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Postgraduate research project

Ocean Diagnostics: Development of a detection system for ocean biology monitoring using integrated silicon nitride fluorescence spectroscopy

Fully funded (UK only)
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Closing date

About the project

This project aims to exploit an integrated silicon nitride platform to measure fluorescence enabling biological sensing in the ocean. 

You will develop a robust, deployable, and fully submersible photonics detector for ocean biology and ecosystems. The in-situ detection and quantification of bio-reporter constructs will enable state-of-the-art bio-analytical assays at the point of sampling.

The novel sensor will provide high-performance fluorescence detection to support the detection of DNA, RNA and eDNA. This will enable the study of several key biological essential ocean variables (EOVs). These include ecosystem structure and function, and the identification of harmful and invasive species. 

Almost all nucleic acid assays require some form of optics for signal detection. These are fluorescently labelled reporters, which emit light upon specific recognition of a target gene sequence. The measurement of this signal over the duration of an assay is necessary to achieve quantification of a target sequence. This can be utilised to enumerate a target cell type. 

The suitability of photonic-based sensors for biological oceanography has already been demonstrated in our preliminary, proof of concept work. The novelty of this technique relies on light immunity at harsh temperatures and high pressure, which usually requires bulky and expensive pressure shielding.

Unlike conventional free space optics sensors, the proposed integrated silicon nitride sensor is composed of robust low-loss waveguides. In such geometry, the light path is formed by the different refractive index of the material and therefore no air gaps exist between the optical elements. This feature makes this type of photonics detector particularly suitable for ocean sensing, where systems may remain submerged and at high pressure for an extended duration.

You will be based at the Optoelectronics research centre (ORC) for designing and fabricating the chip. You will have full access to the ORC world-class cleanroom and the photonics labs.

You will also spend significant time at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) to test the fabricated chips with different assays. At the NOC, you will be able to compare the sensitivity of the developed sensor with the current gold-standard biological equipment.

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