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Institute for Life Sciences


Microfluidics is the interdisciplinary study of the behaviour, manipulation and application of fluid at the microscale. It underpins the concept of the lab-on-a-chip, where multiple key components and operations are integrated onto one small platform. This is rapidly becoming an important underlying technology with applications across a diverse range of fields including medicine, chemistry and oceanic research.

Microfluidic wafer

Scientists across the Institute of Life Sciences have been driving microfluidics research and application forward for more than two decades. With a translational approach many of our fundamental science discoveries have resulted in novel micro-engineered devices which is developing new approaches to how patients are treated in hospital.

Our research teams span fields including engineering, physics, medicine and biology and are carrying out research into areas such as single cell analysis, organ-on-a-chip, neuroscience, clinical diagnostics, point of care devices, personalised medicine and environmental monitoring. Our scientists are now using microfluidics to find solutions to some of today’s biggest challenges including antimicrobial resistance and ocean climate changes.

As well as using microfluidics to provide engineering solutions for biological and healthcare applications our scientists are also training the next generation of microfluidics experts. Our post graduate students work alongside international leaders in their field, shaping and developing research projects as well as conducting their own research investigations.

Staff and students alike also have access to cutting-edge facilities which contain state of the art analytical equipment, dedicated cell and tissue culture laboratory and rapid prototyping clean rooms.

Related Staff Member

Related Staff Member

Related Staff Member

Lab on Chip, Dr Dan Spencer, Centre for Hybrid Biodevices
Lab on Chip
Microfluidic Device, Dr Jonathan West
Microfluidic Device, Dr Jonathan West
Microfluidic wafer, Dr Jonathan West
Microfluidic wafer, Dr Jonathan West
Microfluidic wafer, Dr Jonathan West
Microfluidic wafer, Dr Jonathan West

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages

MSc Biomedical Engineering

This masters course will equip you with the specialist knowledge, expertise and skills to integrate biology and medicine with engineering to solve problems related to living systems.

MSc Optical Fibre Technologies

Students on the MSc Optical Fibre and Photonic Engineering degree gain specialist knowledge of technologies that harness the power of light, such as lasers and optical fibres.

MSc Photonic Technologies

Students on the MSc Optical Fibre and Photonic Engineering degree gain specialist knowledge of technologies that harness the power of light, such as lasers and optical fibres.

MSc System On Chip

Scientific & engineering principles underpinning micro & nanoscale technologies, with options to specialise in microelectromechanical systems, nanoelectronics, biodevices, or optoelectronics.

MSc Electrochemistry

The MSc Electrochemistry and Battery Technologies covers the fundamental principles through to applications in energy storage, energy conversion and Electrochemical Engineering.

MSc in Statistics with Applications in Medicine

This one-year course provides sound Masters-level training in statistical methodology, with an emphasis on solving practical problems arising in the context of collecting and analysing medical data.

Organ-on-a-chip devices

For many years, human disease has been studied using animal models. While these models have given valuable information about disease, the translation of results into therapies has been slow.

Medical and engineering scientists from Life Sciences are developing a lab-on-a-chip solution that will allow organs to be grown outside the human body. The team is developing a model of the human airways, enabling researchers to better understand the underlying causes of chronic disease and to develop new drug treatments.

The team is taking cells from donors and culturing them on a chip where they grow to make the thin layer of cells that protects us against foreign agents and help keep our bodies healthy. The new technology has the capability to make many measurements in parallel so that many different drugs can be tested. It has an integrated sample collection capability to measure the transport of drugs or the response of the tissue.

The biochip platform provides an environment that mimics the human lung where miniature airways can be grown and monitored over many weeks for their response to environmental triggers or drugs. The system will lead to an improved understanding of disease and provide a simple, and high throughput way to screen compounds for toxicology and ultimately deliver personalised medicine.

Contacts: Prof Donna Davies, Prof Hywel Morgan, Dr Emily Swindle

Antimicrobial resistance diagnostic technology

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s society. By 2050, drug-resistant infections around the world are expected to kill more people that currently die from cancer. Current clinical tests to detect antibiotic resistant bacteria are based on traditional bacterial cell culture or approaches that are lab-based and require expert users and specialized equipment. In both cases, the analysis cannot be done near a patient, thereby delaying appropriate treatment or resulting in the over-use of broad spectrum antibiotics. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop cost effective and easy to use sensitive tests that can detect drug resistance at the patient’s bedside so appropriate, potentially life-saving drugs can be given without delay.

Scientists from the Institute of Life Sciences are developing portable test devices that have the ability to identify antimicrobial resistance using DNA extracted from patient samples.  One such device uses a process to amplify DNA in tiny droplets on-chip to detect the presence of resistance genes in the bacteria. The device is able to produce results in 30 minutes, compared with 48 hours for a lab-based approach.

Low cost paper-based sensors are also being developed by our researchers that will be able to give diagnostic results at the point of care. Resembling the ‘dipstick’ technology of pregnancy test sticks, the sensors can detect multiple bacterial pathogens within a urine sample that is directed to flow into several channels and produce a result in the form of visually observable colour changes. The paper sensors are robust and are envisioned to be used out in the community. 

Contact: Prof Hywel Morgan, Dr Collin Sones, Prof Rob Eason


Image credit: Dr Collin Sones
Image credit: Dr Collin Sones

Implantable sensors to aid conception

The inability to conceive a baby can be highly distressing and something that affects one in six couples around the world (ESHRE 2017). Despite sophisticated tests that monitor a man’s sperm or a woman’s egg in a laboratory environment, there is nothing currently available that monitors the inside of a womb, an environment that we know is crucial in the success of a pregnancy. Fertility researchers alongside bioelectronic researchers are developing a battery-free, wireless device, which can be placed inside the womb and can measure the temperature, oxygen and pH levels continuously for up to 30 days. It is wirelessly powered by a garment that the woman wears, and data is transmitted to a secure, proprietary software platform that stores, processes and displays data to the fertility specialist.  Monitoring the environment in the womb has the potential to enable clinicians to optimise current fertility treatments and improve IVF success rates.

Having performed the necessary proof of concept and animal model studies, the team has formed a spin out company, VivoPlex, which is now working to take the product to market. 

Contact: Prof Ying Cheong, Prof Hywel Morgan

VivoPlex - Future Worlds Discover

Professor Ying Cheong introduces Vivoplex


Ocean Devices

Questions about the deepest oceans are being answered by miniature sensors developed by life sciences teams. In a long-term collaboration with scientists and engineers at the National Oceanography Centre, we were among the first to develop sensors that could be deployed in the ocean to measure salinity, temperature and oxygen, as well as other essential parameters like nutrients and pH.

Some of our sensors are being used in the Commonwealth Marine Economies (CME) Programme, a UK Government funded programme which aims to support Commonwealth Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to develop and sustain marine economies by ensuring the marine resources that belong to them are better understood and managed. For example, our autonomous marine sensors have been installed in the Seychelles to monitor impacts of climate change and pollution on the marine environment. The Seychelles’ Government will be able to use the data to protect fish stocks and the ecosystem on which fisheries and aquaculture depend.

Southampton sensors are also being integrated in the National Oceanography Centre’s marine autonomous vehicles such as the AUTOSUB Long Range, affectionally known as Boaty McBoatface. In a new project the sensors are embedded in a marine monitoring system to provide assurance that the CO2 is safely and securely stored.

Contact: Prof Matt Mowlem, National Oceanography Centre


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