Engineering: Fully Funded M2A MSc by Research Scholarship: An electrochemical biosensor for… Swansea University, United Kingdom

Start date: October 2022

Expected interview date: July 2022

Academic supervisors: Dr W Zhang  and Prof C Tizaoui

Industrial supervisor: Dr Paul Gaskin

Sponsoring company: Welsh Water


With the increasing deterioration of the quality of raw water supplies, because of climate change, global warming, and eutrophication, new effective technologies to improve the processes used for potable water production have significant importance to the region. Welsh Water spends approximately £350,000 per year to deal with the issues of taste and odour in water.

Methyl-isoborneol (MIB) is a naturally occurring compound released in water when algae die off. Its occurrence in drinking water results in customer complaints and unsatisfaction due to the unpleasant taste that MIB imparts to the water.  The raw water concentrations can reach up to 800 ng/L whilst the odour threshold concentrations are extremely low ranging from 4 to 15 ng/L depending on the person. The current methods for MIB detection rely on complicated protocols involving several steps including sampling, sample preparation (e.g., extraction), and off-site investigation using very expensive laboratory equipment making MIB analysis time-consuming, labour intensive, and expensive. Therefore, an alternative highly selective and sensitive method for in-situ detection of MIB at the ng/L levels is highly desirable.

This project will develop a single ultrafast biosensor for in-situ detection of MIB by incorporating pattern recognition algorithms. Low-cost carbon sensor electrodes with properties of enhanced electron transfer and surface area will be fabricated using flexographic printing. More importantly, specific innovations are embodied in the novel implementation of non-conventional metal porphyrins as recognition elements. They will generate characteristic electrochemical signals upon interaction with MIB in water that are distinct from those caused by non-specific adsorption. This will provide an essential step towards label free, direct, and easy-to-use in situ monitoring devices.

Current water quality examinations require the transportation of water samples to a lab and are also expensive and labour intensive. This cost which eventually passes down to consumers will be thus reduced. Imagine providing local consumers with real-time water quality data at no extra cost in addition to basic consumption metrics. As part of the most recent “internet of water” and digital water technology adoption, there will be a trend towards providing real-time data and actionable information to all parties involved. This collaboration can also help move from centralized water quality monitoring to providing real-time actionable information for service engineers, stakeholders, and customers. This project will also enhance the collaboration between Swansea University and Welsh Water yielding further collaborative projects in water treatment and sensor technologies.

The project will be mainly conducted in Swansea University Bay Campus laboratories with occasional visits to Welsh Water for results validation using GC/MS or LC/MS. Training on electrochemical analysis including differential pulse voltammetry, cyclic voltammetry and electrochemical impedance will be provided. In addition, the student will receive training on laboratory analytical methods for water evaluation (HPLC/UV/FLD; LC/MS/MS; GC/MS; TOC; UV/Vis Spectrophotometer). The student will also have exposure to real water treatment processes at Welsh Water.

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