation in nanostructured materials: investigating ecosystem health in a changing climate

Loughborough University

Loughborough, UK 🇬🇧

Project details

The impact that climate change is having on the world’s ecosystems affects every one of us. Our capacity to grow food, to maintain clean and safe water supplies, and our ability to do this in a way that is sustainable, is dependent upon our understanding of how soil and water are affected by our changing weather.

The EcoSENSE research cluster (involving 5 PhD studentships) will develop new sensors for the accurate, sensitive and real-time monitoring of the health of water and soil systems. We will achieve this through an ambitious and exciting series of interconnected projects combining expertise in Materials Science, Chemistry, Geography and Computer Science, guided by input from key Industrial partners including MAST group Ltd and Severn Trent.

Project summary

Our current patented technology is based on the dual encapsulation of luminescent probes for the detection of anions into crosslinked hydrogels. In this approach, the diffusion rate of ions into the material is restricted by the relatively low exposed surface area of the hydrogel and can be affected by the materials physical properties.

In this PhD project, we will investigate methods to optimise ion transport rate by selecting the appropriate manufacturing technique (for example fibre spinning) and material to achieve high efficiency of the sensing device. As well as further developing the patented technology, this will build on our work demonstrating the synthesis of polymer particles with tuneable size and composition (Polym. Chem., 2022, 13, 4124-4135), and the encapsulation of polymer particles into electrospun fibres (Soft Matter, 2021, 17, 3775-3783). The effect of material structure and composition on the encapsulation of the probes and diffusion of the ions will be investigated. The specific ions and probes will be guided by collaboration within the EcoSENSE cluster.

The EcoSENSE research cluster will develop a new class of advanced sensing materials for the continuous analysis of the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. This is key for understanding how ecosystems function allowing us to respond to the current drivers of environmental change.

During this PhD project, you will acquire skills in polymer synthesis and nanofabrication methods for sensing materials. Also, you will use state-of-the-art facilities for the characterisation of the nanomaterials developed. Within the Polymer group, you will work with a multidisciplinary team with extensive experience in polymer processing, polymer chemistry and sensing materials.


Primary supervisor: Helen Willcock and Elisa Mele

Entry requirements

Our entry requirements are listed using standard UK undergraduate degree classifications i.e. first-class honours, upper second-class honours and lower second-class honours. To learn the equivalent for your country, please choose it from the drop-down below.

Entry requirements for United Kingdom

Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree in a STEM discipline (Chemistry, Materials or any other relevant STEM subjects) or achieved (or expect to achieve) a Pass in a relevant MSc programme.
We also expect the applicants to have a demonstrable interest in research, innovation, and interdisciplinary research. It is desirable for the successful applicant to demonstrate experience, knowledge, and/or interest in analytical chemistry, materials processing and computer programming.

Applicants must meet the minimum English language requirements. Further details are available on the International website.

English language requirements

Applicants must meet the minimum English language requirements. Further details are available on the International website.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees for 2022/23 entry

UK fee

Fully funded full-time degree per annum

International fee

Fully funded full-time degree per annum

Find out more about research degree funding

Tuition fees cover the cost of your teaching, assessment and operating University facilities such as the library, IT equipment and other support services. University fees and charges can be paid in advance and there are several methods of payment, including online payments and payment by instalment. Fees are reviewed annually and are likely to increase to take into account inflationary pressures.

The studentship is for three years full-time or six years part-time and provides a tax-free stipend of ÂŁ17,668 per annum (pro rata for the part-time) for the duration of the studentship plus tuition fees. UK Home and international applicants are both eligible for this award. Please note that the studentship will be awarded on a competitive basis to applicants who have applied to this project.

How to apply

All applications should be made online and must include a research proposal. Under the programme name, select ‘Materials’. Please quote the advertised reference number EcoSENSE 2 in your application.

To avoid delays in processing your application, please ensure that you submit the minimum supporting documents.





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