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The University of Southampton

ELEC3226 Biosensors and Diagnostics

Module Overview

A generic biosensor is a device that translates a biomolecular binding event into an electrical or optical signal that can be quantified and recorded. Biosensors come in many different formats, from complicated nanofabricated mechanical transducers to simple but effective paper diagnostics such as a pregnancy test. They rely on the unique recognition properties of biomolecules, which can selectively bind their target molecule even at a high background concentration of similar molecules. Biosensors are widely used in modern medicine and essential in diagnosing disease. The module also describes the development and application of diagnostic tools for analysing blood chemistry and counting and analysing cells e.g. haematology. The module explains how biomolecules can be attached to a typical transducer materials. Subsequently, the working mechanism of common transducers is addressed in detail. The module describes recent developments in diagnostic tools including “zero-cost” paper microfluidics, DNA sequencing, genetic analysis and single cell analytics. The commercial criteria for a successful diagnostic tool, for example for point-of-care diagnostic applications will be discussed. The practical work takes places in the Centre for Hybrid Biodevices. You will first measure the amount of glucose in various samples with potentiostat and design a phone-reader app. The second experiment is an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for protein analysis of a blood sample using paper microfluidics. The last weeks will be dedicated to analysis of specific papers from the scientific literature. In these tutorial sessions we will discuss key points of pre-selected journal papers with the entire group.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Biosensor design, biofunctionalisation of surfaces, biosensor transducer technologies.
  • The principle of operation of a wide variety of diagnostic devices paper based on microfluidics, nanopore DNA sequencing, droplet microfluidics for genetic analysis and single cell analytics, and DNA microarray technology.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain the working mechanisms of the most common types of biosensors.
  • Appreciate the advantages and limitations of specific diagnostic systems.
  • Critically evaluate biosensor data from the scientific literature.
  • Explain the health economics of a successful diagnostic tool.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate experimental procedures and experimental data.
  • Write concise engineering reports.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Construct and operate some biosensor types.


Fundamentals - Flow in 2D structures (paper, capillaries Washburn equation) - Biomolecular detection and biomolecular recognition themes - Immobilisation of biomolecules on transducer surfaces - Conventional and nanotechnology-based transduction schemes - Data analysis and performance factors - Electrochemical and optical sensing principles Applications - Low/no cost diagnostics (Paper microfluidics, lateral flow assays) - Optical, mechanical and electrochemical biosensors - Enzyme-based biosensors (ELISA) - Antibody-based biosensors - DNA-based biosensors - Multiplexed assays - DNA microarrays. - Semiconductor and nanopore sequencing - Single-cell patch-clamp - Immobilisation of biomolecules on transducer surfaces - Interfacing sensors with electronics - Biocompatibility Practical work - Set up an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in a paper-microfluidics format - Operate a potentiometric glucose sensor

Learning and Teaching

Specialist Laboratory 6
Wider reading or practice44
Completion of assessment task12
Preparation for scheduled sessions30
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Ferrier DR (2014). Biochemistry, 6th Ed, Lippincott's Illustrated Reviews. 

Hames D and Hooper NM (2005). Biochemistry, 3rd Ed, BIOS Instant Notes series. 

Cooper MA (2009). Label-Free Biosensors: Techniques and Applications. 

Kumar S (2007). Nanomaterials for Biosensors, Nanotechnologies for the Life Sciences series. 

Banica FG (2012). Chemical Sensors and Biosensors: Fundamentals and Applications. 

Eggins BR (2002). Chemical Sensors and Biosensors. 

Khanna VK (2012). Nanosensors: Physical, Chemical and Biological, Series in Sensors. 

Pethig RR and Smith S. Introductory Bioelectronics: for Engineers and Physical Scientists. 

Gorton L (2005). Biosensors and Modern Biospecific Analytical Techniques, Comprehensive Analytical Chemistry series. 

Zourob M (Ed.), (2010). Recognition Receptors in Biosensors. 

Gizeli E and Lowe CR (2002). Biomolecular Sensors. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Continuous Assessment 25%
Final Assessment  75%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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