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The University of Southampton
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Dr Adrian M Nightingale PhD, MRes, MChem, MRSC

NERC Industrial Innovation Fellow

Dr Adrian M Nightingale's photo

Dr Adrian Nightingale is a NERC Industrial Innovation fellow using droplet microfluidics to develop sensor technology for monitoring water chemistry.

Research focus:

Adrian’s research broadly focusses on the design and application of droplet microfluidic technology to problems in analytical and synthetic chemistry. Droplet microfluidics concerns the manipulation of droplets of (typically aqueous) fluid within a flow of oil, and offers enhanced mixing, control, and robustness compared to standard single-phase flow chemistry systems. Adrian uses the advantages offered by droplet microfluidics to develop chemical sensors with enhanced temporal response and efficiency, and robust reactors for reliable quality-assured manufacturing of nanomaterials, as described in more detail in the research tab below,

Career history:

Adrian’s microfluidics research builds on his background in both engineering and chemistry. He graduated with an undergraduate masters degree in chemistry from the University of Oxford in 2003. After 3 years working in industry, he returned to academia and was awarded a MRes in Nanomaterials (2007) and then PhD (2011) from Imperial College London. During his PhD and initial postdoctoral research he developed automated microfluidic reactors to precision-synthesise quantum dots and other colloidal nanomaterials.

During postdoctoral research at Imperial College London (2011-2013) his end-application focus broadened to include sensor technology. This led to a subsequent position at the National Oceanography Centre (2013-2015) developing microfluidic sensors to measure marine water chemistry (e.g. dissolved nutrients, pH).

2015-2017 he undertook a postdoctoral position at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Engineering and the Environment developing sensors and sensor-technology based on droplet-microfluidics. These systems have been separately used to monitor changing biochemistry within human tissue, and fluctuations in river chemistry.

In 2018 he began his NERC Industrial Innovation Fellowship, which aims to develop droplet microfluidic-based chemical sensors for use on autonomous underwater vehicles. In keeping with current microfluidic sensors, they can be designed to measure a wide range of chemical parameters in situ but, crucially, promise much improved power and fluid efficiency (allowing longer deployments) and much higher measurement frequencies (seconds rather than minutes), important for easy use on moving platforms.

Research interests

Robust droplet generation and manipulation

Droplet microfluidics involves the generation, manipulation and measurement of discrete droplets of water dispersed within a stream of oil flowing along sub-millimetre-diameter tubing. As droplet volumes are small (pL-µL), chemical treatments and measurements can be quickly and precisely performed, meaning droplet microfluidics offers a rapid and highly efficient route to continuous sampling and chemical analysis of the environment.

Droplet microfluidics is a proven and widely used tool for laboratory-based analytical chemistry and biochemistry but traditionally requires bulky and expensive equipment. One aspect of my research focuses on developing affordable technology that allows robust droplet generation, manipulation and analysis for field-deployable systems.

Chemical sensors

Robust, affordable droplet technology allows the advantages of droplet microfluidics to be applied to field-deployable chemical sensors. These can be used to perform biochemical monitoring at point-of-care, however my main focus is on chemical sensors to monitor water quality. In keeping with current (single phase) microfluidic sensors, the droplet-based sensors are capable of measuring a wide range of chemical parameters in situ but promise much improved power and fluid efficiency (allowing longer deployments) and much higher measurement frequencies (seconds rather than minutes), important for easy use on moving platforms (e.g. autonomous underwater vehicles, profiling floats).

Microfluidic reactors

Droplets are also excellent reaction vessels for synthesising materials due to the highly controlled reaction conditions combined with robustness against reactor fouling.

Fast heat transfer and rapid chaotic mixing within sub-µL droplets gives well-defined reaction conditions. These are especially important when synthesising colloidal nanomaterials, such as quantum dots, as precise reaction conditions are required to produce monodisperse materials with well-defined ensemble properties. In contrast to simpler single-phase microfluidic reactors, the critical advantage of droplet flow is that the reactants and products are separated from the channel walls, meaning materials can be produced continuously and in industrially-relevant quantities without any danger of deposition on channel walls or reactor-fouling.

Research group

Mechatronics Engineering Group

Affiliate research group

Bioengineering Science

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Module lead, SESG3019: Teaching and Communications and the Undergraduate Ambassador Scheme.

Tutor, FEEG1003: Thermofluids.

Supervisor, FEEG3003: Individual Project.

Supervisor, FEEG6013: Group Design Project.

Instructor, SESM3029: Engineering Design and Management.

Dr Adrian M Nightingale
Engineering, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton. SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

Room Number: 7/5008/M7

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